Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurobiological disorder that affects at least 5 to 8 percent of school-age children. It can be composed of symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity, inattentiveness, or a combination of all three. Symptoms of impairment usually show up in two or more environments. ADHD symptoms must affect a major life activity like learning for a child to be seen as requiring help.
The severity of a child’s symptoms and degree of impairment will affect his positive performance at school. Often parents only set up a meeting with their child’s teacher later in the school year, after the child has had little success and a loss of self-esteem. But it’s important that you advocate for your child’s needs from the beginning of the school year. Contact the teacher by letter to set up a meeting which will ensure that the accommodations your child needs are in place.
Accommodations could include:
- sitting in the front of the class
- being given more time for a test
- taking a test in another room, without distractions
- permission for the child to record notes
- using peer notes
- being given a test verbally
In addition, deficits in executive functioning—cognitive skills that allow people to start projects, stay organized, and remember things—also affect learning. Children with ADHD need help in these areas.
Accommodations don’t change the academic requirements for a student. Rather, they can become part of a 504 plan. Such plans are part of the Disability Act of 1973 and were originally set up to level the playing field for those with physical disabilities. Sometimes the teacher will be willing to put these accommodations in place. Other times, you may need to schedule a meeting to officially sanction these services.
Once these accommodations are set up, maintain communication with the teacher—in a mutually acceptable format—as you both assess whether or not they’re leading to success. Keep all communication in writing and save everything, including emails. Remember that a 504 plan can be interpreted broadly. If, after a time, you decide your child needs more specific interventions, you can request an Individual Education Program (IEP plan). This is considered a legal document that, in part, specifies the responsibilities of the school district and staff in regard to a particular student.
To Request an IEP
Write a letter to the school, with copies to the teacher, principal, and child study team, outlining your concerns and the accommodations already in place. Indicate why you believe the accommodations you and the teacher have set up haven’t been successful. Ask for a complete evaluation by the school. This school evaluation can diagnose learning differences that require intervention. Be aware of New Jersey’s requirements as to when the school must respond to your letter.
Remember, the school can’t make the diagnosis of ADHD since it’s considered a medical diagnosis. Healthcare personnel like neurologists or developmental pediatricians can evaluate for this. Find someone who has experience in the evaluation and diagnosis of ADHD. Many other disorders overlap ADHD, so you do need an expert.
Once the evaluation takes place, school officials must meet with you to discuss the results. This can lead to the formation of an IEP with specific goals and objectives. Again, you’ll need constant assessment, communication with school personnel, and a consistent paper trail to ensure success and maintain your child’s healthy self-esteem.
If you and the teacher maintain a disability perspective, your child will receive positive intervention and achieve success.
Karen K Lowry, RN, MSN, is a CHADD Parent2Parent ADHD Family Trainer, and an ADHD coach for children, teens, and college students in New Jersey. She’s the author of The Seventh Inning Sit: A Journey of ADHD.