Diagnoses are the on the rise, but the disorder has more than one form, and the symptoms aren't always obvious.
ADHD often reveals itself in school, but not always. Teachers may miss the signs if a child is holding it together all day and then falling apart at home.
Brown says her daughter, Amber* (who, like her son, Michael, also has ADHD), managed good grades in elementary and middle school. But Amber’s teachers didn’t know that she often stayed up half the night to get her homework done. Then Amber started forgetting to bring home books she needed, and getting F’s on tests—not because she didn’t know the material, but because she didn’t have enough time to finish. School became similarly more challenging for Michael, as he got older. Early on, Brown says, his elementary school teachers made small adjustments to help him refocus in class. But by the time he reached fifth grade, his classmates where churning out half-page essays during a daily 15-minute writing exercise, while Michael could only manage a sentence or two.
When school officials initially resisted formal accommodations for Amber and Michael (claiming that their learning differences weren’t severe enough), Brown took matters into her own hands. She started timing Amber to prove that she was spending hours longer than Arlington’s recommended time limit for homework. Eventually Brown hired an educational consultant—a third party with no emotional stake in the game, she says—to advocate for her kids’ classroom needs.
“It’s really important for parents to be patient and persistent with the school and get what your kids need,” says Brown, a government analyst. Her husband, a psychologist, treats ADHD patients and also has ADHD himself.
Today Michael and Amber are 16 and 15, respectively. They are doing well in school, thanks to provisions that allow them to turn in schoolwork late without penalty, keep an extra set of textbooks at home and take certain shortcuts with assignments and tests (for example, they may be permitted to show their understanding of a math concept by doing one problem in each section rather than finishing the entire worksheet). “It’s just to level the playing field,” Brown says. “You wouldn’t expect a blind student to take the SAT without Braille or someone dictating.”