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Parents of ADHD Children

What good is an IEP if the classroom teachers can't implement?

My daughter is in the 4th grade - public school. She has a fairly detailed IEP (and, our annual review meeting is tomorrow). However, she is doing poorly in school - her test scores are low, her grades are terrible and her engagement is minimal. She rarely gets praise from her teachers, who are exasperated and express utter frustration at what we understand to be classic ADHD symptoms (making animal noises in class, doing pencil manicures, etc.). We often receive reports that she needs to be more compliant, listen better and learn to focus (in our heads we think “welcome to our world”). Despite offering up strategies and resources to the teachers, the situation is not improving. What can we expect of public school teachers? There are 9 kids on IEPs in her class, shouldn’t the classroom teachers (who all have many years experience in the system) have some basic knowledge and skill working with kids with special needs - especially in a system which uses a strategy of inclusion and has a goal of placement in the “least restrictive environment”? There is a special education person who is in the classroom - but her time is divided across a few grade levels and she doesn’t work miracles. Are we expecting too much? Are we just hitting our heads against a flawed system? We would appreciate your thoughts. Thank you, in advance.


Is your child on medication?

Posted by kyoung76 on Mar 05, 2014 at 9:01pm

I’m always banging on about medication, but I have to ask if your daughter’s condition is being treated. The right medication can make all of the difference in the world. If one isn’t as effective talk to your daughter’s pediatrician about trying something else. Without Ritalin my son’s IEP, which is hard to get implemented on a good day, would be pointless. Like your daughter his behavioral problems would negate the intended purpose.

I’m sorry for what you’re all going through. It’s very tough emotionally and incredibly frustrating. In my case we’re not getting the support we’re supposed to be getting either so I’ve had to become the polite, but squeaky, wheel once more. Makes you wonder why you bother at times, but at least it specifies what is supposed to.. and I do mean supposed to… happen.

Teacher’s who don’t have specific knowledge of ADHD say the same old things everyone else does… the child needs to pay attention, yadda yadda yadda. Well, if they could they would, but they can’t. ADHD is not understood by a vast selection of the public, and this includes educators, unfortunately. That being said, a job as a teacher with so many children with IEPs has to be overwhelming for them too.

4th grade was the worst. Apparently this is an age where ADHD, etc. become much more apparent. And debilitating. However they do learn to compensate over time, so it will get easier.

It is a flawed system and as parents we’re frequently disappointed, as my family is as well, at the lack of any effort to really make the IEP work. If medication is an issue get on top of that first and foremost. After that assume it will be your roll to ask repeatedly from all those involved for assistance for your daughter. Get on the horn and fire off the emails. Whatever it takes to get her the individual help she deserves. It’s more often than not an uphill battle, so hang in there.

Posted by Havebeenthere on Mar 05, 2014 at 9:10pm

I suggest if the school he is not educated on how to address children with ADHD or other behavior issues then you should take her to another school or ask for her to be switched to a class of a teacher who had more experience.
It’s very stressful when your child isn’t getting the helped needed or the education requires because of the school system but don’t think it’s the end . You have a voice you have a right regardless if public school or not, fact is public school systems have so many resources that parents are unaware of. Do your research.

Posted by Anthony18Mommy on Mar 05, 2014 at 9:16pm

I went through this with my son last year when he was in second grade.  I ultimately sent a letter requesting that my son have a full time aide.  It took a while to implement, but by March he received the aide.  The aide was essential in keeping him on task in the classroom, keeping him out of trouble in the lunch room, etc. 

I brought his therapist to the IEP meeting who helped educate the school team on my son’s issues.  I was also very lucky in that the School District representative new her stuff and was able to push back at the school for not meeting the requirements of the IEP.

This year my son is in another school within the same school district. He is in a special ed program that has only 9 children with 3 adults in the classroom. At first I was very hesitant to agree to this, however, it has made the world of difference.  So, sometimes, least restrictive environment is NOT the answer.  My son is happy again and loves school.  He is learning the same things as other children in 3rd grade and is graded on the same level. 

