Stand by Them While They Stand Up for Themselves – Self Advocacy

Recently I read a blog by Leigh Pretner Cousins, M.S., an educator and a counselor, who wrote about study strategies for students and parents. One of her suggestions was, Resist being sucked into this tempting but time-wasting trap!

Kids are NEVER lazy, spoiled, careless, or unmotivated. They often ARE: Frightened, confused, lacking in skills or information, frustrated, angry, sad, pressured, preoccupied, worried that they are “dumb” or otherwise “abnormal.”

What I liked about this blog was the message that perceptions get in the way of providing the right help in the right way. It is my observation what kids think about their roadblocks to success can be quite different than what parents think. However, watching a student get onto Facebook instead of preparing for a big biology test coming up Friday can be disconcerting for a caring parent.

While working with students who have ADHD (or concussion) and suffer from executive dysfunction, I often notice an unexplainable simultaneous presence of high capacity and underachievement. If a parent happens to casually observe the student’s approach to learning or work, he/she may be tempted to think that the student has an overall lackadaisical attitude or depleted care for one’s own welfare. Using the best tool in the parenting belt, parents get busy with conventional wisdom and find themselves thinking that their kids are being difficult, lazy or even entitled. Once this notion of student’s intentional unwillingness to put the effort and focus in producing work is triggered, no parent feels empathy for that student’s suffering.

In my approach to teaching ‘learning to think’, I like to start with the foundation that executive dysfunction is REAL and is definitely not intentional. Making a choice to go on Facebook instead of working on biology IS intentional but not being able to judge how being on Facebook can cause derailment of goals and lead to a waste of time is UNINTENTIONAL. When a disgruntled parent steps in and prohibits the student from being on Facebook he/she is acting and fulfilling the role of the executive brain. The true disability is the student’s inability to JUDGE what is good and what is bad for his future (immediate or down the road).

A NEW WAY OF PARENTING: It is an essential as well as an urgent therapeutic goal that students with ADHD (or concussion) self-monitor their choices and do so independently. However, parenting must change radically since the conventional wisdom of coming down on them hard or taking the rein of control in their hands is not going to work.

One needs to consider a two-fold approach for managing the problem of executive dysfunction:

  1. Create a shared family vision: Before changing habits, families need to work on modifying the vision of family dynamics. Every member of the family must agree to be respectful and patient with the process. The students with ADHD (or concussion) needs to understand the value of parental directive and has to be brought to the level where the advice regarding self–regulation must be honored as a family value.
    • During the discussions, treat each other with utmost respect
    • Cool off before engaging in discussions regarding rules and compliance
    • Visit this question often, “Do you know why I am doing all this?”
    • Send a “heads-up” email to your student in order to prepare him for a discussion regarding failure to be compliant
    • During the family meetings, discuss cause-effect relationship even for positive outcomes and not just for negative ones
    • Establish household protocols of acceptable engagement with timewasters (or essential social detours for teenagers) such as Facebook, videogames, texting etc.
    • Discuss explicitly how cooperation, love and respect has had a positive impact on every family member’s thought process
  2. Mediate with collaborative language: When communicating needs, the students with ADHD (or concussion) need to adopt a language that reflects accurate self-judgment.  The language used while seeking help should have a tone of modesty and introspection. Many students with ADHD (or concussion) lack the insight to know how they are under-functioning and how they are presenting themselves they may appear arrogant, apathetic or insensitive towards those who are likely to help. Hence language of self-advocacy has to be such that it eradicates the observer’s belief that the student is disinterested or indifferent but rather is truly suffering from a dysfunction. However, this practice must begin at home.
    • Parents and students alike should exhibit cooperative body language (Non-verbal language is as powerful as verbal directives)
    • Parents should prompt that their kids must use requests with an introspective voice
      • Can you please…
      • Is it possible to get you to…
      • Would it be too much trouble if I…
      • Parents also need to use empathic words such as “it must be quite hard to get down to studying when you are so tired and when it is so late”

Parenting has never been easy but modeling good citizenship is even harder. People who suffer from executive dysfunction have an added burden of compensating for lack of insight and tendency towards generalized apathy towards how others view them.

I invite you to leave a comment and join me in sharing ideas. If you would you like to know more about my practice, visit my website at For any further communication, leave me a note here or contact me at

1 Comment

  1. Anne Rieger

    March 26, 2012 at 9:52 am

    I found this article as a bit of a “wake – up” call to understanding personalities. For exampople, I am a “fixer” — see a problem, I seek an ansnwer and look for a resolution. I would guess my “NAG” to somoene with ADHD or Executive Dysfunction. After reading I am going to go with the belief that if we treat this as a ‘true diagnosis” and have empathy then the person suffering will feel our compassion and inturn be more accepting of help.

    But a little voice from my “fixer” personality is going to ask, “how long will this take for the person with the Dysfucntion to turn around?

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