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Reply To: Dealing with the School System

Reply To: Dealing with the School System2013-11-10T13:39:33+00:00

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@sdwa — I will apologize at the top here in case my tone comes across as bossy/know-it-all or telling you what to do. It’s definitely not intended that way, I just want to give my insights to help you make informed decisions. I think because it’s my field, it’s easy to slip into professional-speak instead of what I hope is my usual glib and slightly funny writing style (!) So, read on (and on, and on, and on…)

0.5) (I didn’t realize I was doing a list til further down.) I would find out what the role of counselor is. Are they a guidance counselor or a counselor coming in to help because he’s having trouble? If it’s the latter, that could be a more positive explanation of why they are asking permission to review IEP. In our jurisdiction, IEPs do follow children to high school, and it would be a given that teachers/guidance counselors etc. have access to it, and by professional standards, should at least review it. If someone who provides services at the system level (e.g., counselor) provides support, they usually make sure parents are aware that they have access to the student’s file, including the IEP.

There are also yearly meetings to discuss placement and supports, as well as a transition meeting between elementary school and high school in the spring of their grade 8 year. I don’t know how things work where you are, but perhaps requesting a team meeting at the beginning of each semester would help. At least then you know all teachers are aware.

1) Notes home — good that they have been at least communicating somewhat before the nasty letter. Too bad notes from study hall didn’t come with suggestion to meet with IEP team to go over what is and what isn’t working for him.

2) Art — I am guessing he doesn’t like the art teacher (sooooo hard to toe the line if there is a personality clash). We try and try to get my son to realize that he doesn’t have to like each teacher he has, but he does need to respect that they are in charge of the class, even if in his unhumble opinion they shouldn’t be. To act on his dislike is only shooting himself in the foot. Plus I do like to hope that the child I send out into the world is kind to *all* people. Does the art teacher ask for any suggestions, or is she just listing behaviour? Either way, it’s time to talk to her, with a copy of the IEP in hand, concrete suggestions for how to deal with the behavior she is talking about (you have lived with it for much longer!), and your son. Likely he has some behavior to answer for, even if it is his way of coping with a difficult environment or directly attributable to ADHD (e.g., blurting out). It makes it muddy when it’s a mixture of things he can control, and things he *thinks* he can’t control, and things which are truly beyond his control. It would be ideal to walk away from the meeting with a plan for a way to deal with 1 thing beyond his control (e.g., permission to go for a brief 5 minute walk to get a drink any time he feels that he can’t sit still a minute longer, listening to the teacher, without moving or blurting out or talking back to her), and to deal with 1 thing that he can control (seeing a student taking responsibility for even one thing can be a huge deal). Preferably a meeting like this would take place in the company of the resource teacher or special education teacher – whoever has the role of managing IEPs and advocating for students with IEPs. And, I would suggest booking a follow-up meeting in about three weeks time. Follow through with plans is notoriously difficult for those with ADHD, as you know — letting the teacher know that *before* he slips up is a good idea — otherwise she’ll interpret it as him just not caring. And we know how far from the truth that can be!

3) Transition — is this his first year of high school? If so, then unfortunately it’s not unusual to run into trouble. The good news is that it’s an opportunity to really examine what’s going wrong, and to work on building in better supports and strategies. Better to do that now rather than later in high school or after, when the consequences are greater. (Though no guarantee it won’t be both….) As I’m sure you know, ADHD almost guarantees crashing into a brick wall at some point in our lives. The one advantage he has to those of us diagnosed later in life is that he gets to practise crashing into a brick wall with you there to guide him through the process of picking himself up, brushing himself off, and going at it again.

4) Pleasant thorn in the side: That’s you. That’s your job vis a vis the school. I know this doesn’t sound fun, but you need to find out who your contact is for your son’s accommodations, and make regular contact. I really have my fingers crossed that he or she is good at her job, because when you have a good advocate in the school and parents who are willing to pleasantly remind them of the existence of their child and his/her needs as often as necessary, then things can really work out well. And of course, our jobs as parents with ADHD are harder, because when we don’t hear anything, we assume all is well — or forget all about the issue. Because your son is having trouble, though, you do need to check in regularly — mark it on your calendar or whatever you use to try to remind yourself of the important stuff. Even a quick email once a week or once every 2 weeks, once things have (hopefully) settled down will help keep your son from slipping through the cracks.

5) More about advocacy: Yes, you will likely have to explain, re-explain, draw, act, morse code, whatever it takes to get people to understand your son’s version of ADHD. In a perfect world, you wouldn’t have to do so. I used to get angry that schools just didn’t “get it” about various special needs and learning disabilities. Now that I have been in the field in some form or other for 20 years (whoa! I just realized it’s 20 years!), I have a different understanding. It’s not the job of the front-line professionals to know every possible facet of every possible disability/disorder/labelled condition. That is quite literally impossible. It is our job to stay informed in general, to consult with those with more expertise when we are teaching a child who needs us to tweak our teaching method in order to succeed, and to apply those accommodations. Yes, there are ADHD experts out there, but you and your son have more expertise than anyone else when it comes to his unique brand of ADHD. So the job falls, in part, to you and your son to educate and advocate.

Again, good luck…I have huge admiration for people who advocate for their children, it’s something that’s difficult for me to do as well, as I hate any form of confrontation. Funny, it’s easier for me to advocate for other people’s children than my own. But we do what we gotta do in the best way we know how. And then we carry on. Happy to be a sounding board anytime you need.