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What to Do When the School Doesn’t Get Your Child

When a teacher blames laziness for ADHD symptoms, one mom finds school accommodations to help attention deficit and dyslexia.

If you’re reading this blog, chances are you recognize that school can be challenging for kids with ADHD and learning disabilities. That’s not half the battle, but it’s a good start. Many parents aren’t aware their child has a problem. That’s no surprise given that classroom teachers often miss the signs or blame laziness.

That’s what my son Henry’s third-grade teacher told me, despite the fact that he came into her classroom with an IEP in place. So, given the ignorance of many educators, it’s imperative that you not only recognize your child has a learning difference, but get a handle on his strengths and weaknesses. You can’t provide proper scaffolding and support for your child, if you don’t know exactly what it is you are trying to fix.

The reality is that two kids can have the same diagnosis, but present with different symptoms. My son, for example, is dyslexic. So many teachers would assume he struggles with reading. He doesn’t. He reads using a whole language approach, which relies on sight words and context clues. Back in early elementary school this wasn’t how reading was taught. They encouraged kids to use phonics clues to sound out words. This approach failed miserably for Henry. He was learning to read, but not in the same manner as his classmates.

The learning specialist at his public school didn’t get it. “The brain only has the capacity to memorize so many sight words. He can probably only retain a few hundred,” she insisted. She wanted him pulled out for reading help. This sent Henry into a shame spiral, as reading was the one subject he thought he had figured out.

I don’t know if there’s research to back up what the learning specialist told me, or if she was just giving me lip service. But in Henry’s case it wasn’t true. He continues to excel in reading. In fact, he reads at an 11th grade level at the age of 12. So, back in third grade, we put the kibosh on the reading pull outs. The “help” the school was offering made matters worse.

[Free Guide: How to Fight For Your Child’s Rights at School]

Spelling, on the other hand, is an area of weakness. Poor working memory, along with poor phonemic awareness, make spelling extremely challenging for Henry. On top of that, he has dysgraphia. When a child is working hard just to put pen to paper, mistakes are inevitable. So we requested that Henry take his spelling test on a laptop rather than writing out answers long hand. With this accommodation in place, his scores went up exponentially.

Tasks involving fine-motor skills also create obstacles for him. Cutting with scissors, creating illustrations, or even building a 3-D model have no bearing on a person’s cognitive abilities. But, for a while, they impeded my son’s academic success and wreaked havoc on his self-esteem.

How so? Three words: Poster-board project. Most kids love to showcase their knowledge of a topic using glitter glue, construction paper, and colored markers. But when a child’s best efforts yield results that wouldn’t impress a preschool teacher, the assignments are demoralizing for him.

I’m not sure why teachers rely so heavily on poster board, but we’ve made sure Henry always has an alternative way to complete his assignment. Some times he makes videos, other times PowerPoint presentations. We also ask that other students be allowed to use these options, so Henry doesn’t feel that he’s different.

If you have an IEP or a 504 in place, your school is obligated to comply with simple accommodations like the ones mentioned above. Some teachers, though, are better at honoring requests than others. When my son’s teachers didn’t follow the requests I made for my son, I decided to leave the public school system. Read about my journey in my next blog.