Helping an ADHD Child Remember

This post may contain affiliate links. Read our full disclosure here.

Share this post:

girl with adhdI Facebooked back and forth a couple of weeks ago with a mom. She told me a story that is so textbook ADHD-Inattentive, that I asked her if I could share it with you.

Tonight, I sit here feeling like I am failing as a parent of an ADHD child. My daughter is such a good kid, but her forgetfulness, impulsiveness and disorganization has become an all time high. She has just received her 3rd after school detention for the same thing-not turning in her homework. She is in middle school and they are teaching them about being more responsible to get them ready for high school next year.

They get a check every time it happens and when they reach 4 they get an hour after school. It is wiped clean every 9 weeks so the checks do not carry over. It is also per teacher as well. So now, if she receives another detention before the end of the year, she will get a Saturday detention AND lose going on their field trip to the water park.

I went through her backpack and binder tonight to find a STACK of papers that she didn’t need anymore. I haven’t done that in a while, thinking that she was getting better being organized. Boy, was I wrong! She has so much potential and is so smart. I don’t want her to lose out on any opportunities because of something as stupid as forgetting her homework…

She does it-I see her do it. But somewhere and for some reason between here and school-poof-it’s gone. I am going to be calling her homeroom teacher tomorrow to discuss it further. She called me Friday to let me know about some assignments and projects that have not been completed. I just don’t know what to do. I’m feeling lost and want to help her.

A few days later, I received “The Rest of the Story”…

On Monday, my daughter did not complete her Accelerated Reader points for the 9 nine weeks, so she received her 4th detention to be served on a Saturday. This means that she also lost her field trip. When she came home, I lost it all over again and this time she saw me break down. I was sad for her, heartbroken for her and at the same time disappointed in her and myself. It was an all time low for me as a parent.

She worked hard Monday evening at her homework and I talked to her before she went to bed. I told her that I knew she was SO smart and had every ability to do what needed to be done, but that I was disappointed that this had happened and that she needed to do better-we both did.

On Tuesday her homeroom teacher called me to tell me she didn’t know what I did Monday evening, but that Carla was a different kid that day! She was working harder and asking what else she needed to do! Tuesday after school she served her 3rd detention and I talked to 2 of her teachers when I picked her up. We spoke about what we could do to get her ready for the high school next year in terms of organization and such. I had also called the student affairs principal and set up a meeting for Thursday to speak to him about that.

On Wednesday, her math teacher called and said all 5 of her teachers were trying to come up with things to help her for next year and then went on about a 504 and how to go about that. As I listened, I though “we already have one!”. So I returned her call and left a message to that effect.

She called me back after a thorough search of files to tell me that Carla did NOT have a 504, but there was note of a meeting (fall ’07) and the recommendation of a 504. I was livid!! In the beginning of 5th grade, we had that meeting with everyone and the 504 should have been put in place then.

I went straight to the school after leaving “nice” messages for the school psychologist and the student affairs principal. After waiting 10 minutes after they knew I was there, I was led into a conference room where they were all going over notes from that meeting and trying to figure out why it was not put into place for her back in ’07. SO, in the 10 minutes I was waiting, they put one together and we sat for 1/2 hour talking and adding to the provisions.

Her math teacher was at the conference and asked if we couldn’t give Carla another shot at the field trip. Giving her 5 detentions instead of 4. They decided that was fine, but I and her teachers are telling her she has to “earn” it back with working hard and turning in what needs to be turned in.

Before the conference, I asked her math teacher if this 504 was already put into place, would things have gone any different this year. It was an emphatic yes! Because there are other things they could have done for her if it was in writing. Someone dropped the ball. All we can do now is go forward and work on organization and working on projects when they are given instead of waiting til the last minute to finish them up!

We all have stories like these – stories of our frustration and failures, but also of recoveries. Let this mom’s experience encourage you – that even when the school drops the ball, when our kids don’t try quite hard enough, and when we as parents just didn’t have any more to give – there are still more days. We can turn things around.

What stories do you have? Please share them in the comments below.