At your meeting, ask if there are alternatives to LRE.  It might be the answer you are looking for.  I was allowed to observe the new classroom and meet with the teachers and program head before agreeing to place my son in this class.

Good luck to you.  I am so sorry you are dealing with this.

Posted by cmullen17 on Mar 05, 2014 at 9:34pm

Our pediatric psychiatrist said something to me that turned me from a reluctant mom to medicate to an absolute advocate.  She said in essence - ADHD symptoms can be mitigated by the medication and the great thing about the medications for ADHD (NOT to be confused with meds for anxiety or depression, mind you) is that they process through the system fairly rapidly, in a day or so. But the more detrimental and permanent problems of untreated or poorly treated ADHD is low self esteem, and that is a life sentence.  Self esteem problems are very difficult to reverse. 

I think she is absolutely right.  Just as we expect that this is the time of life to introduce all sorts of learning and ideas because they are sponges - music, languages, math, critical thinking.  Get them learning this stuff at a young age and it will be embedded in their brain right?  But what they are ALSO learning is how to think about themselves.  And that learning comes from all kinds of experiences, at home, in the classroom, in the world at large, around their peers.  What you don’t want to embed in their brains are all those messages they might be getting from teachers and peers, like “I’m disruptive”, “I can’t learn”, “I’m stupid”.  And it is not just the spoken messages, it is also all the unspoken messages.

Kids can catch up academically but once those self esteem messages are set, they are set, and they can be very difficult to undo.  I am a normal brained person and I STILL have trouble not seeing myself as FAT.  Why?  I am not very overweight, and was not much more than a little more round than my skinny sister growing up.  But I got teased at home for being “chunky”, “husky”, “round belly” and as those messages got heard by babysitters and neighbors as cute little jokes towards me, other people picked them up.

My ADHD husband who was not treated until his 50s has one of the best curious minds I know.  But he believes he is stupid.  He can find out anything for anyone.  A friend mentions in conversation about whatever happened to some band or other and within minutes he has 5 different sources of information at hand.  And what a great memory for facts!  But in his own mind he can’t learn, can’t use his brain, can’t remember anything.

So whatever you do, the most important thing is what your child’s perception is of herself.  School work can always be caught up with.

Posted by YellaRyan on Mar 05, 2014 at 11:58pm

The comments above have offered many very valid points about medication.  (By the way I also believe that if the right medication is found, it can make a huge difference for a person of any age with ADHD).  So I am not going to make any further comments about medication.
What I think is extremely important whether your daughter is on medication or not, she does have as you said, a fairly detailed IEP.  I think the school might need a reminder that an IEP is not just a suggestion of things that they can consider providing, it is a legal document.  The number of kids in the class who have an IEP is not relevant, they are not providing what your daughter needs and is legally entitled to.
I also agree that self- esteem is huge and once damaged it can be a lifelong struggle.  If it is not already in the IEP I would make sure there are some strategies to boost self-esteem and confidence.  A couple examples are: ‘recognition and praise for effort and improvement in addition to task completion’ and ‘provide constructive criticism in private.’
It is great that you have offered strategies and resources to the teachers; clearly you are trying to work with them.  I suggest that it is time that the school staff follows your lead!  As far as the teachers reporting that she needs to ‘listen better and learn to focus more’ I would ask them, if they had a student in the class who has a visual impairment would they suggest that the student needs to work harder at ‘seeing?’  I might ask them what they are hoping to accomplish by making such comments.
Yes, it is a flawed system and yes it will be a long journey but you are not expecting too much to ask that your daughter be provided with the accommodations that she both requires and is legally entitled to.  She has a right to an education that is suitable for her strengths and areas of weakness.
If you are interested in more strategies for advocating for your daughter I would be happy to help. There are many more professional who can provide assistance.  Your daughter’s doctor is another good starting point.
Your daughter is lucky to have parents who are working so hard to help her achieve her full potential!
I wish you all the best with your journey. 
Carrie Silverberg BA(Psyc), RECE
ADHD Consultant and Coach
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Posted by on Mar 06, 2014 at 2:50am

