How to Be Heard Loud and Clear at School Meetings

Two documents will absolutely tip the scales in your child’s favor in IEP and 504 Plan get-togethers.
Boy Without Instructions | posted by Penny Williams
School Meeting: How to Make Sure Your Voice is Heard

Have you ever sat in a school meeting for your child with ADHD and been told, "We see that you love him. Of course you do, you're his mom!" I have. It wasn’t fun. Chances are, most of you have, too.

As parents, we know our kids best, yet the schools often don't validate our insights and concerns, because they see them as blind love — wanting the very best because it's our child.

So how do we build a bridge to cross this divide? By being matter-of-fact and “official” about our insights and concerns. A great way to do that is by submitting your own Parent Concerns Letter and Present Levels of Performance Letter to the school before IEP meetings (or any formal meeting to discuss your child's school performance).

I'm providing a sample of each letter, along with a few tips and strategies for using them.

  1. Start the letters with strengths and areas where your child is doing well. It sets a constructive tone.
  2. Be sure to leave your emotions out of it. Stick to facts.
  3. Cite data and recommendations from existing professional evaluations wherever possible. For example, if a psych has noted in an evaluation report that your child should be allowed frequent breaks, copy and paste that in where you've listed “lack of breaks” on your Parent Concerns Letter.
  4. Submit these letters to school personnel at least two days before the meeting. Ask them to copy and paste the letters in the appropriate spots in the IEP form, word for word. (Sending your letters in Microsoft Word or Google Doc format will make it easy for them to copy and paste it in.)
  5. All of your child's school experience applies here, not just academics. List everything, including grades and scores, but also social, emotional, and behavioral struggles. All of that makes up your child's school experience and determines if it's successful or not. Grades are a small fraction of "academic success."

Here are the sample letters. Feel free to copy what you need to, and be sure to tailor it to your own child's individual experience and needs.


Parental Concerns Letter: [CHILD’S NAME]

Updated: [DATE]

Summary of Strengths and Weaknesses

[CHILD’S NAME] is a very intelligent and kind kid. He has great expressive language skills. He is good at math and very interested in science, yet he has difficulty showing it by traditional educational standards of practice. He truly wants to follow instructions and meet expectations. He wants to do well.

With several developmental and learning disabilities—autism, ADHD, dysgraphia, significant executive functioning deficits, and anxiety — the academic environment is challenging for [CHILD’S NAME]. He struggles with planning, organization, keeping up with his materials, being prepared for every class, note taking, writing down assignments, attending during lectures and extended seat work, getting started on tasks, working memory, overwhelm due to sensory input, overwhelm due to anxiety, very literal thinking, social skills, problem solving, and more. Basically, he struggles with most aspects of the day-to-day school environment. He needs a great deal of support at school to have access to an appropriate education and academic success.

Current Parent Concerns

Following is a working list of the current concerns of [CHILD’S NAME]’s parents. These items need to be addressed to ensure [CHILD’S NAME]’s academic success.

  1. Keeping Up with Assignments/Homework: writing down assignments, bringing home necessary items to complete the assignment, and turning in completed work and documents (see documented weaknesses in these areas in the “Documentation” section below).
  2. Note-taking and Studying: [CHILD’S NAME] needs class notes provided to him and test and quiz dates written in his agenda so he can study. It is currently March and he has zero class notes.
  3. Managing frustration and recovering from it appropriately
  4. Getting enough time to work at a slower pace due to documented slow processing speed
  5. Managing anxiety and getting a break in a QUIET location to calm down rather than calling/going home
  6. Multi-step math problems, remembering and completing all the steps to conclude with the correct answer – he needs the steps written out for him
  7. Handwriting and not being provided assistive technology. Teachers are still commenting about his poor handwriting, but it’s part of a disability (dysgraphia, documented by a professional below).
  8. Being prepared for high school (and life) by learning strategies, skills, and work-arounds to succeed, despite ADHD and autism. Using technology and apps to help with deficiencies, as that’s what he will use as an adult. Smart phone, iPad, voice dictation in google docs, etc.
  9. Understanding and remembering complete instructions. [CHILD’S NAME] should receive very clear, very detailed written directions for all assignments (this ties in to dysgraphia and working memory deficits, as documented by a professional below).
  10. Getting reorganized periodically, through adult help (going through his locker, binder, and backpack).
  11. [CHILD’S NAME] should not be graded on “neatness,” due to dysgraphia and the physical inability to write legibly.