Share this post:

About Kayla

Kayla Fay is a freelance writer and the mother of four boys, three of whom have been formally diagnosed with the inattentive type of ADHD. When she started “Who Put the Ketchup in the Medicine Cabinet?” in 2002, her sons were ages 8 through 14, when her life was a “progression of dirty laundry, lost homework, misunderstood Algebra, and a whole lot of love and fun”.

Connect with Kayla online Google+


  1. I found your site as I have been searching for info on adhd inattentive type. my daughter is 9 and was just diagnosed with this…..having a background in special ed and neices and nephews with adhd combined i have been concerned about my daughter for a couple of years. I know that she is a bright girl and in the past she has had very well structured teachers that have worked well with her learning styles. This year, in 3rd grade her teacher is less structured and tends to leave a concept once it has been taught….this has not worked well for my daughter especially with her writing skills. As the year has progressed the holes with her ablity to focus have become more evident to me. Although the teacher was not seeing it as she is not a behavior problem the school psychologist who was brought in to observe her( thanks to my pediatrician) was able to identify that she is often distracted. This concurred with the observations we had from outside of school life. She has always shown a bit of a strong will towards things she does not want to do or does not find exciting enough and we have always parented using behavioral strategies to help her. Socially she has a tendency towards shyness but can easily be outgoing…..all depends on the day and situation. She tends to have a leader type of personality if she is comfortable in the situation. This year I began to see more and more problems with her confidence and we have enrolled her in activites to help build it back up. This year the girls in her class have shown a lot of cattiness and we have been talking a lot about how to handle it. I began to wonder if some of the social problems might have to do with her difficulties being able to respond to comments being made…so some girls tend to ignore her because she does not continue the conversations. Once the doctor gave the diagnosis (which I was not surprised with) I said I wanted to hold off on medication. At this point I feel that she is not drowning in frustration, however I know that some days are a real struggle and some days are pretty good. Some days she comes home from school and everything about homework is a meltdown. Other days she seems to be able to cope with very little difficulties. She is very tall for her age and I know her body is changing so hormones are all over the place. How do I judge when the inattention difficulties are overriding all of the other challenges. And do I wait until she is slways struggling to put her on medication. Any info would be a great help.

    • For our ADHD-inattentive daughter, she also flourished and was a better student in classrooms where teachers engaged in a more structured teaching style. In classrooms like you describe for your daughter in third grade, she faced similar dilemmas. It’s interesting to me that even the personality characteristics you describe — shy in certain situations and exhibiting leadership capabilities in areas she’s confident — all sound extremely familiar.

      Like you, our family tried various behavioral strategies to overcome her distraction. Spelling to a rap, going over social studies facts in a different room from math facts, offering peppermint tea to jump start focus, setting a timer for a dreaded task, etc. — we tried a lot of things too. It sounds like you’re savvy enough to have been proactive in your approach.

      Our family also postponed medication for as long as possible. In hindsight, I wonder if we waited too long. It’s a tough call.

      Although Leslie exhibited symptoms as early as kindergarten and was diagnosed in fourth grade, we didn’t agree to medication until she was in 6th grade. By then, her confidence was lagging and her self-esteem suffered. I don’t want to portray the medicine as a cure-all, but in our daughter’s case, it was an effective tool.

      Let me address this part of your comment:

      I began to wonder if some of the social problems might have to do with her difficulties being able to respond to comments being made…so some girls tend to ignore her because she does not continue the conversations.

      Her ADHD-inattentive tendencies can indeed affect her interaction with others. If she zones in and out of the conversations around her or interjects random comments, the others may decide to ignore her as you’ve mentioned. Social reasons are just as valid as academic reasons for you to weigh as you make the decision to medicate or not.

      As you make this decision, I would encourage you to seek the counsel of professionals you trust — the school psychologist, teachers who know her well and her pediatrician or family doctor should be excellent resources. One of the questions that Kayla and I have both posed through the years to medical professionals from orthodontists to surgeons is “If this were your child, what would you do?”

      If a doctor, teacher or counselor has a reputation for advising medication for many children, you want to know that. You want the decision best for YOUR child – not all the other children in the class.

