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Helping Your AD/HD Child at School

By Peter Freer

If you’re the parent of an AD/HD student, you are probably aware that schools have a difficult time managing their AD/HD students. A recent survey of schools nationwide reported that almost 80% of professional school staff had not been trained to teach AD/HD students. Furthermore, another 80% indicated that their school did not accommodate the needs of their AD/HD students.

Once you understand your rights as a parent of an AD/HD child, you should request your school make accommodations in three areas: academic, behavioral, and classroom.

Understanding Your Rights

It is fundamentally important that parents know “Two important federal mandates protect the rights of eligible children with ADHD—the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504). The regulations implementing these laws are 34 CFR sections 300 and 104, respectively, which require school districts to provide a ‘free appropriate public education’ to students who meet their eligibility criteria. Although a child with ADHD may not be eligible for services under IDEA, he or she may meet the requirements of Section 504.

“The requirements and qualifications for IDEA are more stringent than those of Section 504. IDEA provides funds to state education agencies for the purpose of providing special education and related services to children evaluated in accordance with IDEA and found to have at least one of the 13 specific categories of disabilities, and who thus need special education and related services. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder may be considered under the specific category of ‘Other Health Impairment’ (OHI), if the disability results in limited strength, vitality, or alertness, including a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli that results in limited alertness with respect to the educational environment and that is due to chronic or acute health problems.

“Under IDEA, each public agency—that is, each school district—shall ensure that a full and individual evaluation is conducted for each child being considered for special education and related services. The child’s individualized education program (IEP) team uses the results of the evaluation to determine the educational needs of the child. The results of a medical doctor’s, psychologist’s, or other qualified professional’s assessment indicating a diagnosis of ADHD may be an important evaluation result, but the diagnosis does not automatically mean that a child is eligible for special education and related services. A group of qualified professionals and the parent of the child determine whether the child is an eligible child with a disability according to IDEA. Children with ADHD also may be eligible for services under the ‘Specific Learning Disability,’ ‘Emotional Disturbance,’ or other relevant disability categories of IDEA if they have those disabilities in addition to ADHD.

“After it has been determined that a child is eligible for special education and related services under IDEA, an IEP is developed that includes a statement of measurable annual goals, including benchmarks or short-term objectives that reflect the student’s needs. The IEP goals are determined with input from the parents and cannot be changed without the parents’ knowledge. Although children who are eligible under IDEA must have an IEP, students eligible under Section 504 are not required to have an IEP but must be provided regular or special education and related aids or services that are designed to meet their individual educational needs as adequately as the needs of nondisabled students are met.

“Section 504 was established to ensure a free appropriate education for all children who have an impairment—physical or mental—that substantially limits one or more major life activities. If it can be demonstrated that a child’s ADHD adversely affects his or her learning—a major life activity in the life of a child—the student may qualify for services under Section 504. To be considered eligible for Section 504, a student must be evaluated to ensure that the disability requires special education or related services or supplementary aids and services. Therefore, a child whose ADHD does not interfere with his or her learning process may not be eligible for special education and related services under IDEA or supplementary aids and services under Section 504.

“IDEA and Section 504 require schools to provide special education or to make modifications or adaptations for students whose ADHD adversely affects their educational performance. Such adaptations may include curriculum adjustments, alternative classroom organization and management, specialized teaching techniques and study skills, use of behavior management, and increased parent/ teacher collaboration. Eligible children with ADHD must be placed in regular education classrooms, to the maximum extent appropriate to their educational needs, with the use of supplementary aids and services if necessary. Of course, the needs of some children with ADHD cannot be met solely within the confines of a regular education classroom, and they may need special education or related aids or services provided in other settings.” (US Department of Education, 2003).

Academic Accommodations

Schools that do try to address the needs of their AD/HD students usually try to address the academic needs of the child first. Currently, most schools have accountability programs which assess school progress by means of test scores and other measures. Federal legislation mandates increases in test scores. Failure to demonstrate increased test scores can result in the school losing some federal funding or the school being taken over by the state. Thus, it’s essential for schools to try to boost students’ academic scores.

For AD/HD students, the school will sometimes establish a meeting between teacher, parent, and child to determine the child’s strengths and weaknesses. If the school does not set the meeting, the parent must request a meeting. The goal of the meeting should be to facilitate an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). The IEP will set specific goals and objectives to meet those goals. The teacher may elect to use a skills inventory assessment to determine the child’s current skill sets. Regardless, parents must advocate that their child receive:

§ Developmentally appropriate instruction that’s on the right level for your child

§ Testing accommodations like longer test time, quiet areas for testing, etc.

§ Specific strategies for particular problems like handwriting, reading, etc.

§ Reduction of classroom distractions by special placement of the student’s desk

§ Specific use of tools that can assist with organization like a student planner or timer

§ Simplified instructions, repeating of instructions, and reviewing previous lessons before beginning new lessons

Behavioral Accommodations

Students with AD/HD often can disrupt the classroom as they don’t perceive the social cues of the teacher or their peers. They may seem less mature than their peers. The IEP can include specific behavioral accommodations that may increase the likelihood that the teacher will catch your child being good rather than sending home a disciplinary note. Try to:

§ Be consistent in the plan you decide to implement. Inconsistency is the hallmark of failure for any plan

§ Structure the child’s day as much as possible and prompt the child a few minutes before switching to a new subject

§ Never use negative reinforcement – always use praise immediately following the good behavior witnessed and directly associate the praise with the behavior

§ Use proximity control (moving closer to the student in a lesson to maintain his attention)

§ Have parent/teacher conferences often and come prepared with ideas and solutions rather than complaints

§ Formulate alternative activities for the student to increase self-esteem and spend a little energy. This may include taking a note to the office or other errands

Classroom Accommodations
Some simple adjustment to the classroom can often have a very positive effect. Classroom accommodations can be included in the IEP. These may include:

§ Moving the student closer to the teacher’s desk

§ Using a timer. Expensive models are available, but a kitchen timer is fine

§ A special quiet area for cool down periods

§ Using ‘white noise’ or music to drown out the distracting noise of the classroom

§ Drawing the shades on the windows to decrease external distractions

The ideas presented in this article are not all inclusive. Many additional free resources are available online. It’s important to understand that little will get done for your child unless you become his/her primary advocate. This takes research, effort, and consistency on your behalf, but it can provide a successful school year and much happier life for your child.

Peter Freer is the company CEO of Unique Logic + Technology and inventor of the Play Attention Learning System, a technological tool to help kids and adults overcome attention challenges. Freer is a veteran educator with over 15 years in the public school system and holds an MAEd with special training in computer programming and education from the National Science Foundation. For more information, visit www.playattention.com


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