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ADD, Anxiety, and Socialization Problems

LD and ADD/ADHD Expert Advice from Eileen S. Marzola, Ed.D.

Q: My nine-year-old daughter, who has ADD and anxiety, has difficulty with recess time and doesn't socialize appropriately. This gets her into trouble frequently. The school's main punishment is to have her spend recess "on the wall." When I was told that she would be punished like this for a week, I pulled her out of school for the afternoons. The only other option is a class for kids with emotional and behavioral problems. Isn't putting a child "on the wall" extreme?

Last week, my daughter's teacher told her she wouldn't be getting her morning recess anymore this year and to just go color in the office. Even though my daughter is on a Behavioral IEP, the teacher didn't even tell me about my daughter losing morning recess. My child now hates school and her teacher. A phone call took care of the recess, but not how she feels inside.

A: Use of regular punishment like being "on the wall" when others are playing is unlikely to change your daughter's behavior in a positive manner. It's better to try a more proactive approach to prevent a crisis, rather than a reactive response once the crisis has arrived. It might be worthwhile trying to identify -- and perhaps modify -- the structure of recess time while she's exposed to models of appropriate behavior during "free play." Return to your school guidance counselor, classroom teacher, psychologist (or whoever was involved with the creation of the behavior goals for her IEP) and go back to the drawing board to create a system that works more effectively for your daughter and for her school.

Many kids who can "hold it together" during structured academic class time have much more difficulty coping during open-ended times like recess. You have every right to be concerned about the school's reaction to your daughter's behavior during these more unstructured activity times. If she has a "Behavioral IEP," then behavioral goals and objectives should be spelled out, as well as details on interventions/responses her teachers have in mind for dealing with her problems.

Are there a variety of activities available during recess time? Structured activities that involve clear-cut rules and expectations for behavior can help. Opportunities for playing organized games rather than open-ended activities can eliminate some of the stresses of recess time. Some schools use recess time to offer "clubs" where children have an opportunity to interact in smaller groups exploring an interest (chess, arts and crafts, etc.). Try talking to your daughter's teacher and/or principal to see if they are willing to expand the activities offered during recess so your daughter can be allowed to choose an activity that better meets her needs and interests.

Is your daughter seeing a counselor in school? She may need to role-play appropriate "playground behaviors," including alternatives to impulsive, acting-out behaviors that are causing her to have trouble with the social aspects of free time out of the classroom. As she learns and practices more appropriate behaviors, your daughter should be rewarded in some manner. Her teacher can use a point system where she earns and then trades in her points.

Before you go in to talk to the people at your daughter's school, you might want to have a look at Harvey Parker's book, Problem Solver Guide for Students with ADHD: Ready-to-Use Interventions for Elementary and Secondary Students. Parker offers an abundance of classroom accommodations and intervention strategies to deal with the kinds of problems your daughter is encountering. Preparing yourself with some concrete suggestions for modifying your child's program might be helpful. Good luck!

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For more than 20 years, Eileen Marzola has worked with children and adults with learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders, and with their parents and teachers. She has been a regular education classroom teacher, a consultant teacher/resource teacher, an educational evaluator/diagnostician, and has also taught graduate students at the university level. Marzola is an adjunct assistant professor of education at Teachers College, Columbia University, and Hunter College of the City University of New York. She also maintains a private practice in the evaluation and teaching of children with learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.


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