School can be the most painful thorn in the bum of parents raising a child with ADHD. It’s a constant battle to get the school to accept and truly understand your child’s strengths and weaknesses, offer the accommodations they need to achieve success in a learning environment, and then consistently implement your child’s tailored plan. I’ve been fighting for five years and I’m still spinning my wheels. That’s 1,825 days. Actually, it’s almost six years, so it’s closer to 2,100 days, but who is counting? It feels like the quest to secure an appropriate education for my special child is a never-ending pursuit of the holy grail.
The school issue for Ricochet and I is compounded by the fact that he’s twice-exceptional — he has ADHD and learning disabilities, but also a gifted intelligence. Teachers and administrators see that he’s smart, so they automatically expect a parallel level of performance. If only it worked that way.
Those of you who have read my book know that we’ve been through hell on more than one occasion trying to secure the right educational atmosphere for Ricochet to learn to his potential and feel good about himself. His first fourth grade year, we placed him in a small private school that focused on experiential learning and science, two strategies we knew were pieces of the puzzle for Ricochet. We were open about Ricochet’s needs before his admission and the school assured us Ricochet would thrive in their community. Less than two months into the year though, I was called to a meeting where I was told they couldn’t teach my son. The experience was beyond devastating. I cried for my sweet boy for days, and have referred to that school as “School Oh-No” ever since.
Our decision to send him to School Oh-No was 100% for Ricochet’s benefit. It cost money we didn’t have, lots of it. It was a 30-minute drive to and from school every day. Our family made numerous sacrifices so that Ricochet could attend this school we were so sure was the right learning environment for him. And that decision, the one I was so sure was so right, turned out to hurt my little boy tremendously. He was asked to leave a school he truly loved to go to every day because he was simply being himself.
Three years later, we are now standing at a similar precipice. A new middle and high charter school is opening in our area this fall. It will follow the expeditionary learning model — a very hands-on approach to learning that is often effective for kids with ADHD and learning disabilities. The biggest difference between this charter school and School Oh-No is that the charter school is bound by the laws of IDEA and Section 504 — they must offer a free and appropriate education (often referred to as FAPE) to all students. This difference, coupled with the fact that they will have a Special Education Director and two Special Education teachers on staff made my heart skip a beat. Could this finally be the best marriage of the protection of public schools for a child with disabilities and an out-of-the-box learning model Ricochet would thrive in?
Mr. T, Ricochet’s dad, and I have perseverated about this for several months now, since learning about this new school. The last thing we want is to place Ricochet back into a situation that will only lead to him getting hurt. At the same time though, we recognize that this school, if implemented properly, could be the exact learning environment for Ricochet to finally thrive academically. There is only one way to know, we have to try it and see what it’s like.
Charter schools in our area have waiting lists that now outlast a child’s primary education. The best chance for our son to be able to attend this school was the first year, when all spots were open an available. I completed his application and submitted it for the lottery, and Ricochet’s number was chosen and he was offered a spot at the new school. We have accepted that spot with very cautious optimism. Only time can reveal the efficacy of our decision.