Tips From The Parent Of A Child With ADHD About Navigating The Special Education Maze

Recently, I had a consultation with a parent of a child suffering from attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) who shared some of the lessons she learned over the years in advocating to obtaining appropriate special education supports for her child in her local school system:

1.  To make her case that her elementary school student with ADHD needed to be classified, and given an Individualized Education Program (“IEP”), this parent withheld stimulant medication and private tutoring for six months, long enough for her child to “bottom out” in terms of classroom conduct, grades, and standardized test scores.  Armed with grades, test scores, and a referral by the overwhelmed classroom teacher, the parent was able to cause her district to evaluate her child for special-education classification at an earlier grade than was typical in her district.

2.  It appeared to this parent that her district intended to take several months to complete the evaluation process that leads to classification as a special education student.  Scheduling the testing took time, and then there looked to be a long wait for the results of the tests. She advised her district that she had retained an attorney, and an IEP meeting was scheduled for the following week.

3.  Once your child with ADHD is classified and given an IEP, hold on to that status all the way through high school.  Based on her child’s status as a classified student with an IEP, her child was able to keep in place the “pull-out” support the child needed (i.e., “pull-out” support refers to the special educational supports provided after the child is pulled out of class for individualized instruction rather than in-class support), to help him meet the organizational challenges of middle and high school.

4.  This parent fostered relationships with members of the School Board in her district, and with fellow parents of students with ADHD.  The word of mouth from her fellow parents enabled her to learn, for example, that pull-out support for ADHD students was being phased out for her district’s sixth-graders, but not for seventh-grade students.  Being able to point out this inconsistency, to staff in her district’s special services department and to friends on the Board of Education, helped her obtain pull-out support for her child, even though he was a sixth-grader, and not a seventh-grader.

5.  The parent recommended that parents fight to have the best possible IEP in place as of the spring of the preceding school year, and to reject “wait and see” proposals by the district that leave the child’s services up in the air as a new school year starts. For example, this parent’s district had proposed that her child start sixth grade without pull-out support, “just to see how it goes” with in-class support alone. The parent rejected the offer because 1) she knew her peer-conscious pre-adolescent would never self-identify in his middle-school regular-education classes as being in need of a support teacher’s assistance and so he would be effectively unsupported; 2) she wanted her child to have the pull out teacher’s support right from the start of middle school to help him navigate his overall program;  3) she knew that having to learn new teachers and a new schedule one month into the school year would set her child back and cause her child to feel shame.

The district represented that they would give her child a new schedule, including pull-out support, a month into the school year, if the child needed it. The parent rejected the district’s offer. Her rationale for rejecting this offer was that she knew her child would need pull out support to adjust to the increased organizational demands of middle school.