Saturday, October 17, 2009

Sue Scheff: ADHD School Help: Working with the Teacher

A realistic game plan so parents can set up school help -- special services and ADHD classroom accommodations to help children with ADD and learning disabilities succeed.

From extra time on tests or a seat near the blackboard to a full-time aide, children with attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD) are legally entitled to school help, with ADHD accommodations in the classroom. But even though students should receive academic accommodations, there’s no assurance that he or she will actually get them. This is especially true in our time of under-funded schools and overworked teachers.

What does it take to get your child the accommodations he or she needs? “You need to have an understanding of your child’s ADHD, and how it affects him,” says Robert Tudisco, of White Plains, New York, a lawyer who frequently advocates for special-needs children. “And you need to know exactly what you want the school to do to help.”

In addition, says Tudisco (who, like many of his clients, has ADHD), parents must know how to ask for these accommodations — and, when necessary, how to push for them without seeming pushy.

It’s essential to view teachers and school administrators as allies, rather than adversaries — and to mind your manners. If you come across as rude or impatient, says Tudisco, school officials may be slow to provide the accommodations you request — if they grant them at all. In some cases, officials withhold accommodations to “punish” parents they deem “difficult.”

“Administrators and teachers often tell me, ‘You should have heard the way that mother spoke to me,’” says Tudisco. “Or, they’ll say, ‘That father slammed his fist on the desk and walked out of the meeting!’ When getting kids with ADHD the services they need in school, 85 percent of what goes into it is diplomacy, pure and simple.”

Kristin Hill Callejas, a first-grade teacher in Shelley, Idaho, has had her share of run-ins with parents. She recalls one mother’s demands for special help for her son, who had experienced academic difficulties in kindergarten. “She stormed into the classroom, spewing fire from her nostrils and muttering things under her breath,” says Callejas. “Only after she calmed down, and we got to a level of mutual respect and civility, were we able to work together to come up with some effective strategies.”
Starting the conversation

If your child needs only minor accommodations -- a bit more time to complete tests, for example, or a sticker chart as an incentive to behave better in class -- you may be able to line them up simply by speaking with the teacher. Often, the best approach is to contact the school to schedule a meeting just before the school year begins.

During your initial conversation with the teacher, give her your phone number and e-mail address. Let her know that you are always available to talk about your child and the challenges he or she faces. Also, find out how much the teacher knows about ADHD. “It’s perfectly reasonable to ask, ‘Have you worked with students with ADHD before?’” says Callejas. “That can start a discussion about what strategies the teacher has used before and what might work best with your child, and give you a sense of whether the teacher is flexible and open to suggestions.”

No matter how the teacher treats you, treat her with courtesy and respect. Making accusations or being needlessly confrontational is likely to backfire. “Don’t go in with guns blazing, ready to attack,” says Callejas. “When you expect the worst, you set a negative tone from the beginning.”

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