School Accommodations and Solutions that Provide Help for Parents of ADHD Children

A parent came back to see me today after taking her son's neuropsychological report to his school and, after amazingly waiting six weeks, had an IEP meeting. For those who are new to this an IEP meeting stands for an Individual Education Plan meeting. After a child is determined to have a disability the school should be setting up a meeting and reviewing the test results. From those results, and feedback from the child's teacher, a plan is written up to set up accommodations that will help the child succeed. So, for a child with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) we should be looking at what environmental changes need to take place, what support and special teaching or training the child should have. Regretfully once again the IEP for ADHD that the school developed consisted of no more than a long list of behaviours the school wanted to stop or change, and the consequences for the child continuing to engage in those behaviours. This result, an all too often one, is the worse of all possible worlds for your child. And I'm going to make some suggestions on how to avoid this happening to you.

1. Put everything in writing. Anything you say to the school, and agreement, any information exchanged needs to be in writing. That means either a letter or an email to the committee AND the principal. EVERYTHING. I would also purchase a small notebook, one with numbered pages if possible, and bring it with me to every meeting. EVERY meeting. Write down what was said, and what you think it means. Write down who said it, and who was there. A year of inaction can quickly go by. This documentation will be very important later if you need to appeal to the Ministry of Education or if you need a lawyer to get your child the education they should be getting. Letting the staff see that you are keeping notes also helps remind them that what was said and agreed to is going to be remembered. At least by you.

2. Prioritize your child's needs. Make a list of what are THE most important things you think your child needs. It should not be too long. But make sure you understand what your goals are going into the meeting. A school can seldom follow through on more than three big items, so know what those are. Having them written down will help you stay focused at the meeting. (Maybe teach this skill to your child when it's appropriate too!)

3. Pre-plan the meeting. Who is going to be there? I can't tell you how often a teacher-aide is at a meeting, but not the child's teacher! The special education or support teacher ISN'T YOUR CHILD'S TEACHER. Get that straight in your mind right now. I'll repeat it: THE SUPPORT TEACHER IS NOT YOUR CHILD'S TEACHER. The classroom teacher is responsible for your child and the need to be at the meeting or the meeting is a waste of time, period. Get the school to agree who will be attending ...and get it IN WRITING. The school psychologist should be there. The speech pathologist if appropriate. Whoever is in charge of "discipline" needs to be there. But most of all, your child's classroom teacher.

Prepare an opening statement. You need to take control of the meeting from the start. A short, one or two paragraphs, statement of what you are looking for. It should emphasize that your are looking for "positive behavioural and educational support," and will not accept punishment or negative consequences of any kind for your child's DISABILITY. Get use to using that word, I know it might be painful, and there are those who preach against "labels" and all the rest of it. STOP! That philosophy is often misused to hold children with disabilities "accountable" for their symptoms. Don't fall into this political trap. You child, right now, needs help to be successful. If you don't want to talk about it in useful medical and LEGAL terms you will end up fighting a losing battle because the number one thing you have on your side to protect your child is that his or her behaviour and academic difficulties is caused by a DISABILITY. And we do not punish, give consequences for or expect san 8 year old to be accountable for their symptoms. It's the schools job to teach alternative skills, alternative behaviours and to do this through positive reinforcement, modelling, rewarding, training and extra support.

(Some parents bring photos of their child, art work, pictures of things they have created or made, and cookies....yep, if you can set the stage for a positive and friendly exchange. Remember, these are the people you are going to leave your child with for most of his or her awake day. This is a give and take situation.)

As I have mentioned before on this blog, many parents make a copy of the DSM-IV's symptom list for ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and start the meeting by distributing it, along with a statement that these are my child's symptoms, caused by a disability. He will not be punished for his symptoms. Our job is to teach him ways to deal with his symptoms, new skills, and to provide whatever support is necessary for him to be successful.

You might practice these little speeches with a friend. And remember, you can bring a friend with you for support. I would.

4. Be open to what the school says. I have been pretty hard on the schools so far, but they really do have limitations on funding and personnel. Be open to negotiate and to give and take.

5. Find out who is the responsible person. Someone is in charge of your child's case, a "case manager." Make sure you know who that is, but make clear that you are not side stepping the classroom teacher. The classroom teacher needs to be made aware of all communications, plans, interventions and needs to be familiar with your child. Ask if the classroom teacher has read the psychological or educational assessment. Most of the time they have not. If they haven't, ask them to, and ask if the school psychologist could review the testing with the classroom teacher. For a classroom teacher to not have read the child's report, or at least read the IEP, is unforgivable to me. But the plane truth is MOST classroom teachers have not. So, find a gentile and supportive way to get them to do it. Ask at the meeting if your child's teacher could be given an extra prep period to use to review the testing and IEP with the school psychologist. Be supportive. But insist.

6. Make sure there is time to end the meeting properly. You want an ACTION PLAN. Who will do what? By when? How will all of you know that's been done? Ask someone to write it out and have copies made for everyone BEFORE you leave the school.

7. Follow up with a thank you note to everyone who attended, and if you can, an outline of your understanding of the plan.

Somewhere in all of this you need to arrange for an appropriate communication system about how your child does every day. Research has shown that a DAILY school note about academics and behaviour is one of the most powerful interventions available for ADHD. (See Russell Barkley) A daily school note. My next blog is going to address the way we do a school note and provide feedback because it can either be something that supports you child's school success, or something that causes problems, headaches and makes you child hate school because it is used to punish and control. So make sure you read my next blog.


The ADHD blog is not offered as medical advice or as a means of diagnosing or treating ADHD or any other disorder. My recommendations: Don't go on-line and take an ADHD "test." The diagnosis of ADHD is complex and involves not just looking for symptoms of ADHD, which is all that those “tests” do, but also involves ruling out other disorders that might look just like ADHD. Often individuals who think they have ADHD have other disorders, and may have co-morbid disorders such as depression, anxiety or OCD. A simple check off sheet of “symptoms” doesn’t differentiate these. So avoid these on-line "tests" which are nothing more than a collection of symptoms. You need to see a licensed or registered professional for a real diagnosis. Medical doctors can diagnose ADHD, but the diagnosis is complex and often they will make a referral to a Registered Psychologist for a full understanding of a patient’s symptoms. You can obtain a referral for a psychologist with expertise in ADHD from the British Columbia Psychological Association (BCPA).

In my practice I offer Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) assessment and treatment services for individuals, couples, families, children and adolescents in the Burnaby, Vancouver, Coquitlam, Port Moody, New Westminster and Maple Ridge areas of the lower mainland. This includes neuro-developmental assessments, psycho-education, cognitive rehabilitation for problems with memory and concentration and cognitive behaviour therapy. I also provide diagnostic assessments for autism and Asperger's Disorder in my Burnaby office.

My web page lists a number of resources you can make use of yourself in dealing with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Please visit it at or one of my other sites at either Psychology Today, AAMFT, PSYRIS or my professional site. Please feel free to call if you have questions about ADHD or other cognitive issues.

Dr. Jim Roche
Registered Psychologist, British Columbia 01610