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REPOST: No desire to succeed - need help with reply!

(Sorry for the repost!  There seems to be a glitch where people can’t reply to your post if the title starts with a symbol or a number, so I’m trying again.)

Background:  My son is 11 and in middle school.  This year his grades have dropped, his behaviour worsened and he was very honestly very close to a mental breakdown at Christmas.  I managed to get him on medication and things are slowly improving.  We are still seeing areas of struggle, so we are pushing for an IEP and accommodations.

His teacher is very good and understands ADHD.  She is flexible and supportive.  It will be the special ed counsellor that will be writing the IEP however.

I wrote an email to my son’s teacher (after my son got a 58% on his math test) requesting the IEP and also requesting some accommodations, the most crucial being that tests be broken up for him so he doesn’t become overwhelmed.  (This latest test was 3 pages long, and he got zero points on the last page, and the most correct on the first.)

So I wanted to paste in a bit of the counsellor’s email and see how you all would respond.

“I can write an IEP for [your son] and will do so after spring break. We are willing to put adaptations in place for [him], but adaptations require [his] participation in what he needs them to be. We can adapt his work but if he is not taking the initiative to express what he needs our adaptations may not be of assistance. He needs to be interested in improving his work for it to be effective. Currently, he does not consistently demonstrate a great deal of desire to be successful at school. Today when given time to study in class for his social studies test he chose to read his book. When offered help from the EA to study for his test, he refused her assistance. I understand we all want our children to be successful in school and achieve good grades but they have to be active participants in their learning for this to be an achievable goal.”

“After I have completed a rough draft of the IEP perhaps we can meet with [your son] and ensure that he feels the adaptations will be of benefit to him or we can add some different ones in for him. We can continue to work with [him] to try to further develop the strategies he has, but he needs to put the strategies into practice and actively particpate in the learning process for him to be successful. He has shown improvements in his participation in his learning, and he will continue to develop as he matures. It is a process and will not change over night, and his improvements demonstrate that he is on the correct path and with further support and encouragement he will continue to grow and learn. We look forward to helping him through this process of self understanding and self advocacy with you and [your son]”

Replies

Hi, I wanted to respond since I have had similar remarks.

My son is 12 and in 6th grade.  The biggest adjustment was for me.  My son has been off meds since June 2013 and has adjusted well. 

He has been so used to school being easy for him and does very little effort into school.  This has been a big issue for the family.  We (the parents) are used to A’s and get worried/anxiety when we see C’s or below.  When questioned, his response is “I’m doing my best.”

There is no IEP/504 Plan in place and the teachers are preparing him for high school.  I have been told by his teacher that “they may need to fall on their face” to succeed or “you get what you put in.”  He is in honors classes because he is capable of it.  My son chooses to do bare minimum to pass.  Right now, he is more concerned about social standings and not grades.

After much consultation, the family has agreed upon this;  we check his grades on Friday,  if he has a “c” or below, he will lose playstation, youtube, and ipad until the grades are brought up.  His t.v. time has now been changed to only 1 hr before school and 1 hr before bedtime.  Doing this gets rid of the distractions and the rushing to get done with homework.  This puts the responsibility upon him to improve his grades and less pressure on us.

It has only been a week but he seems to know what needs to be done and is willing to put in more effort.  His grades are starting to reflect this as well.

In my opinion (and experience), I feel that the teacher makes valid points and is willing to work with you.  I know that we want to help our children (I’m guilty) but I am learning to step back and let my child be responsible for his work.  IMO, this is preparing him for when he is on his own.

Good luck.

Posted by knrdodd on Mar 09, 2014 at 4:56am

Let me start by saying it is great that you are seeing some improvements with the medication your son is using.  I know this can be a very slow process when you are trying to find the right medication and dosage.
With regards to the email from the school special education counsellor….. Wow!  I can feel your frustration on so many levels!!
It seems to me this counsellor is so busy focusing on the reasons that your son might not be successful.  Her time and effort would be better spent if she channels that effort into doing her job which is to determine what can be put into place to help your son be successful and meet his potential while at school!
I am not sure why this counsellor feels that it is so important for your son at age 11 be a part of the initial writing of the IEP.  Taking both his age and his obvious feelings of overwhelm, I would be surprised if he able to articulate what ‘adaptations he needs.’  My suggestion would be that the adults who know him best use a combination of their knowledge of his strengths and weakness with the information contained in the assessments that he has had completed.
Only once an effective IEP is in place with the required accommodations being consistently provided will it be possible for your son begin to feel supported enough to have trust in the process and feel safe enough to request help.
Success will breed more success in the same way that the difficulties have spiralled into more difficulties.  Your son needs to feel that he is supported at school and only then will he begin to be able to see the success he is capable of.
Your suggestion that tests be broken into smaller parts is clearly an important accommodation that should be provided.  This is called ‘chunking’ and is a very common accommodation for people with ADHD. 
If the counsellor does not understand ADHD or your son’s needs, is there anyone else in the school that can help with the IEP process?  You might have to go above this person if you don’t see a more positive attitude and better understanding of your son’s needs.  I am not sure where you are located but there are many professionals who can help you advocate for your son.  Although, your location might not be important as there are many people (myself being one of them) who can provide you with help via phone / Skype / Facetime / email.  Your son’s doctor might also be a helpful resource.
I wish you the best of luck!  I know that this is a long and frustrating process, but it is worth your effort.  Once your son begins to receive the proper accommodations he will begin to work to his potential!
All the best,
Carrie Silverberg BA (Psyc), RECE
ADHD Coach and Consultant
http://www.adhd-strategies.com
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Posted by ADHD-strategies.com on Mar 09, 2014 at 4:57am

The person above has said it all very well.  My reaction is the counselor has very little knowledge of ADHD.

