Welcome to Hell: ADHD and Valentine’s Day

I fucking hate Valentine’s Day. And not just because it’s the absolute worst night to try to go out for a romantic dinner, because everyone’s favorite romantic restaurants are overcrowded, noisy and completely unromantic. Or because it’s yet another way for corporate America to convince my poor husband that he’s gotta buy me crap I don’t need. No, what really makes Valentine’s Day the 5th layer of hell is that The Boy has ADHD.

They key area where The Boy continues to struggle academically is with writing. He’s excellent at story-telling and super creative, but actually putting pen to paper and getting those ideas out is REALLY FUCKING HARD for him. Like, in a 20 minute writing session in class, he’s lucky to get 2 sentences written, with close to one-to-one support helping him focus and stay on task. And that’s an improvement–it was much worse last year before he started on the ADHD meds.

So now think this through: there are 24 kids in his class, him and 23 others. That means on Valentine’s Day, he’s got to write up 26 valentines. To Billy, From The Boy. To Megan, From The Boy. (These are not real names, I’m not an asshole.) Just those two cards are gonna take him for-freaking-ever. And we’ve still got 21 more to go, all the while with me doing whatever I can to keep him on task.

This year, the assignment for his class was so beautiful, and so in line with the values our school is trying to teach our kids: instead of just commercial cartoony valentines, they sent home note cards, and asked our kids to write compliments about the other kids, and then color the cards, to go in a nice booklet that each kid will get. Isn’t that beautiful? This is why I love our school staff, the compassion they demonstrate and that they work to instill in our kids is amazing. I’m picturing the wonderful book my kid will get, and how much it will boost his self esteem to hear his peers saying nice things about him. I love this idea and the kindness behind it.

But let’s pause for a moment, and think about what this entails for The Boy. He has to think of a compliment for each kid (which is by far the easiest part–he loves the kids in his class), write the kid’s name on the card (“To Suzy, From The Boy”) AND then write a whole sentence compliment. And then color a picture on each one. Times 23.

It took him an hour to write 3 cards and color one. An hour. And that was with us sitting with him the whole time and doing everything we could think of to keep him on task.

At this point, I decided we needed to try a different tack. I stopped to think about what the goal of this assignment was. Was it to get him to write everything because he needs to practice his writing, or was it about telling his classmates what he likes about them? Or was it both? I decided that maybe if we broke the two tasks up, we had a better chance of getting through them.

So, I sat down with him and my iPad and the list of kids in his class, and I had him tell me the compliment he wanted to write about each one, and I typed them up for him. That took us about 15 minutes. Then we printed the list out, and we let him look at it so he didn’t have to both think up what to say AND write it out at the same time. He could just copy the words he had already come up with. This definitely sped up the physical writing process–since he didn’t need to think about what he was going to write AND write it at the same time, he got the cards done faster. Not fast by any stretch, but faster. His teacher also offered to let him and his classmates work on the cards in class, if they were going to need extra time to finish them. (Again, LOVE our school staff. They do the things that need to be done to support The Boy and other kids whose brains work differently.)

I know that typing up his ideas first feels a bit like cheating on getting him to figure out how to spell things. But fuck it, that’s the only way this project was getting done in the roughly 10 days we had to finish it. I’m not kidding. Maybe if we’d gotten the assignment sometime before Christmas, we could have made this happen the way other kids can do it. But when writing is a struggle for your kid, you have to make concessions on this stuff. It’s just not right to ask a 7 year old to put in that many hours of work. He needs time to just be a kid and have fun, like his non-disabled peers do. In fact, maybe even more so, if you read the studies on physical activity and ADHD.

The miracle is, he DID finish all the cards on time. I’m really proud of how hard he worked. Maybe some other families might look at his atrocious handwriting and just think he wasn’t trying hard, but if they could see just how much effort he put into this project, they’ll realize that those cards show just how much love and respect he has for his classmates.

So, if this year your kid gets some valentines that look like crap, or were clearly not hand-written by a kid in their class, please don’t poo-poo them. They probably reflect more thought and effort than you realize.