Dear Teen Parenting Coach

Q: My Teen Can’t “Sit Down and Get to Work”

In high school, it’s reasonable to expect students to enter class promptly and start working. But, sometimes students with ADHD need a little extra help getting settled. Here, learn how to scaffold better class transitions.

Q: My high schooler is getting his grade reduced when he cannot enter the classroom and sit down to work immediately… could this be a transition issue that could be addressed in an IEP? – Trouble Transitioning

Dear Trouble Transitioning:

It’s not unreasonable for a high school student to be expected to enter class promptly and settle down to work. But, before you make any decision as to how to handle this issue, you first need to explore why your son is unable to do so. I assume that you have already spoken frankly with your son and gotten his explanation as to why this is happening. You should also have met with the teacher or teachers involved – or perhaps his guidance counselor – and determined whether this is happening in only one class or across the board. It could be as simple as a conflict with a particular teacher, or your son’s discomfort with a particular subject. Does your son have difficulty in other areas that could be signs of a behavior or attention problem?

If this behavior occurs across most of his classes or you note other signs of a behavior or attention issue, you will need to look further at what is going on. If your son already has an IEP or 504 Plan, any behaviors that are interfering with his academic performance are appropriate to explore with his IEP/504 team. If his inability to settle in and start work is part of attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) or other disability, it is not appropriate for his teacher(s) to punish him for this. Keep in mind, however, that just because a student has an IEP or 504 Plan, it doesn’t mean that every behavior is a manifestation of his disability.

If your son does not have an IEP or 504 Plan, it might be time to seek an evaluation to determine if one might be appropriate for him and to look for attention or other issues that could be behind his difficulties. A good evaluator will obtain information from both his parents and teachers to get a full sense of how your son is functioning in school and at home and what may be the cause of any behavior difficulties he is having.

There are a number of accommodations you can include in an IEP/504 Plan to help your son transition from class to class. These can include an informal check-in with his teacher on his way into class or an assigned seat away from the door or any other distractions. It would also be important for his teacher(s) to provide him with concrete, specific directions about what is expected of him. For example, instead of saying, “Sit down and get to work,” his IEP/504 Plan might provide a specific checklist that he will have for each class that includes every step he needs to accomplish to get ready for work: “Stop talking to other students; sit at your desk; take your notebook and textbook from your backpack; put your books on your desk; get out your pen or pencil; copy the assignment from the board; begin working on the assignment.”

There is no one answer or quick fix to the problem your son is facing. You will need to be a detective to help figure out why he is having difficulty settling into class, and an advocate to work with the school to resolve this issue.

[50 High School Accommodations for Every ADHD Challenge]