Dealing with the School System

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Dealing with the School System 2013-11-06T16:45:53+00:00

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Viewing 15 posts - 1 through 15 (of 28 total)
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  • sdwa
    Post count: 359

    I’ve been surfing around looking for help with Dealing With The Schools. I get a lot of nasty letters from my son’s high school – he’s late, he misses class, he doesn’t complete his assignments, he’s disrespectful, doesn’t apply himself – blah blah blah, you’ve heard it all.

    I looked at CHADD and the usual national websites, plus some other private ones – coaching places, smaller non-profits, etc. What I notice is that while most will talk about how to make sure the schools provide the IEP your family is legally entitled to, nobody’s really talking about how parents can communicate with teachers, principals, special ed instructors, etc. Somehow, I don’t think my telling them “My son thinks you’re an @ssh-le and so do I” is going to help.

    Usually I get letters from the school, and my first reaction is that I’m angry. I’m disgusted, I feel demoralized, and I totally freak out and shut down. My second reaction is that I have no idea what they expect me to say – if anything – it’s not like I’m going to wave a magic wand and the next day my kid will wake up and not have ADHD any more. What do they expect me to do?

    The schools – even the special ed people who are supposed to at least know SOMETHING – it’s like not only do they understand NOTHING about ADHD, they feel like it’s not their job to know. They don’t want to hear, let alone actually DO anything differently. They want to force him into their system, not adjust to what works for him. They don’t CARE what works for him. Public education is totally one size fits all – and if it doesn’t work for a kid, that kid is labeled a problem.

    I don’t think the teachers are going to change – not even the ones who say they want my son in their class. They think he’s being disrespectful and difficult on purpose. They expect him to be able to manage the way other kids do, and to conform to standards he can’t meet.

    My child is not going to change.

    Assuming the only part of this equation I can change is myself, I still don’t know how to work with school staff to get what my kid needs. I don’t know how to get what I need from them. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do to improve things. I don’t know how to find out from my son what HE needs because he won’t talk about it.

    Some web resources talk about family relationships, and that’s fine – I hope to be able to learn from them.

    I am looking for information about how to talk to or work with teachers. It’s hard not to approach the school with all the baggage I have from my own life about how much they SUCK and how much damage they cause because they choose to remain willfully IGNORANT.

    But let’s say I get some emotional distance on this and want to have a constructive dialogue. How would I do this? What should I say?

    Any thoughts or experiences about how to communicate with schools to help ADHD kids be more successful – or at least get the support they deserve – would be appreciated.

    Post count: 359

    And also: He has an IEP. It just isn’t helping. He used to get one-on-one support outside the classroom or in small groups, up until 6th grade. After that they stuck him in the big classroom with a special ed “floater” who drifts around checking on students, and they say that’s all the school system offers through 12th grade. It is not enough. He refuses to work with a coach (not that I can afford $400 a month anyway). I am afraid he is going to flunk out of high school. I don’t know what to do.

    This might make a good webinar topic for the future – how to communicate with schools, etc. and if that fails, where to go for help.

    Post count: 456

    I don’t know which state you live in, but here in Washington, there is a K-12 online academy. The student logs into the computer and attends a couple required classes through skype. The rest of the classes are online learning, recorded lectures and demonstrations. I like it, because he is doing so well, and his parents like it, because its FREE!

    Our grandson, went from being a year behind to an honors student and he is happy in school. He has ADHD, and like his grandpa, he has a little OCD. The school doesn’t need to accommodate him at all. he just goes at his own pace, running through the stuff he gets and taking time on the stuff he doesn’t.

    Without all the distractions, teasing, walking to and from classes, waiting for class to start… the list goes on. He is able to compress a 7 hour day into 2 hours. Here is a link to the one here in Washington, and maybe they can find you a similar program in your state.

    Hope this helps.


