Step 2: Interview the School
You'll read stacks of literature, watch countless school promotional tapes, and listen to everything administrators have to say. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. To understand what a school's really about, you'll need to conduct a little Q&A of your own.
Interview principals, primary teachers, speech therapists, teacher's assistants, and other special-needs providers. And don't forget the parents of kids who are enrolled in the school. Show up when classes are letting out, and ask other moms and dads to share their insights on classes, teachers, and homework — they'll give it to you straight. Don't know what questions to ask? Start with these:
-- How big is the school? Obviously, you'll want to know how many grade levels a school has — and how many students are enrolled in each. But don't stop there. Ask about the physical size of the school as well as the layout of the building. If your child has spatial and memory challenges — as children with ADHD often do — you'll want to know that he can find his way around.
-- How large are the classes? A class of about 15 students is probably your best-case scenario, although such small numbers are tough to find in a public school. But don't give up on the system just yet. In larger public-school classes, a "shadow" teacher may be provided, who will give your child the extra assistance he needs.
-- What's the level of teacher training? "Be sure there's a fair share of experienced career teachers," says Colleen Berge, an educational consultant in New York City. While you'll find many fine entry-level teachers working throughout the school system, your child needs a school where he will be adequately mentored.
-- How flexible is this school? Will it adapt to your child's learning style? Provide accommodations like letting him use a tape recorder in class instead of taking notes or getting extra time for tests? Don't settle for a simple "yes." Ask the school for specific examples of how it has adjusted to other students in the past. Typically, kids with ADD do not lack smarts, but they often lack skills necessary for academic success — organization, study skills, and test-taking ability.
-- What role do parents play? If the school's mantra is, "You are entrusting us with your child," this may be code for, "We don't want you involved," says Meyer. On the other hand, a philosophy that the primary concern is the student can mean, "We want your help."
-- How often will you monitor my child's progress in core subjects? "Every week is ideal—and not at all unrealistic in a school organized to meet individual needs," says Emily Ayscue Hassel, co-author of The Picky Parent Guide: Choose Your Child's School with Confidence (Armchair Press). A school should expect kids with ADHD to excel in core academics — because they can.