There’s a lot more to ADHD.

As I said a couple weeks ago, in my latest book, The Insider’s Guide to ADHD: Adults with ADHD Reveal the Secret to Parenting Kids with ADHD, I devote nearly an entire chapter to all the parts of ADHD that doctors, therapists, and teachers don’t tell parents about upon diagnosis, or sometimes ever. There’s inflexibility, meltdowns, sensory processing struggles, executive functioning deficits, etc. So, I decided to make “All the Other Stuff They Don’t Tell You” a regular series here on the blog — it’s a lot of information. Today I’m going to discuss what I consider hell-on-earth for kids with ADHD and/or autism: SCHOOL.

ADHD and School: Lack of Knowledge

There is a Federal Law in the U.S. called IDEA. It says that all children have a right to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), even children with disabilities. So, the educational approach has to be tailored (or individualized) in order to provide an “appropriate” education to a student who has barriers to learning.

In my experience, 90+ percent of teachers don’t know and/or understand the laws that govern special education — both IDEA and ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). They don’t know that they are required by law to accommodate special needs kids or individualize instruction for them, or they don’t know what it should look like and how to do it. This is a serious crack in our national education system that far too many kids fall into , left to suffer.

 

ADHD and School:Lack of Understanding

Not only do teachers lack the knowledge about different disabilities and those students’ rights in their classrooms, but teachers lack knowledge and understanding of the disabilities themselves. Most teachers I’ve come in contact with over the past nine years my son, Ricochet, has been in school do not have the ability (or maybe desire) to tease apart laziness from symptoms of ADHD, for example.

Even more damaging is the belief of the educational system that intelligence, and intelligence alone, determines academic capability. I can’t even begin to count how many times Ricochet and I have heard teachers say, “I know he can do better,” or, “I know he can do more,” or, “I know he’s capable of more,” or, “He is smart and has so much more potential that what he’s ‘willing’ to do…” If my head could spin around, it undoubtedly would.

And what about when our kids are over-emotional or incapable of acting their calendar age? They are often seen as too sensitive or acting like a baby. Instead, educators should know that ADHD (and autism) are developmental disabilities and that these behaviors are part of the brain they are born with.

Educating teachers on special needs and the rights of special needs students should be a required part of continuing education for teachers and administrators. If we are going to push for inclusion, we must ensure that the regular education teachers understand the disabilities and challenges that affect our children’s behavior and performance. Seems like common sense, doesn’t it?

 

ADHD and School: Lack of Time

A common complaint of educators when parents ask for the accommodations and services special needs students need is that they don’t have the time to do extra for one student, when they have 25-40 students who deserve equal attention. They are right. I cannot argue with that. Today’s American teachers are asked to work long hours and even provide supplies for their students out of their own pockets, because law makers continuously decide that part of their educational budget would be better spent reallocated to something they find more important.

And here’s the rub: Federal law requires that educators provide accommodations and/or an individualized education plan (IEP) to students whose disabilities interfere with learning, YET the aren’t afforded the time or additional staff to follow the law. Then, we parents, look like evil incarnate when we ask our child’s teachers to check that his homework is written down at the end of each class, each day. How can we possibly expect someone already working extra long hours to meet the demands of their job to do even more, and to the benefit of only one of their many students?

 

ADHD and School: Lack of Following the Law

The lack of knowledge, understanding, and time culminate into one thing: lack of following the law. You know, those laws created to be sure kids like ours get treated fairly and can learn like any other child.

While the laws do offer protections for students and their families, they aren’t protections accessible to most families. There are many times schools didn’t follow IDEA for my son (especially right now, this school year), yet I don’t have any recourse despite the law defining my recourse, because I don’t have thousands of dollars lying around to hire an attorney and convince a judge the school is breaking the law. What happens if you get a judge who thinks ADHD isn’t real, or just requires more discipline?

So, long story short, you will have an ADHD diagnosis in hand for your child. Your doctor might have even suggested you request a 504 Plan from the school. It sounds like your child will now be able to succeed in school, now that you have a diagnosis and a clear picture of their needs. If you’re lucky enough to be that one in a million who has an understanding and proactive school, that might be true. For most of us, it is not. I’ve had an ADHD diagnosis for Ricochet for 7.5 years. I’ve had a dysgraphia and written expression disorder diagnosis in hand for 5 years. I’ve had a diagnosis of anxiety in hand for nearly 5 years. I’ve had a diagnosis of high-functioning autism in hand for 7 months. Yet, the lack of understanding of my son and his needs is at an all-time high this school year.

Yes, you have a diagnosis. Yes, you know what is going on with your child finally, and have a better idea what that need at school. But the battle is just beginning. The physician won’t tell you, but I’m committed to keeping it real.