Thinking of making a change of schools?

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If your child has had a bad year at school due to his or her Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD/ADD) and you are considering starting them at a new school, here are some things you should do:
To be a good advocate for your child, learn as much as you can about ADHD and how it affects your child at home, in school, and in social situations. One good place is reading a book by Russell Barkley, I suggest Taking Charge of ADHD. Chapters 11-17 directly address school related issues, and you should read this, take notes, and use these ideas to develop a vision of what the school your going to should be like.
If your child hasn't had a comprehensive psycho-educational evaluation, get one. Ask the school when they will be able to provide it. And ask how long students have been waiting for evaluations at that school. Do children with ADHD get priority? If not, who does. If you need an evaluation, get a reply IN WRITING (try emailing both the principal and the chair of the support committee) giving you a date.
Ask some specific questions, like:
What happens if my child doesn't finish his or her work and it's recess time? If your child with ADHD is going to miss recess as a punishment for their disorder, be concerned.
What happens if my child can't complete his or her homework? What should happen is the homework amounts, level, difficulty should be adjusted to meet their abilities. They should not be making up Monday's homework on Thursday at lunch or during recess. We don't punish children with ADHD or any other disability. We provide support.
Ask the teacher about how she or he used information in previous IEPs to change his or her teaching strategies. Regretfully, often teachers don't read IEP's at all in British Columbia, and seldom do they look at the psycho-educational evaluation. If the teacher isn't familiar with IEP's or the psycho-ed evaluation, ask them if they would be willing to learn about them.
Ask if the school psychologist could spend an hour reviewing the child's evaluation and IEP with the classroom teacher. Be careful not to rely too heavily on the "support teacher." You want your child to be under the direction of the classroom teacher, and not handed off to someone else.
You might ask, "How many students go to support in each class?" In some schools up to 40% of students go to the support room. That's a problem. Either the teacher should be changing their instruction methods to match student needs or the support teacher should come to the room.
Ask the teacher what they know about ADHD. What do they think causes it? And what do they think helps? You might ask them for three things they have done, or seen someone else do, to support students with ADHD. You can ask this of any staff member. ADHD has a biological basis. Some teachers don't know that, and can learn. Some don't believe it, and deny it. Avoid that teacher or administrator as best you can. You can educate, but it too big of a task to change hearts and minds.
Ask,"What happens if my child gets out of his seat?" There should be some acknowledgement this behaviour is a symptom of the disorder, and not just non-compliance or misbehaviour. Then you can ask, "If he gets out of his seat a lot, what do you think we can do?" ADHD / ADD students get out of their seats...a lot. A good teacher migh have a place they can move around, somewhere else to sit just to change environments, and would allow, expect and present opportunities for breaks in order to accommodate for your child's disorder. If the expectation is your child will always be in his or her seat ... be careful. Can you educate this teacher about the symptoms of ADHD? Do they understand that ADHD may look like non-compliance, but isn't?
Look for structure in the classroom. A posted schedule. Clearly designated areas to do different things ( a reading area, a play area, a rest area and so on).
Look for positive support systems. Does the teacher have a positive reinforcement system for the class? Positive reinforcements (token systems) have been found to be the most effective classroom tool to help children with ADHD. If there is a system that uses negatives and punishments, avoid that classroom. Some teachers make negative checks for misbehaviour, or take points away ....avoid these teachers. There is no evidence that such systems will help, but lots that they hurt.
Ask if your child can be placed with a buddy, who they can watch, observe and get social cues from. Yes, they might copy some of their work, but don't think of it negatively. Students with ADHD need to look for social cues to know when to pay attention. Buddy systems have been found to be highly effective with students with ADHD.
Two books you might suggest to the teacher or support team are in addition to Dr. Barkley's books and materials on his web page) are the CHADD Educators Manual by Mary Fowler and Turning the Tide by Karen Richards and John Lester.
Finally, remember, you should be part of every meeting your school has about your child. The Ministry of Education calls this Meaningful Consultation, meaning you are really part of the discussion and planning, and not just informed of what the professionals decide. You are your child's best advocate.  You don't need to be an expert on education, just an expert advocate. Something you can surely be!

Posted on June 18, 2011 .