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Dear ADDitude: Can My Child No Longer Keep Up?

“My 13-year-old has severe processing/executive functioning deficiencies, but he’s smart and has remained an A/B student — until now. He has received his first-ever Ds and Fs on tests this year. He has an IEP, helpful teachers, and medication, but I fear we have just reached that point where he simply can’t keep up.”

ADDitude Answers

You are lucky to have support at school for your son. Many parents of children with special needs have felt like you do right now, that their child is not going to make it through school, but most teens with special needs do. I would talk with his doctor about medication adjustments. Many parents find that, when their child hits puberty, his dosage must be adjusted.

There are many places you can go for academic help: learning centers, college students, high school students who are in honor classes, community centers (such as the YMCA), online tutoring and academic practice sites. You can also look at online sites for homeschooling.

Posted by Eileen Bailey
Freelance writer, author specializing in ADHD, anxiety, and autism


ADDitude Answers

At the risk of sounding like a broken record — SAME HERE! Seventh grade, 13, grades plummeting, lots and lots of avoidance.

We opted for this solution: my son has a gifted IQ but he cannot begin to keep up with the gifted classroom expectations. So he’s on the inclusion team where his SPED teacher is in the math and language arts classrooms every day.

DESPITE THAT, my son still cannot keep up. His almost non-existent executive functioning skills have caused everything to fall apart. Teachers will not make sure he has homework written down and in his binder. At midterm this week, he had a half-dozen zeros and many failed tests. He has never studied for a test, he has ZERO notes (he also has dysgraphia, so that’s never going to happen).

I’ve pushed about the EF issues, only to be told time and again that they want to teach him responsibility, but they never support in order to do so. I asked for weekly note from teachers on what to expect from each class that week and you’d think I’d asked for Congress to agree on something. I definitely need to ask for class notes — his intelligence is no longer enough to get passing grades on tests without studying.

A little structure would go a long way, but I’m met with resistance at every turn.

As for you, I would suggest looking into dropping him down to average-level classes so that he has a better opportunity to succeed. If I remember right, he’s in a charter school. They sound ill-equipped and/or unwilling to accommodate his needs. While they are required by law to do so, we all know that really doesn’t mean much. So sorry you are going through this. I know exactly how it feels!

Posted by Penny
community moderator, author on ADHD parenting, mom to teen boy with ADHD, LDs, and autism


A Reader Answers

You sound exactly like me and my 13-year-old, except that mine is not in honors classes. I chose to have him in team-taught classes instead. That means there is a special ed teacher and a general ed teacher in each class. The special ed teacher is the one assigned to him and the one I communicate with. Does your son’s school have that option? Everything is still a struggle, but the workload is not quite so intense. We also have access to an online system that makes it easier for me to access information about assignments. If I can’t find what is needed, I email the special ed teacher. Can you ask for an IEP meeting to make revisions? Clearly the Ds and Fs are evidence that his disability is impacting his mastery of the curriculum. Good luck!

Posted by kelro


A Reader Answers

This is EXACTLY what is going on the last few weeks with my seventh grade daughter (EF problems with ADHD and writing disability). And we are a married couple but both work full-time jobs, so we’re usually starting homework at 5:30pm — we hope. And meds are worn off by then…ugh. This is what we are doing to try and survive:

1. We got copies of all her textbooks to keep at home.

2. I got access to the teacher’s calendar for when quizzes and tests are coming up so we aren’t surprised. I’m being a bit pushy if needed for teachers who don’t tell us until the last minute.

3. If I have the last minute notice for tests or quizzes, I’m calling the Vice Principal who does disabilities to ask for an extension for a couple days to take the test later. The social studies teacher is an old guy and can’t seem to plan ahead more than a day which is a crying shame.

4. We had a teacher meeting with the vice principal and the disability specialist at the school. They also recommended that teachers give her a copy of their notes, which also gives me something else to review with her before tests. Which reminds me — I have to dog them to get notes because none have come home this week!

5. I’ve cried on my BFF’s shoulder twice in the last few weeks over this feeling like I’m a failure as a mom. Especially in our city there are special high school academies that have much better education and if her grades tank in seventh grade she won’t have a shot at that for high school. I feel the injustice of the whole system for kids who need TIME.

6. I would give my right arm for a school that was self-paced for teaching my kid so she just learned things until she mastered them and then moved on. Seriously considering switching up my job and husband’s job to work from home partial hours and homeschool next year. We already spend 3 hours a day on homework and my kid has no LIFE — how much more could it possibly be? Even if 5-6 hours a day I think we still would be way ahead.