      I wish I could give you a pat solution, but I can’t. ADHD isn’t a one-size-fits-all diagnosis. We wish you the very best as you continue to ask questions and discover what’s best for your daughter. Keep us posted on your next steps. We would love to hear from you soon.

  2. Hi,

    I know this is a old post but wanted to try my luck. I found your website today and I have already learned a lot. I am concerned about my 7 year old, who can be very hyper but in classroom he is calm but inattentive. In first grade we had a lot of unfinished work come home and homework is a struggle. A task that should take 5 mins could take him a hour on a bad day. He is above average at spelling and reading but struggles with writing. Math he has good days and bad. Apart from the spelling and reading, he needs a lot of hand holding i.e adult/teacher helper being there almost always to get him to finish his task. Reward points system worked great in the later semester of 1st grade to get him to finish his class work. He gets frustrated easily and responds to frustration with anger and sometimes violence. He has excellent memory both for what is read to him and told to him or what he has seen, mostly of things he has interests in. The reason I am listing all this is to give you a whole picture. My question is is there an ADHD spectrum? I ask this because some days I am convinced he has ADHD (due to not being able to concentrate, daydream and not being able to focus and past hyper behavior) and other days I am not so sure since he pays attention to what is said and almost remeber verbatem. His teachers have never mentioned ADHD however each year I am expecting it. Any insight/your experience is greatly appreciated.

  3. WOW! My son is 16 and finally “formally” diagnosed, although has struggled with symptoms since 2nd grade. I don’t feel alone anymore. Someone else understands what we’ve gone through the past number of years. I felt like I was reading about him. Thank you for taking the time to do this website. What a treasure!

    • We appreciate your kind words, and comments like yours inspire us to do what we do. Every parent of an ADHD-I child feels alone when she first hears the diagnosis. Kayla and I want to reassure you that you are not alone. Please join our Facebook page and join the dialog there. Keep us posted on your 16 year old! Thank you so much!

    • Katherine says

      My 15 yr old was diagnosed with ADHD-I last week. We have 4 weeks before the end of school, 3failing classes and our first visit with his pediatrician to go over his neuropsychological test next week. I’m overwhelmed, but so encouraged by this site. The more I’ve read, the more I realize how textbook he is. I haven’t wrapped my brain around section 504, but I’m meeting with the school counselor to get the ball rolling tomorrow. Thank you for this amazing resource.

      • Thanks for your kind words. We’re so happy you’re finding information and support. A word of encouragement – having come out the other side – they *do* make it. Keep us posted on your son’s progress!

        PS If you haven’t already done so, ‘like’ our Facebook page at .

  4. My son is ADHD-I and was put on the 504 plan in 3rd grade at his primary school. He moved to the elementary school for 4-6. Despite my having a conversation with his principal and his teachers about him being on the 504 plan, the paperwork was misplaced somewhere down the line. It is now mid October and I just found this out from them last night after I called a parent-teacher conference because of the severe decline in his grades. I was so disappointed that he had gone this far in the school year and had not been doing his tests & assignments on the 504 plan. I have spent many a night crying and he has missed events because he was punished, mainly because the school had him on the wrong track. His teachers have been good about now helping to get things back on track. I can sympathize with you and your anguish over this issue.

  5. It’s just so easy for kids and paperwork to fall through the cracks. It’s just so sad – and it makes us feel helpless and discouraged. I’m glad your son is back on the right track! Hopefully his teachers will make it up to him – and you.

  6. Hi There!
    My son is 15 and was diagnosed when he was 12, he had also struggled since Grade two. It was recommended that he go onto medication which we did do, there were very subtle changes in his attention and how he would interact with people around him- we felt encouraged. However he complained that it was making him feel exceptionally tired causing him to fall asleep during classes. Under advice we tried splitting the dose between morning and night rather than all in the morning, this had little change. The biggest blow for us was when it came time for his school camp…the teachers were advised and given the instructions for his medication, I’m not 100% sure what exactly went on but from that time on my son became defiant in not wanting to take his medication to the point of pursing his lips shut. All he had told us was he was being teased. No amount of reassurance helped. We were then advised by his Paediatrician that for the medication to be effective he has to want to take them, he has to want to do this for himself. Unfortunately my son never believed he had a problem and still doesn’t. We are 2 years not on medication and he still continues to struggle at school and we are finding his attitude towards everything extremely hard to deal with

