A couple years ago, I wrote an article called, 10 Things Kids with ADHD (and their mommas) wish teachers knew. I certainly touched a nerve with that one — it’s the most-read post of all time on my site, with over 22,000 views.

Now that my son, Ricochet, is a little older and in middle school, I find I’m constantly wishing I could make teachers accept certain things about my son, and about his disabilities. Things that he cannot pinpoint or express. I know there are plenty of you that can relate! Here are my top 10. 

10 Things Parents Wish Teachers Knew About ADHD and Autism

  1. Kids do well if they can. This is Ross Greene‘s mantra. And he is so right. Our kids want to do well. They want to succeed. They want to keep up with their peers. They want to please their teachers. They truly want to succeed and meet expectations — when they don’t it’s because there are obstacles in their way, and they can’t.
  2. Behavior is communication. This is part of what Ross Greene teaches in his books, The Explosive Child and Lost at School, but it’s also a widely regarded fact and tool throughout the autism community. I first learned this from my friend, Sarah Wayland, who happens to be our Resident Expert on Behavior and Communication on ParentingADHDandAutism.com.Kids with ADHD and/or autism struggle with appropriate and effective communication. When they don’t have the skills to communication appropriately, they often end up struggling with behavior. When you reach the level of crisis behaviors (like self-harm), that’s a clear indication that the child’s expectations are far outside his or her capability.
  3. A student can be smart and not capable of neurotypical expectations. We have battled this one for years with Ricochet. He has a gifted IQ, yet struggles with many day-to-day skills we take for granted – like working memory, planning, organization, multi-tasking, processing verbal instructions, etc. There is no amount of intelligence that will correct executive functioning deficits, because they are from a completely different part of the brain.Please, PLEASE do not tell students with learning, developmental, or neurobehavioral disorders that they are “smart enough to _____.” Smart has nothing to do with it whatsoever. What you are doing is making them feel broken and worthless.
  4. What you do for “all your students” likely won’t be enough or effective for kids with ADHD and/or autism. Many teachers make it a habit to write homework on the board each day. The assumption in middle and high school is that all kids have the skills to notice it, read it correctly, understand brief instructions, copy from a separate surface, and write it in their agenda and write it legible. To neurotypicals, that is a no-brainer — they could do it in their sleep. However, for kids with ADHD, autism, and/or learning disabilities, this is often an expectation beyond their capability, because their brain doesn’t function in the “typical” fashion on these skills. My son’s ADHD, autism, dysgraphia, and executive functioning deficits all wreak havoc on this process in their own way.
  5. My child is not lazy, crazy, or stupid! He’s not lazy, his brain is simply motivated differently and shuts down when overwhelmed. He’s not crazy, he is different, enthusiastic, excitable, and fun. My son certainly isn’t stupid — he has a gifted IQ. Although I don’t think we should treat any child like they’re stupid, no matter where they’re IQ falls on the scale.
  6. We want our kids to do the work. Many kids with ADHD and/or autism have a slower processing speed than their peers. That often means they need an accommodation of reduced assignments so they are not working twice as long (which is a punishment for being disabled). Over the years, I’ve had many teachers tell me that I’m just trying to make school easy for my child. One (Ms. Gulch) even told me she would just start giving Ricochet whatever grades I wanted, since that was what I was really trying to achieve in her mind (Ricochet was moved to a different within two weeks of that incident).We want our kids to do the work, we just want the playing field leveled for them to have a chance to succeed at it, too.
  7. We want our kids to become successful, happy adults — not have straight A’s and stellar test scores. I know teachers are driven by testing because the government mandates that test scores are so important in the US. However, everyone still needs to realize that grades and test scores are not what is most important for children. A healthy self-esteem, life skills, and opportunities to succeed are far more important. When I request an accommodation for Ricochet, it is for those reasons, not to ensure good grades or test scores. (Ricochet never passes all his End of Grade tests — the format is all wrong for his learning style. That doesn’t mean he did not learn the material that year though. Quiz him orally and you will see how much he truly knows.)Kids are people too
  8. Success at school is defined by a lot more than just academic achievement. This ties into #7, in that grades and scores aren’t most important. When we are sitting in an IEP meeting, asking to craft an environment where our child can succeed at school, we mean more than academics. We are also including behavior, emotion, social skills, leadership, citizenship, respect, etc… all things that schools define as expectations in the school handbook. I cannot say it enough — success at school is about a lot more than grades.
  9. Your students’ emotional health and self-esteem matters a lot more than good scores. What good are straight A’s if you have a stressed-out, depressed, anxious kid who thinks it’s too hard for them to get the grades that come easier to their peers. If you send a student out into the world knowing long division (I know! It’s not allowed anymore, but that’s how I know it.) and every country in Africa, but they feel worthless, have you been an effective teacher? Have you prepared them for life? Nope. Not even a little.
  10. Kids are people, too. When I was in kindergarten, I had a tiny little t-shirt that read “Kids are people, too.” It was my favorite shirt. Not the shirts with cartoon characters, or even those with pink and frills and lace. The shirt that told others I might be little, but I deserve respect the same as anyone else was my favorite article of clothing. How ironic that it’s still my mantra now, all these years later, although for an entirely different reason.We wish you would more often take into consideration that pushing students to always do more, telling them, “I know you can do better,” or “you’re smart enough to do this,” is not respecting them as a person. You wouldn’t address your own peers that way.

If ever there’s a time that education is truly about more than test scores, it’s when you’re teaching a child with special needs.

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Penny Williams
Author. Parenting Guide. Journalist. Speaker.
Penny Williams guides and mentors parents raising kids with ADHD and/or autism. She’s the parent of a son with ADHD and autism, and the author of three award-winning books on parenting kids with ADHD. Penny is the current editor of ParentingADHDandAutism.com, Founder and Instructor for The Parenting ADHD & Autism Academy, and a frequent contributor on parenting and children with ADHD for ADDitude Magazine and other parenting and special needs publications.