My son was diagnosed with ADHD at age 10 – very late by ADHD standards.
Although I had long suspected it, I also did not feel like there was any pressing need to pursue testing and diagnosis. If I am honest, part of it was fear and maybe even a little shame. We were already homeschooling, so needing to sit still in a classroom was a non-issue. Overall, ADHD seemed minor at the time.
My son is now 12.
It doesn’t seem minor anymore.
As we have entered the middle school years, the struggles he faces as a result of his ADHD have only intensified.
The middle school years are a time of significant change for all children.
Cognitive maturation, physical changes and puberty, coupled with increasing social expectations and requirements can make this time frame a difficult one – even in the best of circumstances.
Add ADHD to the mix and things become complicated, quickly.
My son was the one who identified it first. In conversation with me and his therapist last year, he said, “What’s hardest right now is feeling like my brain won’t slow down. I can’t really even focus. Is this my ADHD, because if it is, I think need help.”
That same day, I came home determined to find as much information as I could about his age and ADHD. I was surprised to find very little. Most resources were designed for parents of younger children, or parents navigating the seriousness (read – drivers licenses and drug abuse) of ADHD and teens.
With that in mind, I thought I would share what I have learned so far, and the work in progress that is my understanding of ADHD in the middle school years.
The Truth About ADHD And The Middle School Years
Physical vs. Emotional Maturity
I read somewhere that children with ADHD often develop emotional and functional maturity at a slower rate. Typically, children with ADHD are approximately 2-3 years behind their typically developing peers in emotional and social maturity. Their physical development however, if not affected and proceeds as usual.
This gap between physical and emotional development is at its greatest disparity during the middle school years. As such, our children often feel increasing levels of anxiety and depression associated with the new physicality of their bodies coupled with a lagging emotional ability to handle all the feelings it brings. My son is literally becoming a boy in a man’s body.
Executive Function and Increasing Demands
When a child reaches the middle school years, the expectation shifts (and rightly so) to increasing independence and self-management. School demands increase and include an expectation of organization and planning. For a child with ADHD, executive function is often a struggle, making this a difficult transition on every level.
For my son, this tends to look like not knowing where to even start, or having trouble switching gears between subjects. It also leads to leaving work about half-done without even realizing it.
Social Development and Peer Relationships
As a child gets older and enters into this season, his or her differences become much more apparent. A younger child who is rambunctious and silly can still get along and more easily interact with other children. In the middle school years though, it is just not as easy. The emotional immaturity we discussed above, coupled with peer pressure to “fit,” can make social situations extremely difficult for the child with ADHD.
This has certainly been true for both of my children with differences, including ADHD. The older they get, the harder it has been for them to maintain existing relationships and develop new ones.
Incidentally, one of the reasons we did not receive a diagnosis of ADHD for so long, was because of our decision to homeschool. Hands down, homeschooling my son has eliminated many of the stressors and struggles children with ADHD tend to face in a classroom.
If you would like more information about homeschooling a middle-schooler with learning differences, I am sharing all of my best tips and tricks as part of Year Round Homeschooling’s middle school series.
Over the course of the next several months, I will be sharing different strategies and ideas here for parenting a child with ADHD. Please join me in the hopes that we can learn together!
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