    Post count: 359


    Thanks. I actually am in Washington State. I saw your mention of this on another thread and checked it out. It sounds like an option, although it might be too late for this year. My concern is providing the kind of structure where the kid would actually do school work and not sit around playing video games all day – having a physical space dedicated to learning, and having time when I’m not at work that I can dedicate to helping him with school work. My husband is dead set against the idea (without taking any time to actually review the website), but if things don’t improve….I want to know what my son thinks about it. He asked to be home schooled in middle school and we didn’t know programs like this existed – he was so miserable, but we thought it would cost a fortune – I’m surprised this is free.

    Teachers are still ill equipped to respond to special needs kids who are being “mainstreamed” – good intentions but may not work.

    I gather the amount of work kids at the online school do is comparable to the number of hours in a regular school day. But do they have to be there during set hours, or can they log in and out when they want? Is that what you mean about show up for some Skype lectures, and then do online stuff at other times? I couldn’t tell from the website, but it sounds like if your grandson can do a day’s work in two hours, they have quite a bit of flexibility.

    As it turns out, this particular teacher has been complaining to the mother of another kid who has ADHD about her kid, so it sounds to me like the teacher is a bad match for kids who have ADHD. I feel better, actually, knowing that it isn’t just us. It’s like a classic example of a guy with a problem who wants to make his problem everyone else’s problem because he doesn’t want to adjust his thinking. He mistakenly believes he shouldn’t have to. Bad idea.

    The schools dump on parents way too much – the attitude seems to be that we should bully our kids into better behavior, or that kids with disabilities or learning differences are just bratty and should be beaten into submission. A teacher with a “my way or the highway attitude” who is authoritarian, punitive, and hyper-controlling is going to be frustrated – but it’s not like it will ever occur to him that he has a choice between being right and being happy, and might have to change his approach if he wants better relationships with his students.

    When I hear some of the “problems” some adults have with their kids – like power struggles, “disrespectful” behavior, or “defiance” – I’m glad I didn’t have that kind of role modeling growing up. I don’t seek power over others, and don’t fight battles like that. My struggles are with what might be excessive non-intervention, not chronic micro-management. In a lot of ways, I think I’m a pretty cool mom. Control freaks are begging for trouble. They bring that upon themselves. I might have a lot of other failings as a parent, but that whole area isn’t one of them.

    Anyway, enough babble. Thank you, again, for the link. It looks promising to me.

    Post count: 165

    From the “I’m no expert dept”…

    “Usually I get letters from the school, and my first reaction is that I’m angry. I’m disgusted, I feel demoralized, and I totally freak out and shut down. My second reaction is that I have no idea what they expect me to say – if anything – it’s not like I’m going to wave a magic wand and the next day my kid will wake up and not have ADHD any more. What do they expect me to do?

    I might suggest you try to put the school on the spot by suggesting their negative input will do nothing but discourage both the student and the parent/family – ask if this is their goal, or perhaps, what POSITIVE action plan can be put in place to produce some good results.  Suggest that like a marriage, nothing good will come of critical remarks/letters, but working together with an action plan will perhaps help, and at least allow some tracking of progress.

    It’s a difficult spot, and I wish you the best of luck, Jim

    Post count: 359


    I think that is a great suggestion, and probably more expert than you think. It’s what I want to say when I get those messages – do they have any constructive suggestions (leaving of the added mental part: or do those malicious bastards just want to dump on me?). People think negativity will make a problem go away, when often (if not always) the opposite is true. Anyway, I didn’t consider that as an option, and now I think I will. Thanks.

    Post count: 958

    @sdwa – I may not be the best person to give advice on how to talk to teachers. My response would pretty much be “your an @sshole”, like you said.

    My brother has two kids with special needs (Aspergers and ADHD/disgraphia) and he complains all the time about the frustrations of dealing with the school. The biggest issue they have is getting teachers to understand that disabled doesn’t equal stupid.

