Defining ‘Academic Success’ for Kids with ADHD, Autism

Most individuals define academic success by grades and test scores — A’s and B’s and high scores on benchmark tests are a success. In turn, average and failing grades are indicative of not being successful at school. When your child has ADHD and/or autism though, you have to modify your yardstick as well as your definition of success.

Growing up, I was expected to earn all A’s and B’s, because my parents knew that I had the intelligence and skills to do so. When I brought home a C once or twice on a report card, I was immediately grounded. These house rules taught me that grades were a measure of effort and success. And, for me, an individual without learning differences, that was pretty much true.


Modifying Your Success Yardstick

That belief was challenged when my son, Ricochet, started school. His ADHD and dysgraphia (and unknown Asperger’s at the time) prevented him from getting good grades and high test scores, despite a gifted-level intelligence. His school experience was full of mediocre and failing grades, unfinished work, illegible papers, and lost assignments. He tried, really tried, but his effort was never enough to achieve the typical American definition of “academic success” — the A’s and B’s were still elusive.

We redefined “academic success” for Ricochet, deciding that self-esteem matters more than grades. I didn’t give up on success at school, I simply recognized that it wasn’t measured by grades for my son and began working on building skills instead. I advocated for Ricochet at school, asking for accommodations and special services to help him maximize his potential. Teachers gave him reduced assignments, extra time, the flexibility to move about the classroom, and individual help, yet it still wasn’t enough to get stellar grades. And that was okay. I even came to expect it after a few years.


Gaining a New Perspective on Academics

I was proud of myself for seeing that grades didn’t matter for my boy. Little did I know at the time, but there was still more redefining for me to do when it came to “academic success” for Ricochet.

As school grew more and more difficult for my square-peg kid, he began to resist being there and some vicious school refusal set in. There were many days I couldn’t get him to leave the house, or into the school building without complete meltdowns. This happened dozens of times over the last three school years, grades 4-6.

We paid no mind to grades anymore. The focus could be on nothing other than getting him into school and ensuring he was comfortable and not overwhelmed there. His school avoidance trumped all else.

I changed his school environment last year, hoping a smaller school would be a better fit and improve his school avoidance. I learned the hard way that the grass isn’t greener on the other side. In fact, the school change was actually worse. Torturously worse. The momma guilt is overwhelming, but, what I learned from that experience was that “academic success” isn’t always about academics at all.

[Tweet “Bring on the D’s &F’s: Redefining “Academic Success” for Kids w/ #ADHD #Autism”]


Support YOUR Child’s Needs

We pulled Ricochet from the small school that was 110% about academics and greater and greater levels of achievement and put him back in the public school for seventh grade this year. We chose for him to be on an inclusion team rather than a gifted team so he is no longer relentlessly pushed to achieve more, more, MORE. And we now consider a school day a success if Ricochet goes to school without resistance and comes home happy, confident, and unharmed.

Screw A’s and B’s! Our family now defines “academic success” first by my son’s emotional wellbeing rather than grades, and that’s exactly how it should be. Bring on the crappy report cards!