7. Some serious support for my daughter because she says she doesn’t care and the Fs don’t bother her. But they do. So trying to give lots of positive praise for her hard work and give her adult perspective that middle school grades do not define your worth or value to God, family or society. We have some nice role models in our family and church and that really helps.

Posted by vowedmom


A Reader Answers

We are in the same boat — seventh grade and barely keeping his head above water. My son has to take a 5mg Ritalin pill after school with a meal so he can concentrate on his homework — it wears off after 2 hours, but it helps.

These are the tough years — I am ADHD and I didn’t hit my mental and organizational stride until high school once I had matured a bit. Middle school was tough but those few teachers that care and understand will make the difference to your son now.

My son has a 504 Plan and he is only allowed to work on homework for so many minutes/hours per night — so homework is limited. And he gets extended time on tests in another room so he isn’t rushing. We work on these accommodations constantly with his counselor. Unfortunately, we have to stay on the teachers’ radars and know the expectations. And of course I am a huge advocate of exercise before homework — even a quick run. It clears their brains!

Regular school set up just isn’t ideal for our kids — they will struggle. Good luck — you are not alone!

Posted by LC2boys


A Reader Answers

This sounds so familiar. My son is in the sixth grade, just started middle school this year. He has ADHD and a 504. Takes meds. We recently had the dosage increased, but interestingly his grades started to tank even more right after the increase. I don’t think there’s any relationship necessarily, although he did say he was better able to focus on his thoughts — like what he wanted to play after school, what he wanted to draw, everything but what the teacher is saying apparently!

He has been an A/B student since third grade, straight A’s last year. Last year’s teacher has a son with ADHD, so she really got what he needed in terms of support; but with most of the school staff it has been a struggle from the get-go. We had to contact our state’s Protection and Advocacy office before they would even give him the 504.

Now this year, I feel completely worn out from contacting the school over and over asking for help, from the teachers on up to the principal. I also contacted the guidance counselor which was a complete waste of time. This is the email that she sent me:

Thank you for emailing. I reviewed his 504 plan, and the current accommodations that might HELP address this:

-peer partner to check for supplies before packing up

-check for initiating tasks

-use written back up for oral directions

-provide auditory cues

-adjusted time for completion

I am unsure if the work in Mr.—’s class is completed ALL in class, or some is out of class…regardless, if it’s sent home — then the peer partner can check to see if [son] has everything.

If work is completed in class, then Mr.— would be excellent at checking for him initiating the task. Next, if [son] has difficulty understanding what is to be accomplished — that’s what the “use written back up for oral directions” would do…as well as “provide auditory cues” could be if work is due at end of class…to make sure [son] turns work in. Same for when class begins — cue for him to turn in work.

It seems that you have set up an excellent folder system — so if he has completed work at home with you — it should be there — the auditory cue would help him remember to turn in.

The ONLY thing that could get him in a difficult spot is the “adjusted time for completion”… I think if Mr.— and [son] worked out something where if an assignment needed extra time — to put an “end date” on it — and make you aware of that.

Mr.— has offered to help early or late in the day… and this poses difficulty for you due to family schedules. Totally understandable. Just wondering what time [son] DOES arrive in the morning. By car? By bus? Whatever time he does arrive – perhaps he go to Mr.— THEN? Even if it’s just for 5 min (unless Mr.— has morning duty. Mr.—, would this work for you?

I’m hoping I’m a little on track…if I’m way off base with any of these, please let me know.

Is that snarky or what? And yes, she really did use all caps for those words. His 504 Plan is great — if his teachers would follow it! Often, they do not. So, the frustration goes on and on. There are some private schools around, but none that specialize in ADHD or LD. We did consider a small Catholic school that seemed to have very caring staff and a disability specialist on board, but HE would not consider it.

My husband and I both work, but he is away from home frequently during the week, so I end up handling most school issues. So, so tired of that too.

Anyhow, sorry for the long ramble. I don’t have any advice, but can really “feel your pain!” Best of luck to you.

Posted by djch45


A Reader Answers

Wow! The replies to you have been tremendous and all the ideas are valuable. I am really impressed with the length of the replies. It shows how much they care.

About the only thing I did not see addressed was the medication. If he has been on the same medication dosage for years, it might be time for a change? Or as one person mentioned — perhaps a small dose to help with studies later in the day. And there are also medications like Vyvanse that last for a very long time — 10 to 12 hours. Point being, talk with your doctor and find out what the signs are of meds no longer being as effective. On the same line — take a look at which classes he is having te most trouble in — are they later in the day? Finally as a retired educator — our school district would not allow 3 major tests on the same day. You might want to check into what the district policy is. That is very unfair to the kids!

Posted by Sandman2