    If I was in your situation I would probably request a meeting with the teacher in question and/or thee principal. Then I would treat it just like a business meeting, prepare notes ahead of time, make up a little information package about ADHD, take a pen and notebook with me, and discuss the issues, one at a time. I would even dress the part, wearing nice clothes and putting my hair up. There are two reasons I would handle it that way: First, it gives you the upper hand, puts you in control of the situation. And second, by being very business like in difficult situations I distance myself from the emotional reactions.


    I’m afraid the rest of my comment will have to wait. I was just reminded that I am supposed to be baking a ham for dinner.

    Post count: 359


    I appreciate the support. Also, I think you’re right – to always put on the best personal presentation. I should do the whole “image consulting” thing on myself for the other aspects of my life, since obviously my public image, whatever it is, doesn’t work for me (as indicated by the hostility I seem to attract in public just for breathing outside).

    The video “understanding learning disabilities” on YouTube (I think shutterbug mentioned this elsewhere but maybe it was someone else) with Rich Lavoie demonstrates for teachers, parents, & others what it’s like for kids in the classroom – although it is about LD and not ADHD or Aspergers, my guess is that the frustration for students is very similar)

    If straight Cs are the best my son can do, I am really OK with that. In one class he’s actually gotten an A. I need to find out why.

    I was able to find a couple of videos on the topic on Attention Talk Radio, which I recommend checking out in their archives for anyone who may be having this problem.

    The main points I picked up:

    1) Be diplomatic – obviously – but I also know that in the moment I have a limited ability to manage my emotions, and therefore might not be the best person to interface with the school (maybe my husband can be the point person – he’s better at that stuff, but I’m better at information collection and management). Thankfully I haven’t told anyone to go screw themselves yet! I need to let someone else handle meetings and correspondence – I can’t trust myself to remain calm.

    2) Assume (or at least pretend) everyone has the kid’s best interests at heart.

    3) Focus on what’s best for the kid, not on the personalities of the teachers, parents, or administrators.

    4) Try to find out from the kid what works for him, what he needs, how he works best – maybe even try to get his suggestions about what does or doesn’t work for him. Notice what’s going on when things are working well.

    5) The schools won’t do anything they don’t have to do – basically, the squeaky wheel gets the grease because of limited resources

    6) Parents can request additional IEP meetings if the current plan isn’t working

    7) It’s the adults in the situation who need to change, not the kid – so if the kid is having “behavioral problems” that means the plan isn’t working and needs to be changed. Don’t let adults expect the kid to change to support their needs, when they are supposed to change to support the kid.

    8) Document everything (the IEP, conversations with teachers, etc) – that way if you need to go over the school district to get help, you’ll have records of what happened

    As a parent with ADHD, it is frustrating that so much of the information about the legal aspects and administrative process are presented in a text-heavy, inaccessible way (even on websites that should know better, like CHADD’s or the National Resource Center – could the information made any more difficult to find or more confusing? I don’t understand why websites that are supposed to be to help people with ADHD are confusing jumbles of extraneous visual information with crazy links going off in all directions – and then when you have a simple question, they want you to read a 200 page e-book. Seriously, go figure).

    Trying to learn how the system works and how to navigate it could take months. By the time I figure out, will my kid A) have dropped out; B) been incarcerated; or C) graduated at the bottom of his class?

    Le sigh.



    Post count: 456


    I wished there was a way I could contact you, or my wife. OK. Here is the run-down on the Online academy.

    First the students are expected to put in time to learn their lessons, Depending on the subject and the grade level they have to complete a10-20 lesson modules a week. When they do those is up to the student. Attendance is kept, by having the parent log on and sign off on the lessons and with the school. They still get paid by the state and the state requires daily attendance be taken.


    The teachers are AMAZINGLY well prepared for special needs children. I think that is why they have this school in the first place. There are only a couple mandatory classes the students attend, and that is done on SKYPE.

    Since he decides when he “goes to school” it puts him in control. This means the rule “no Xbox until your school work is done” hasn’t been enforced in a LONG time. Power struggles are not really a factor. The worst came when CoD Ghost came out and he wanted to play that with his friends. Since he was ahead in his studies, he got to play and take a day off school.