I have had to educate the educators at our school regarding ADHD and LD’s, the effects on his self-esteem and confidence.

Try to get his understanding teacher more involved.  It takes time and work to get things worked out and on an even keel.  Your son will feel better about things as small changes are made.  Don’t give up!  Good luck.

Posted by Pdxlaura on Mar 09, 2014 at 9:46pm

I can totally see your frustration.  I could never even get my school to agree to an IEP at all because ADHD is not considered a learning disability by my school district!  But we totally lucked out in getting a 2nd grade teacher who has a daughter with ADHD so understands and accommodated her without instruction from the school.

You may have to educate the counselor on your son’s ADHD and explain his particular situation.  Too bad you couldn’t do it face to face instead of via email.  Interpersonal communication is so much clearer when looking at someone rather than reading their words, which are open to wide interpretation.

The counselor probably does have some valid points.  Getting angry at her is not going to help anything.  You do need to start from a place of giving her the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe asking kids to help write their own IEP (I’m sure on some very limited level, seriously folks, I doubt the counselor is simply handing it over to him!) creates buy in so that kids are more participatory and less resistant. 

If you don’t think this would work for your son, tell her why you think this is.  Explain his symptoms that would get in the way - such as defensiveness - what she is seeing as lack of participation in his own education is very likely to him his amygdala entering into fight or flight - being approached by an adult to be offered extra help is in NO WAY singling him out and making him stressed (being sarcastic here) right?  She needs to know though that that situation probably made him feel embarrassed, not normal brained embarrassed where the kid blushes and moves on, no ADHD embarrassed which brings on another whole host of responses - defensiveness, fight/flight, accusation, denial - all because stress causes their brain to work overtime and feels like trouble and they are trying to get out of trouble!

The counselor works with how many kids?  And she is supposed to keep track and know with certainty what is going on with each and every kid and ensure the appropriate adjustment?  In theory, sure.  But if this is public school I would bet she has way more kids to oversee than you can imagine.  Why don’t you ask her how many kids, and how many are actively needing her services?  You might get more help and understanding for your son if you approached her with concern, rather than as the enemy.  I know, it feels like they are being difficult, but maybe that is a really good tactic to get rid of the overly hysterical parents asking for accommodations unlike you who is a parent asking for truly needed services.

Be thankful that she is taking the time to explain her own point of view.  That was only part of an email, think how much time it took her to write it to you?  And she has how many students to look after?  Try to work with her.  If you start at cross purposes because you are frustrated and want it fixed now it will take longer!  Why don’t you just tell her the truth, that you are worried about your kid and you wish it was all solved yesterday, and this being in flux is frustrating and scary and you have no idea if it will all turn out well…

Posted by YellaRyan on Mar 10, 2014 at 10:35pm

Not a parent, but I have been the ADHD student and did reasonably well in high school (3.4 unweighted GPA at graduation). Here’s some things I took away and that made a difference for me then and now during my college years:

1. Having teachers who understood my needs and who nurtured my talents (a.k.a. pushed me). It sounds like you’ve got one who’s willing to work with you. Rejoice! You have that on your side for now.

2. Having people remind me what I was good at. Maybe take the time to take inventory of what your son is good at and remind him of that. Help him find ways for him to apply those strengths to what he needs to do, and practical ways to apply it. Include him in the process. Having ADD can often feel like having a mirror held up to you at all times that is only able to show your faults; a lot of research shows that happy and well adjusted people hear a ratio of somewhere between 5:1 and 10:1 (depending on your source) of positive to negative comments during the day. Focus on what he is doing right and remind him of times he’s succeeded.

3. Excercise! If he’s a natural athlete, encourage it, if he needs persuading maybe find and activity you can do together. My brain always performed better when I was active and a lot of recent brain research backs this up. Maybe look into the option of buying or building a standing desk or consider a yoga ball as a chair since they are ways to engage the body and the brain at the same time. You can also make a 4x8 DIY whiteboard (something my ADHD brother also loves) by spending less than $20 at home depot, which helps keep you on your feet and moving.

4. Did anybody REALLY have a positive experience with middle school? I think it historically sucks for a lot of people.

5. “Hack” study time. I’m currently reading a book called “Learning Outside the Lines” written by two Ivy League students with ADHD and Learning Disabilities (names escape me at the present) that talks about making your own way and using strategies to get the grades you want and need to achieve your goals. One example that I’m trying right now is 20 minutes study, 10 minutes break (using alarms). Set small achievable goals.

6. You can request private testing accommodations. By law. Also consider getting a private tutor, which can sometimes be paid for by grants depending on what programs exist in your community. I originally went to school for journalism because I thought I couldn’t do math and now I’m working on my engineering degree; having a tutor has been incredibly important because if I get stuck on something i can ask right away, or if I drop a decimal or negative sign, there’s an extra set of eyes to catch it for me.  If he doesn’t know about Khan Academy Videos (http://www.khanacademy.com) yet, google them. They are 10-minute educational videos that show specific mathematics topics, and there are other interactive features on the site.

7. This will sound silly, but I use colored pencils, pens and highlighters on my exams and homework. In higher math and science classes, this becomes so useful because you end up working with a lot of variables, and it helps me track everything better visually. Its easier to see that “orange” is different from “blue” than whether x is different from y. I tutored middle school students a while ago and was reminded “my teacher only wants us to do our work in pencil,” which made me so sad for them.

Hopefully those are concrete suggestions that will help!

Best.

Posted by AReed on Mar 13, 2014 at 8:50am

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