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Dear ADDitude: Can a Teacher Punish My Child for Forgetfulness?

“Is it too much to ask a 13 year old with ADHD to take the initiative to schedule a make-up exam with his teacher? All of the symptoms and behaviors of ADHD make this type of ‘take responsibility for yourself’ effort extremely difficult, but his teacher says she’s provided enough reminders.”

ADDitude Answers

It is hard to answer this without knowing what “enough reminders” means. Did she remind him once, twice, 10 times? Does your child understand what he needs to do-will he have to miss another class, give up lunch, or stay after school to make up the test? Once you have a clear idea of the expectations for your child, you can start with rewards and consequences at home.

When you know your child has missed school, have him ask each teacher to sign a notebook, indicating what work he missed and what he needs to do to complete it. This will be a guideline to follow to make sure the work is completed. Maybe there should be a small reward when a step is completed. Work with the teacher to teach your child responsibility and follow-through.

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

ADDitude Answers

My son is 13 and EXACTLY the same. He has missed dozens of assignments and exams this year. When I push teachers, they tell me he needs to take responsibility, that they write upcoming tests on the board for all students and he needs to learn to use it.
My friend, who is an advocate (unfortunately, an 8-hour drive from me), taught me to respond with the following:

“That is a fantastic system for your neurotypical students. However, [my son] is not neurotypical. He has ADHD, ASD, anxiety, and learning disabilities which affect his ability to plan and organize in this way. He has a goal in his IEP that stipulates that teachers are to help him in this area. Punishing him for his executive functioning weaknesses would be a violation of his civil rights, and it won’t change the brain he was born with.”

I am still battling the school to implement his IEP to help him with planning and organization in every class every day. He has good grades in the classes that don’t have homework, but barely passes those that require homework and studying at home for tests. This is a kid with a gifted IQ. He cannot succeed because he isn’t getting the support he needs. Teachers think intelligence is the sole measure of capability, when it is not. We are awaiting a Functional Behavior Analysis to get formal strategies from the school’s behavior specialist to hopefully push the teachers to understand and implement the accommodations and services.

Here are some articles to maybe share with his teachers about executive functioning-I’ve found that the vast majority has no idea what it is or that not everyone is born with these skills:

> How ADHD Impacts Executive Functions and Intelligence

> The 7 Executive Functions Thwarted By ADHD

This infographic from is stellar!

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

A Reader Answers

It would be too much for my 12 year old. Not just because of executive function, but because he is not outgoing enough. He has anxiety and would rather fail than talk to his teacher about arranging a time. I would talk to the teacher and tell her that you appreciate her trying to teach your son responsibility, but unfortunately, due to his disabilities he is not yet able to.

I would also tell her that you do not support him missing lunch/recess to make up exams. It is imperative that he have time to run around and use a little energy. There is overwhelming evidence to support this for all children, but especially for children with ADHD. Tell the teacher you would be happy to send her some articles to read.

[Setting Realistic Behavior Expectations at School]

As for accommodations, I would ask for extended time on assignments when necessary. Speak with authority and do not ask, state. Nobody know what your child needs more than you do. Good luck.

Posted by Peacfldove

A Reader Answers

My son is a sophomore now and was diagnosed in 4th grade. Middle school was the same way for him. Teachers put more responsibility on the child to work out these types of issues. It will continue that way because, disabilities or not, teachers feel that kids need to be ready to do these things on their own before they graduate high school.

High school gets even more intense in this way and I have come to see that it really is better for my son that he learns to take more responsibility. Yes it is hard for him, but when he approaches teachers to set up times or redo work, or goes to talk to the counselor about the right classes to take to get into college, he feels much better about himself and the next time is a little easier.

My son is not gifted and has many executive function deficiencies and every class is a big struggle for him. Yet, when he takes care of things like this he’s able to see that he might be okay as an adult after all. I am not saying that kids need to be in charge of all of it all at once, but if you talk to the teacher and tell her that you and he are going to work on this one step at a time, she may be more willing to work with him more slowly.

Posted by Mom4Jared

A Reader Answers

I have a 19 year old who had a late diagnosis of ADHD at 15. I used to do exactly what you say you’re doing, help him stay on top of things, try to help organize things, and contact teachers. As he got older there was pressure for him to learn to take responsibility for himself, and my husband felt I was coddling him.

[Encouraging Self-Discipline in Middle School]

Without understanding ADHD, I took a back seat. As the work became more intense he just couldn’t hold it together and the stress and anxiety became too much for him. Now his anxiety is so extreme he barely leaves the house. I look back and wish I’d followed my gut feeling and didn’t care so much about what others thought.

So I write all this to help you see into the future. Our kids need support and the big thing I’ve learned is that ADHD kids learn stuff more slowly. What a neurotypical kid can do at 15 may take children with ADHD years longer to learn or at least manage. Also, school is really stressful for ADHDers. I’ll be doing things very differently with my 10 year old.

Posted by beatty1212

A Reader Answers

Anything that depends on memory, as much as these children want to do it, as smart as they are, won’t work. It depends on abilities they do not have and we can’t change that. They can’t change that. It has to be worked around instead of expecting it will ‘kick in’ at some point.

My son had a reward chart to encourage him to write all of his upcoming tests and assignments in his notebook everyday. It never ever worked and it couldn’t work because he couldn’t do it. He got rewards for everything else but. I wish I’d seen that at the time instead of trying to change it.

Try asking teachers to put everything online. Ask the teachers to email you the assignments or post it on a class website. Using technology has been the only thing that’s made any difference for us because it doesn’t depend on my son remembering things he can’t. The teachers need to meet you halfway even if they never understand the effects this has on your son. We do.

Posted by HaveBeenThere

[Free Download: Common Executive Function Challenges at School — and Solutions]