    He doesn’t get bullied, teased, or anything like that. So, he is enjoying school. Yea… ENJOYING. That is a foreign concept for me and I had to have him repeat that a couple times. My only down side is I am programed to think that you have to put in 6-7 hours a day into school to learn anything. Not true. It has educated me as well.

    You can sign up mid-year, and the next open slot they have, you will get in.

    I hope this helps.

    Post count: 359


    Thanks. Yeah, that does help. It sounds like it would be worth a try, or at least talking to my kid about it. My husband is probably the biggest obstacle because he thinks it’s a categorically bad idea (for what I gather are the usual reasons – people think online classrooms are not good enough, or they’re missing a social component, or because the kid won’t do the work if  he’s at home).

    The only class my son is not failing (I just checked his grades, which are worse than I thought) – is his general study hall period, where he’s getting an A. What’s weird about that picture? Failing (Ds, one low C, an E, for crying out loud) in everything but study hall? Really? What’s different about study hall? Inquiring minds want to know.



    Post count: 958

    @sdwa I think #4 on your list might actually be the biggest challenge, given the nature of teenage boys. Good luck with that. 😉

    I certainly don’t keep up my personal appearance that well on a daily basis, and I didn’t mean to suggest that there may a problem with how you present yourself. It’s like play acting. I can do it for job interviews and maybe for a few weeks after I start the job.

    But then I slowly start to slip as I get more and more disorganized and have to rush more and more to get out the door. For the last few months that I was working I wore pants that the hem had come down on that didn’t fit me properly in the first place and were usually sprayed with Febreeze  because I forgot to wash them.

    And just because I say I would do something doesn’t necessarily mean that I actually would. It’s a lot easier to think about doing it that it is to do it.

    I know what you mean about the needle-in-the-haystack search for information. I get so frustrated when I have to wade through a huge amount of text to find one tiny little piece of information. I have   trouble just getting through the longish posts here. (I know what you’re thinking, but typing them is easier than reading them)

    Ultimately, whatever is best for your son is what is important. Maybe the homeschooling thing is good. The way shutterbug describes it sounds like it is set up to have all the necessary structure but with more freedom and flexibility. It sort of reminds me of the “alternative school” they set up here many years ago, shortly after I finished high school. I watched the report and said “now why didn’t they have that when I was in school?” It was a classroom setting but it was casual, the students were free to come in and leave at any time, with no penalties for being late, and could work at their own pace, with one on one help when they needed it. I think it would have been perfect for me because I liked school I just hated having to be on time every day. 🙂

    I have no idea where my train of thought was originally headed, but it switched tracks somewhere along   the way. And my keyboard is starting to act up. Battery must be low. So I will leave it there.

    Post count: 162

    Hey, @sdwa, a few things:

    1. Knowing the purpose of that letter would help. Is it the first time they are contacting you re: his troubles this term? I hope not. I am starting to suspect it’s a CYA letter because he’s failing. (Cover your a** – make sure you have informed parents before failing a student. )

    2. Your numbered points are great. Though #7 – by high school, child also shares responsibility and should take part in planning and reviewing accommodations. That said, being a teenager is tough enough without throwing in the added role of self-advocate…not everyone is ready yet at that age.

    3. Definitely, I would approach it as a squeaky wheel who more than anything in the world would love to work together with school professionals to help a struggling child. And yes, it may require a LOT of acting on your part not to let resentment creep in, understandably. Is there someone who could play the role of advocate for you and attend meetings with you? Either an advocate with an organization like CHADD (if they exist), or a friend or family member (in addition to you and husband). Sometimes those school meetings get over-populated with school staff, which can be intimidating, even if it’s not meant to be. Having another body there sends the message that this child has people behind him. Counter-intimidation, if you will 😉
    4. I know it’s hard, but try to remain positive. The situation is *not* working for your child. Everything you describe – the teacher attitudes, lack of knowledge, etc. – it’s like he’s walking through school life wearing the wrong glasses. But he needs to know that there *is* a right pair of glasses out there for him….just you haven’t found them yet. Yes, yes yes!! find out what is working for him and ask for help so you can help him build on his strengths. I don’t know what “study hall” is – is it a learning skills class? If so, try to talk to that teacher. Fingers crossed that they are knowledgeable and are seeing capabilities in your son.