These responses are incredibly helpful, easing the isolation and stress. Thank you so much.
My daughter is, in fact, on medication. For the past two years we’ve tried different combinations with only limited success (often having to change due to weight loss). Right now she’s on a daytrana patch, focalin in the morning and clonadine 2x daily. She sees a pediatric neurologist, therapist, adjustment counselor, family therapists and therapeutic mentor. She’s on a waiting list for the Think Kids Program at Mass General and an equine assisted psychotherapy program elsewhere. We’ve just started seeing a child psychiatrist (hoping to replace some of the above) and the hypothesis of those who did the initial evaluation suspected that an attachment disorder was complicating her adhd making the meds less effective than they would otherwise be (she was in foster care for the first 2 years of her life). This has been an unbelievably stressful year - with little success in most areas of her life; but school takes up so much of her time, it would be nice to have some increased success there. We are nuts when it comes to accessing resources; in fact, the head of special education for the district has attended some of our IEP meetings, since we have pushed and pushed (with big smiles on our faces) to access what our daughter needs. Right now she is getting homework help after school - part of 180 compensatory hours. This makes her feel like a freak, talk about self esteem issues. We’re considering a therapeutic school, but just aren’t sure. It’s all a huge learning curve.

Posted by MomofMack on Mar 06, 2014 at 4:49am

Hi MomofMack!

Wow! You are doing so much for your daughter. The first suggestion I have is to let yourself off the hook. You are doing everything you can, and, no matter what you do, you can’t “fix” it—nothing will cure her ADHD. It took me years to stop working so hard to find a way for my son to fit better with neurotypical kids (I had the director of special ed in many a meeting as well). I had to accept that I was searching for something that didn’t exist.

Now, I’m certainly not saying you should stop trying. I didn’t stop. I’m suggesting rather, that you shift your focus. Work on crafting strategies to make ADHD less of an issue in her life in the future. Work on building skills like self-regulation, organization, and planning, as well as “work-arounds”, like using apps to remember things she needs to do, etc.

As for the IEP, it is a legally enforceable document and it sounds like the school may need to be reminded of that. Call an IEP meeting and let the team know that the IEP is not being followed in the classroom and you want to update it so it can be effective. I would also point out to her teachers that saying “she needs to focus” is like telling a blind child’s mother “she needs to see.” It’s an unrealistic expectation. Medication can help ADHD symptoms, but it can’t erase them. It’s the school’s job to formulate strategies to achieve academic success.

If she’s embarrassed about staying after school for help, maybe a private tutor at a different location would help to resolve that issue. There are certainly other options where that is concerned.

Both of my children (one neurotypical and one ADHD and LD), as well as my neurotypical niece ALL fell apart in 4th grade. The neurotypicals stumbled socially and emotionally (both girls) and my son struggled with that and with the work, despite having a gifted IQ. In 4th grade, much of the work involves a higher level of critical thinking that isn’t so black and white, but many kids with ADHD and behavioral disorders are concrete thinkers, only seeing in black and white. My son actually repeated 4th grade—he was on grade level or above as far as knowledge was concerned, but he didn’t have the accountability and planning and organization skills required to be successful academically. Plus, he was one of the youngest in his grade and two years less mature, which caused him to be constantly bullied and teased. Retention was the best decision we have made for him thus far, and a decision he was ecstatic about.

I can’t tell you how much I wish we had access to a therapeutic school for our son. What a gift that could be. You have to be careful when considering that placement though. Consider the needs of the other children at the school and if your daughter fits within that picture. The point of a therapeutic school is that it’s an environment where your child feels more comfortable and has a better sense of belonging, and can get the extra help they need. If she’s put in a school with kids who are mostly non-verbal or extremely defiant, etc., it might be a worse environment for her.

You are doing everything you can for your daughter, and you have to give yourself some credit for that. Finding success for these children is a marathon, not a sprint—it’s tough to accept and heed that though when you are watching your kid struggle. So tough! My heart aches for my son constantly.

Hang in there and keep fighting for what your daughter needs to find her own definition of success.

ADDconnect Moderator & Mom to Tween Boy with ADHD and LDs

Posted by adhdmomma on Mar 06, 2014 at 6:34pm

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