    • This is a tough one! The fact that your son doesn’t recognize his problem makes your role very difficult. We would have to agree with your pediatrician that your son needs to desire the medicine and its effect. The good news is that school won’t be getting easier as he heads toward high school graduation. That fact alone may change his opinion. In the meantime, you may have to wait it out – or go without meds altogether. Kayla’s boys resisted medication , and Kayla and her husband decided that if they only gave them medicine as a way to deal with ADHD, then they wouldn’t have any other ‘tools in their belt’ to deal with their inattention as adults. If they opted out of meds as adults, it would be better to have experience with ‘unmedicated ADHD’. So they didn’t force the issue, and toughed it out. Interestingly enough, two of her boys went back on medication in college – of their own volition. But they had lots of other strategies, too.

  7. My son was diagnosed with ADHD 3 years ago in 3rd grade. Now my daughter is in 3rd grade and I have been trying to get her diagnosed since last year. We are finally going through a childrens hospital for testing. Because of insurance I went to a child psychologist and he did a quick test and diagnosed her with mild to moderate ADHD, medication so far has not helped. This year she is much slower at classwork and homework, not finishing test and making mistakes on her test that I know she knows the answer to. Her reading skills are horrible but gets 100% on all spelling test. Her teacher just told me the IR&S team said not to give her more time to do her test, they want to assess her skills without the extra time. It seems to me that unless you have a legal document (504) plan in place these so-called educators fight you instead of helping you. I think that if you teach children, you should have to take a class in ADHD in college to prepare you for the real world of teaching, since about 10% or more children/adults have ADHD.

    • If I understand you correctly, they’re assessing her test skills without the extra time as a benchmark. So this situation should be temporary. It’s a fair question to ask them how long the assessment period will be, so you and your daughter know what to expect.

      While you may feel certain teachers are not looking after your child’s best interest, try to give them the benefit of the doubt. Personally I’ve had experiences with one teacher I presumed to be clueless about my daughter’s circumstances who ended up being one of her best advocates.

  8. I have found from experience in order to put an IEP in place, being classified 504 a parent must send a letter to the school principal signature certified. Once the school signs the letter they are obligated to test the child and set up a meeting with the parents as well as a “team” from the school which is to include the child’s teacher, a special education teacher and a principal or vice principal to be present. The signature certified I believe should put the school under a 30 day limit to get the child tested and get the meeting with the parents in place. Once a plan has been agreed upon by the “team” the parents are to receive a copy of the plan. Keep the copy of your plan, anytime your child has a problem or if you know the school is not following it, the school will ask you what is stated in the plan. You have the right to call for a “team” meeting anytime you feel you need to update or change the policy but once a year you are to have a meeting with the whole “team” to update your child’s academic needs so they continue to get the most out of their education.

  9. My daughter has ADHD and is now in middle school. I have learned never to assume that anything has been done; I confirm everything, preferably in e-mail, so I have a paper trail if anyone forgets. Her teachers mean well, but they have a lot of students, and she isn’t the only one with special needs. I make sure to set up a meeting at the beginning of the school year to make sure everyone is on the same page, and I contact her counselor as necessary throughout the year.

    I don’t think there is one formula used by all schools to do a 504 plan. Our school has done no testing, but has accepted testing and diagnoses submitted by our daughter’s doctors. I have a friend who is a school psychologist and she tests students, so it’s not as if the school doesn’t do this, it just accepts independent findings. I assume that they can insist on testing if there is a doubt about the accuracy of the independent diagnoses, but that wouldn’t be an issue with our daughter.

    • Thanks for letting us know strategies that have worked for you and your daughter. The steps you’ve taken as your daughter’s advocate have made a big difference in her education. Through the years, we’ve had very good teachers who went the extra mile, but as you’ve pointed out, their workload is often too heavy to take extra steps for kids like ours. That’s when parents roll up their sleeves and do what needs to be done, prodding with an email or just making sure accommodations are in place. Yay, Mom!