    My hope for you is that you make a connection with just one staff member who is willing to work with you.

    The online school – if you explore that route, what about asking them how they assess if that mode of learning is a good fit for a particular student? And yes, school is still about socialization at this age – so how do they address that need? Or is that assumed to be the responsibility of the student and the family? I’m not discounting it at all as a possibility – but if they can provide meaningful answers that show there is a plan in place for those significant issues, then you would have more assurance of success if your son chose that route.

    Lots to think about with lots of emotion attached, decision making and follow-through. Blech. I’d prefer to go through childbiirth again than to deal with that. Childbirth is so much easier. (Says the mom who is getting a concussion from banging her head against the wall in frustration over her son’s attitude towards homework – and his attitude towards her for insisting he’s not exempt from homework just because he doesn’t like the teacher.)

    All of this is semi-solicited, semi-professional advice…feel free to use the bits that help and toss the rest. Lots of great insights on this thread. Good luck.

    Post count: 359


    You crack me up. Febreeze. LOL.


    I don’t know about any of it. (Yes, interesting no kid is exempt from homework for not liking the teacher – obviously they should be).

    Latest piece of semi-horrifying news. I get in touch with the person who runs the study hall. I thought she was the point of contact on his IEP, or was the Special Ed person who provides those services in that setting. (My older son says everyone gets an A in study hall  just for showing up, so it doesn’t mean anything. And FYI, he’s had a 4.0 GPA and has been at the top of his class since he started high school two years ago – and he doesn’t have ADHD. Coincidence? I think not). Plus drama: The study hall teacher sends me a form asking for permission to give younger son’s “counselor” (whoever that is) a copy of the IEP. A release form. What?

    1) Why doesn’t his counselor have this form? Why didn’t it come over from his middle school, since we signed it last spring? They’re just telling us now that they never got his IEP? Would they have told me if I didn’t ask, and if he wasn’t failing?

    2) I thought this study hall teacher was the counselor for his IEP.

    So far, I have received four notes from teachers – two from the study hall person, fairly non-confrontational about his chronic lateness and poor grades (at that time, he was still getting Cs), one from his science teacher saying he was failing, and two from his art teacher complaining bitterly about his behavior in class.



    Post count: 958

    @sdwa– I only wish I was joking. 😐

    I can’t imagine the nightmare dealing with all of this must be, especially when you have ADHD yourself. I would be screaming and banging my head against the table in your situation. All those details, having to figure out who is who and what’s been happening when and where…ugh!

    It sounds like a good place to start might be with the IEP. Getting to the bottom of what happened to it and why they are only just now asking your permission to release it to the counsellor and finding out just who his counsellor is and what they have been doing all this time. It is really easy for kids   with special needs to fall through the cracks, especially when they are labeled as having a bad attitude. Teachers will just write them off as lost causes. (Believe me, I know. I was told more than once that I should just drop out. And I had good grades!)

    And your son should certainly be involved in the decision making as much as possible. If he doesn’t want to participate fine. As dithl said, it is a lot of pressure for someone who is already under strain. But if it is possible to get him to communicate his needs and what he feels would   work best for him then that could help a lot with those “attitude” issues. And getting someone to go with you to any meetings, like dithl suggested, is a great idea. Not only to provide a buffer between you and the school staff and show extra support for your son, but also for an extra set of eyes and ears to help catch   things you might miss.


    @dithl – great advice. I don’t have any experience with either, but I think I would prefer childbirth to dealing with teenage issues as well. If I had children, I would give them up for adoption at the age of 12. 😉

    Post count: 162

    @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.

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