Sure, IEPs are important for kids with attention deficit. But what's even more helpful to start the school year right? Open communication with my children's teachers.
by Amanda Driscoll
Back to school season always elicits a mixed bag of emotions for me. As a mom to two children with ADHD, I waver between the utter excitement that they will be "entertained" for six hours of the day, and the fear of phone calls, homework, and the morning routine. While they spent the summer hoping it would never come, that magical day did arrive where I dropped them off at their schools.
Though we've been doing this rite of passage for eight years now, it still isn't easy. Now that we've been back for more than a month, I'm taking the time to evaluate what's helped us get off to a good start, and what we need to work on. I have decided that the most helpful thing I do at back-to-school time is to make immediate and personal contact with my children's teachers. While Holden comes to his new teachers with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and the teachers have probably already read it before school starts, I choose to e-mail each teacher a more open and honest introduction to my children. IEPs are excellent for letting a teacher know what sort of educational accommodations will help a child. What an IEP cannot do, however, is paint a complete picture of my child. That job is up to me, their mom: their advocate.
Holden's ADHD is more complex and therefore his poor teachers have to read a longer letter. While the IEP tells teachers about certain accommodations he needs such as frequent breaks, access to technology, and to "check his agenda," it doesn't tell them that he cannot write due to dysgraphia, a condition our school district doesn't recognize as a disability. I let the teacher know that because of dysgraphia, he becomes anxious when having to do any lengthy handwriting. The IEP doesn't tell the teacher that he's on medication to treat his ADHD and sometimes, I might forget to give it to him, or it might stop working effectively. Therefore, I invite open communication about whether he's much more hyperactive or impulsive than normal. I've found that teachers can be hesitant to ask about things like that, but they're such a vital piece to our "Is the medication working?" puzzle.
While the letter has worked well, this year we were able to take things to the next level. Our supportive administration at middle school suggested a staffing, a meeting with each one of his subject teachers, a special education administrator, an education consultant, and the guidance counselor. We were able to sit down and talk with each of his teachers -- in middle school, this means six of them! -- about our strengths, our challenges, and our goals. The teachers were free to ask questions, and together we worked toward a plan far more detailed than the IEP paperwork. While the staffing was not a legal meeting and the agreements we made are not legally binding, I found this to be much more beneficial than an IEP meeting. I'd highly recommend it to any parent of a middle school student with ADHD or other learning challenges.
I realize that managing my children's education will always be a full time job for me. It will never be an easy sprint. There will always be hills to climb along the way. But the path to the finish line will certainly be a little bit easier if I take the steps to really connect with my children's teachers and advocate for them from day one. Now, if we can just figure out this homework hurdle!
What are the steps you've made this back-to-school season that you've found helpful?