Documentation from Professionals Supporting Parent Concerns

Executive Functioning

What looks like laziness, defiance, or “not caring” about his work is not that at all. You can see below that his scores for “Executive Functioning Skills” show a clinical-level deficiency in all areas. His “Organization of Materials” score was at the worst level on the scoring chart. This finding shows that his disabilities affect his ability to shift, his memory (especially working memory), his planning and organization capabilities, task initiation, and self-monitoring.

Intelligence isn’t the only measure of capability. These neurological/developmental differences mean that he’s not able to perform in these skill areas at the same level as his neurotypical peers – not even close.

These skills can be taught and improved, with consistent support.

[INSERT COPY OF APPROPRIATE PORTION OF EVALUATION REPORT HERE]

Dysgraphia

[CHILD’S NAME] was diagnosed with Dysgraphia in 2011, during a private neuro-psychoeducational evaluation. Following are sections of the psychologist’s report, with recommendations for the school.

[INSERT COPY OF APPROPRIATE PORTION OF EVALUATION REPORT HERE]

Processing

IQ testing shows very low processing speed when compared to intellect. (I believe this was done by XXX County Schools in 2009 or 2011.)

[INSERT COPY OF APPROPRIATE PORTION OF EVALUATION REPORT HERE]


Present Levels of Performance Letter: [CHILD’S NAME]

Updated: [DATE]

Current Grades

Math B

Science B

ELA D

Social Studies D

[CHILD’S NAME] is currently struggling a great deal in school – so much so that he recently told his mom, “I can’t get anything right in school and I’m doing terrible now.” His self-esteem is dwindling. He is becoming defeated.

[PUT YOUR CHILD’S CURRENT STRUGGLES HERE]

Two organizational proposals have failed so far this year due to lack of consistent classroom/staff support:

  1. For the majority of the school year, he used the large zippered binder with school-provided agenda, as the school requires. He was not able to write down homework consistently, nor use the binder to successfully get schoolwork home and back to school and turned in. He often forgot exactly what the assignment was, or to bring home materials. He frequently forgot to turn in completed homework. Staff was not checking in with him consistently to make sure he recorded assignments successfully and had appropriate materials in his binder.
  2. On 3/7/16, [SPED TEACHER] started a new organizational system – a folder clipped inside another folder with a clear pocket on the front to hold the chart for assignments that day. The chart has a blank for each core class and a place for teacher to initial and parents to initial.
    Monday: [CHILD’S NAME] forgot the folder under his desk in ELA.
    Tuesday: [CHILD’S NAME] brought it home – it was only completed for two classes, mom initialed all and ensured homework was completed and placed back in the folder. [MATH TEACHER] used [CHILD’S NAME]’s agenda to sign off, not the new folder.
    Wednesday: [MATH TEACHER] used [CHILD’S NAME]’s agenda to sign off.
    Thursday: The folder did not come home – nor did the binder. [MATH TEACHER] used [CHILD’S NAME]’s agenda to sign off.
    Friday: The folder came home, but the chart was completely blank – no one had initialed or ensured homework was written down. Mom initialed all.
    Following week, not used at all.

Many days when [CHILD’S NAME] and mom look at homework together, he says he only has to do one side of a math worksheet or can’t remember the details of assignments and they are not written down. [CHILD’S NAME] is being reminded by teachers and staff that he must do better with organization frequently, but that hasn’t improved this issue. Silent lunch/punishment was tried as well, with no positive result.

[CHILD’S NAME] is not able to take class notes due to dysgraphia and executive functioning deficits. Currently, he does not take any notes and they are not provided to him. That means he does not have any materials to study for tests and quizzes outside of class time. This directly affects his academic performance. Most of the time, tests and quizzes are not written into his agenda, either. Parents can’t support at home by encouraging him and helping him study.

[CHILD’S NAME] is struggling with reading nonverbal cues and interpreting social intention. He often misinterprets horseplay by his peers as an intention to harm him. This has led to several incidents of anxiety and stuck thinking at school that has lead him to need to be picked up from school early.

[CHILD’S NAME] struggles a great deal with anxiety while at school. He often feels so overwhelmed (sensory, social, and/or academic) that he shuts down and feels like he must leave school and go home early (or that he can’t go to school at all that day). This has led to 12 absences so far this school year. He left early both Friday and Monday as of this notation.

[CHILD’S NAME] is not dressing out consistently in PE and his grade is dropping.

[CHILD’S NAME] has been uncomfortable with some subject matter and activities in Consumer Sciences class, which has led to some avoidance.

 
 
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