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Is Your Child Punished for ADHD Behavior at School?

My daughter, Natalie, recently faced the possibility of in-school suspension and losing recess because of her ADHD symptoms. How do you work with teachers and school administrators if your child is labeled the “behavior problem” student?

Sad ADHD child at school
Sad ADHD pupil being bullied by classmates at corridor in school

My daughter, Natalie, who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and learning disabilities, came home from school a few weeks ago and said that she was in big trouble. She’d had her first ever major outburst at school. Her special education teacher had been gone that day, but she said another teacher told her that because of her behavior, she would probably have in-school suspension the next day.

Losing recess and getting in-school suspension (ISS) are the two most reviled consequences among parents of kids with ADHD because they are so obviously counterproductive. Taking recess away from a kid with ADHD is like forcing a kid to keep blowing more and more air into a balloon without popping it; it’s both illogical and unfair. In-school suspension is just a bigger balloon — you blow longer and harder, and you produce a bigger explosion. Unfortunately, they are still staple punishments for kids with ADHD at many, many schools. Was it finally my turn to face this ridiculous nightmare that had been faced by so many other kids’ parents?

I was pretty sure Natalie’s teacher wouldn’t really give her ISS. For one thing, although fairly serious, this really was her first big behavioral offense — ever — at school. Jumping straight to ISS seemed like a pretty drastic measure. For another, I trust her teacher’s judgment. She’s great with Natalie. I just couldn’t see it happening. But just in case, I walked Natalie in to school the next morning to clarify what had — and would — happen.

[Self-Test: Could My Child Have a Learning Disability?]

Natalie was crying and literally shaking all over when we sat down with Mrs. McCasland. No, she immediately assured us, ISS was not now, and would never be, part of any plan for Natalie. For some kids, yes. But not for Natalie. Phew, I thought. Dodged that bullet. And I was thankful, for the gazillionth time, that Natalie has always had such good, knowledgeable teachers. If only all our challenging children were so lucky.

Has your child been kept inside for recess or had ISS as a behavioral consequence at school? Does your child attend a school where those are seen as appropriate punishments for kids with ADHD? My plan, had Natalie’s teacher given her ISS, was to immediately take her out of school. What have you done — or would you do — in a similar situation?

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Updated on July 24, 2018

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    1. Wow this brings back some bad memories. When I was in grade school I almost never got to go out for recess because of unfinished homework. The teacher would list my unfinished assignments on the blackboard and keep it there for everyone to see. The ever growing list staring at me made me just give up.

      1. I remember giving up and going into something akin to depression over my homework issues. Fortunately I was able to compartmentalize things so I was pretty happy outside school, but school itself was nightmarish for me. They would punish me for my ADD symptoms publicly and intentionally humiliate me. It got so bad by 7th grade that the principle of the school paid the school bully $2 to beat me up on the last day of school (big money for an 12 year old in 1973). Of course the “bully” was my friend, so we put on a show when the principle came down to the room and made it look like he was dragging me around by my hair and we split the money. The principle got so excited at the sight of me being dragged around by my long hair, that he was giddy. I was automatically blamed for everything that happened at school by the principle. I was his whipping boy. At one point he told me that I was “Going to hell and there’s nothing you can do about it”. At the time it was just life to me, my parents never new what was happening to me at school.

        It started dawning on me in my 30s just how toxic my school really experience was. My mom is now in her 80s and I still haven’t told her what happened to me in school.

      1. Penny what if you have everything in place for your child with ADHD 504 plan and intervention plan, and the school isn’t following the interventions we have in place for them, and the school continues to punished the child. Doctor has even written a letter to the school. What can I do or who can I call for help. Thanks

        1. If you’re in the United States, this means they are violating federal law. With a 504 plan, you can file a federal discrimination claim with the Department of Civil Rights. This is the most common complaint they receive. What I would do first and foremost is reach out to the Director of Special Ed/Special Services/Exceptional Children (different names in different states) for your school board. This person’s job is to make sure all the schools they serve are compliant with the law. Loop in your school principal as well.

          I’d also make a formal request for an evaluation for services and an IEP. If your child is constantly being punished for behavior, they need more intervention. An IEP offers more intervention and is more enforceable under the law.

          If you can afford it, or if you have this service free where you live, hire an educational advocate to work with the school and administration to get on the right track. Schools typically take advocates much more seriously than parents.

          Penny
          ADDitude Community Moderator, Parenting ADHD Trainer & Author, Mom to teen w/ ADHD, LDs, and autism

          1. Penny you are a life saver, I also reach out to our councilman, who’s a former educator and he was not happy. Yes I’m in Houston,Texas. I will follow your plan. Thanks so much.

  1. Two days ago I was called to the school where they informed me that my son’s teacher filed chapter 37 on him which basically removed him from her class. I kept him home today because they want to put him in the office until they figure out where to put him. He is a 5 year old little boy with ADHD.

    Now I regularly messaged my sons teacher and saw her everyday at pickup until a few weeks ago when she started sending him to the office for pickup. I was not informed of this change I went to pick him up and he wasn’t outside one of the other teachers told me to pick him up there. Now this and on top of it there was not one parent teacher conference or phone she just went ahead and kicked him out of her class with 3 months left of the year. I don’t know how to explain this to him, he is going to be confused he really liked his teacher and the school won’t give me any information.

    I need to help my son and I don’t know where to start.

    1. I’m stunned! This is not ok. I would call a meeting with the principal, counselor, teacher, and a special ed staff member (I’d invite the head of special ed for your district). He’s 5! he has a disability that impacts behavior and learning! They didn’t even call a parent meeting first!

      Also, request an evaluation and an FBA IN WRITING right away. Here’s how: https://www.additudemag.com/school-assessments-children-may-be-entitled-to/

      Penny
      ADDitude Community Moderator, Parenting ADHD Trainer & Author, Mom to teen w/ ADHD, LDs, and autism

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