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OCD & ADHD: Oil & Water

OCD & ADHD: Oil & Water

Jack started a new school in February. A private religious school and to be honest, we rather like it. Sure, we don’t care for the biased curriculum – oh, I thought my husband was going to pop a vein as he tried to swallow his rage while learning that a liberal “seeks freedom from personal responsibility” and that John Kennedy’s “New Frontier ushered in prosperity without hard work behind it” – but we love the teacher, the administration, and the focus of the smaller classroom size.

(To be fair, most of their curriculum is not nearly that biased.)

Jack is doing better in many aspects – namely, he can’t get away with the same shenanigans in this environment that fell through the cracks at his former school – but we’re still struggling academically. The curriculum is extremely accelerated, and his mid-year enrollment means that we’re constantly finding concepts that he missed out on but is expected to know. This means hours upon hours upon hours of homework.

For a kid with ADHD.

There are many difficulties with our particular situation, none of which worth delving into here, but last night, I had a lightbulb moment. Well, really, my husband had a lightbulb moment and was kind enough to share his beam with me.

It was 9:00 p.m. and Jack had literally been doing homework since 3:45. We took an hour and a half to eat dinner, but besides that, he was focused on homework. That’s a LOT of work for ANY kid to power through, admittedly. Let’s face it: I can’t get through meetings that long without finding something else to do to occupy myself.

We opened his study guide for history and there was a map of the United States, with about twenty states unlabeled, but numbered. “We haven’t done this,” he said. Well. Jack is the first to say that he hasn’t seen something before when, in reality, it’s been smacking him in the face for some time. So I took my historical evidence and reminded him that, yes, a worksheet had come home a few weeks back with this same stuff on it. Suck it up, buttercup: we are about to test you on this.

He knew none of it.

So, okay. 9:15 and we said, “Alright, we’ll just use repetition.” Bryan went over the numbered states and capitols, over and over, having Jack label maps and write them down and recite them and you name it and they did it. We quizzed again.

He knew none of it.

“Sarah, do you have any hints?”
[pullquote type=”2″ align=”right”]”We learn differently. And we are continuously failing you by trying to fit you into our learning style.”[/pullquote] Literally could not recall a single STATE, let alone a capitol of any state.
I .. I am frustrated. I am frustrated with so many parts of this story and I did the wrong thing and said, “Yes. My hint to you is to not wait until the night before to study. Also to not be surprised when you spend your summer in tutoring sessions.”

The last part came out more of a threat than I meant for it to; I have been loudly advocating private tutoring or workshops for Jack for some time. We are consistently finding that concepts don’t click for Jack; what seems rudimentary for us just stump him. And he’s not an unintelligent kid! To the contrary, he’s incredibly smart, woefully smart if you look at his report card. He remembers minutia that spins our heads around, but a concept that he needs to apply in an educational environment is just lost on him.


I looked up from my laptop – Thursday nights are late nights for me and I usually work until 10 pm – and Bryan was glaring at me. I glanced over and heard Jack sniffling. I had made him cry.

Not my intent. Not my intent at all.

They got through another useless round of quizzing, in which Jack again recalled nothing, and Bryan’s voice softened. “Sarah and I think differently than you do,” he said. “We learn differently. And we are continuously failing you by trying to fit you into our learning style.”

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I am OCD. Repetition until perfection is the ONLY way I know how to learn. Memorization until the light bulb clicks on, as it were. Jack has ADHD. Even on a good day, memorization loses him. It’s too much mental clutter, and he zones out and shuts down.

Our methodical quizzing was pushing him further down the hole that he couldn’t find the top of.

We worked until almost 10:00. That puts Jack at doing almost 5 hours of solid homework and studying. At eleven years old. With ADHD. And Bryan and I realized that until we help him find a method that works for his brain, we are doing him no favors.

I have carried this guilt with me all day, what happened last night. The kid is trying, God love him, and trying hard. But right now, we are oil and water in how our brains operate, and we have no mixing agent between us. We are researching the right answer here, because my God, we cannot watch him drown any longer.

A diagnosis is one thing. Medication is another. But we failed him in our follow-through.

Have a kid with ADD/ADHD? I’m certainly open to suggestions in the comments below.


View Comments (6)
  • Hi Sarah – You might consider contacting Appleton Learning, for both testing and tutoring. I did some contract work for them two years ago and was very impressed with their approach. They can test your son to determine his learning style and will tailor their approach based on his needs, not on a canned curriculum. We plan on having our daughter tested this summer.

    • Please let me know where this school is,,,my son is adhd and the Huntsviille City School system Does not have anyone at his school to help him.They shoud have someone that is trained and skilled for kids like mine.All they want to do is send him else and then they dont supply transportation for the kids.Im a single parent with no help with getting him back and forth to scholl they want to send him too.PLease help! My son told me that they dont listen to him and they only will believe him unless he has a witness….help.

  • I know what I am about to say is not for everyone but it is our story… When my daughter was in second grade she was diagnosed with ADD. The amount of homework she had took us from the time she got home until about eight or nine o’clock with maybe an hour break for dinner and bath. It ate up our evenings and our lives revolved around homework and, for us, spelling words. You already mentioned how difficult rote memorization is and spelling words were killing us. We spent more time on homework at home than she did work during the school day. With her being in second grade all I could think of was that this would be the next ten years of our life. We pulled her out and I started homeschooling her. Thankfully my part-time job allowed for it. That was three years ago and we have never looked back. Homeschooling is not an option for everyone. We definitely had adjustments to make. However, I was able to teach her in ways that made it easiest for her to learn. And we have our evenings back.
    I also put her on medication – something I was very against at first. After the first month of third grade, I asked her if she could tell a difference with the medicine. She said, “It’s like the noise in my head stopped.” Then I kicked myself for not putting her on it sooner.

  • I have a 9 year old with Adhd & Ocd. He spent a year at what I am guessing is the same private Christian school. Huge mistake. They are not accomodating or equipped to deal with kids with learning differences. A heavier work load does not make for a smarter kid. My son spent a miserable year trying to just keep up. Pulled him and he’s now excelling in a public school in the county system, which by the way is known for being much more accomodating. And they have been. As far as studying, Adhd kids are more visual in learning. Did you try having him physically fill out the state & capital names on the map? And repeat until he got it down? Google visual spatial learning styles – there’s lots of info out there. It’s a lifelong process but teaching them coping skills early on puts them ahead later in life. My son went from failing AR tests left & right in 2nd grade at private school to reading adult sci fi novels in 3rd grade, while attending public school. So something’s working.

  • A lot of the issues are created by the stress from the system itself

    My late wife was a gifted resource teacher K-8 for twenty years in one of the large metropolitan districts. She was adamantly opposed to the massive amount of homework assigned to the students. She felt this was in many cases just “busy work” that created massive harmony issue within the family. And frankly a cop out some of the Teachers that were just a bit Lazy. Other words just run the copy machine for massive copies, pass them out to the kids.

    Consider what if all Employers gave their associates copious amounts of homework four nights a week all year long. Not realistic.

    Also, she was a big booster of out of the classroom learning experience and she scheduled several field trips during the year so the students could be exposed too some real life situations..

    Some would say, these days are different from 20 years ago. Sure they are, but let me ask you about today, “How is it working”

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