The School System and ADD
ADD/ADHD is a commonly misunderstood disorder. In order to help your child succeed in the school environment, it is important to know your rights – and the rights of your child.
Myth: Children with ADD/ADHD are lazy or lack intelligence.
Truth: Most people with ADD/ADHD have high IQs and are very creative, according to research studies.
Knowledge is power. As a parent, it is important to be aware of your child's rights within the school system. You have a right to expect your child's school to be supportive, informed and receptive to all aspects of your child's needs.
Where to Start
It may be necessary to apply for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for your special needs child. The IEP is a written document that is developed for each eligible student with a disability in accordance with the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Congress re-authorized IDEA in the spring of 1997. This legislation has been providing access to a free public education for children with disabilities for more than 20 years. It guarantees that all students through the age of 21 will receive free appropriate public education regardless of their disability.
Sandra Rief, MA, an educational consultant and author of several books on the topic of ADD/ADHD and school systems, including How to Reach & Teach ADD/ADHD Children and The ADD/ADHD Checklist, states that under IDEA, children with ADD/ADHD typically receive special education and related services under the Specific Learning Disabilities category.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 also protects children with ADHD if the child is determined by the school team to meet the following criteria: The child has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, says Rief. "If the team makes that determination that the ADHD symptoms/behaviors are substantially limiting a child's ability to learn, that student is entitled to a 504 accommodation plan."
According to Rief, a 504 plan enables qualified students to receive "reasonable accommodations" and supports.
There are some important things that parents need to keep in mind when applying for an IEP. The process is very involved for the child, parent and faculty. This was outlined in the handbook that is distributed by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) at a class they offer for families titled Visions for Tomorrow:
- An IEP must be in effect at the beginning of the school year and before special education services are provided.
- The IEP must be implemented in a timely fashion after the initial IEP meeting.
- Parents must receive a copy of the IEP, including all relevant IEP Placement Minutes, and psychological evaluations.
- After the student has been deemed eligible for an IEP, the meeting must be conducted within 30 days of said determination.
- At least one teacher must attend the meeting.
- You may bring along a support person, such as a family member or counselor.
- A local school system representative (LSS) must be present at the meeting – one who has the authority to commit LSS resources (i.e. principal, speech pathologist, teacher or special education administrator).
As a parent involved in the IEP process, your role is to be an equal partner with the school personnel in making any decisions regarding the development and necessary revisions of the IEP for your child. All individuals at the meeting are there to determine the needs of the child through the information collected from all those involved in his care.
After the Evaluation
After the child has been evaluated, there must be reasonable accommodations made by the school to help the child succeed. Listed below are some of the more common modifications that schools must provide support by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973:
- Child may be given extra time to finish assignments.
- Double time may be provided for all exams, including PSATs, SATs, etc.
- Making available substitute classes for required courses.
- Modifying foreign language requirements where necessary.
- Evaluating method of instruction during exams.
Under this act, schools must provide every student with LD or ADD with a fair, and appropriate, education.
"Not all children with ADD find it necessary to have an IEP," says Marilyn Kirkland, LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker in Lawrenceville, Ga. "A high percentage of students can maintain their grades and have successful school years with the support of sensitive, informed educators, parents and caregivers."
"My 11-year-old son is currently in a private school setting and does not have an IEP, but the school has an understanding of ADD," says Alaine Benard of Baton Rouge, La. "It works for us because he gets the religious/academic education and the special attention he needs."
Benard recalls a time when her son was in the first grade at another school, where the teachers were uninformed about ADD. "I will forever regret not moving schools sooner," says Benard. "Having found a school with a dynamic teacher educated in the instruction of ADD has been a Godsend. My son's self-esteem has finally had a chance to bloom. It is amazing what a difference the teachers' attitudes and understanding of ADD makes in the students' acceptance of our kids."
Benard points out how important it is for teachers to lead the way in accepting ADD children in the classroom and not shutting them out. By understanding their needs and treating them as equal members of the class, their peers will pick up on it. Kids often take their lead from the teacher.
The parents interviewed for this article agree that it is important to know your rights. Become an advocate for your child. The laws were made to protect these children and ensure that they receive the same educational opportunities as any other child. Be an informed parent.
Brandi Valentine, a mom from Marysville, Calif., has struggled with her school system to get a free and appropriate education for her two ADHD children. "Know your rights," says Valentine. "I can't stress this enough. Some schools don't volunteer information, especially if it's going to cost them money in the way of services and accommodations."
Valentine discovered quickly that she was her children's best advocate. The knowledge of what her children's rights were at an earlier stage in their education would have empowered her in the search for answers. Valentine has compiled a huge amount of information on her Web site, ADHDNews.com. Information on the special education laws can be found here as well as links to many informative sites to help parents in need of answers.
"Oftentimes, parents will tell me that their kids feel funny being set apart from their peers in class," says Kirkland. "A lot of kids start out with after-school tutoring to get the extra help they need to keep up. It may be necessary to try different things and see what works best for your child. Giving them that extra attention at home can often be the answer for some kids."
Whatever road you take on the educational front, remember that every child learns in a different way. Keep an open mind and try not to limit your options.