Attention, Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is a neurological disorder that typically begins showing symptoms in childhood and progresses through adolescence and adulthood. Most commonly known as ADHD, this particular disorder is characterized by excessive hyperactivity, difficulty focusing or staying on task, the perceived inability to listen or stay still for extended periods, and poor impulse control. Although these symptoms manifest differently from child to child, they are almost universally disruptive to a child's education, as a school setting requires skills in all the above areas. Consequently, ADHD qualifies children for special resources and educational assistance.
ADHD is most commonly diagnosed in childhood but may not be diagnosed until later. If a child has not received a diagnosis before entering school, the school may be pivotal in finding a suitable diagnosis for the child in question and can usually determine whether ADHD is a likely culprit for the difficulty in school based on a child's behavior in a classroom setting. Although teachers cannot diagnose the condition, they can be a valuable resource in helping parents and children obtain a legitimate medical diagnosis.
Accommodations For Students With ADHD: IEPs And 504s
Students with ADHD are generally eligible for accommodations for ADHD, including special education plans and altered learning environments. Some children with ADHD, for instance, might be far too distracted by background noise, such as a fan, window, or buzzing computer, and may need the teacher or teaching assistant to place them in a quieter area of the room. Others may have difficulty focusing on a single task for too long and may require lesson plans to be broken up into more manageable chunks of time or may need one-on-one instruction from a teacher's assistant. Still, others might need some additional sensory input and may be given special permission to use a fidget toy or other distracter to keep their focus on schoolwork.
These accommodations and more are decided upon via a meeting with a team of people from your child's school, to formulate an Individualized Education Plan or IEP. IEP meetings are usually attended by your student's teacher and teaching assistants, school therapists and counselors, yourself, and possibly your child. You also have the option, usually, of asking other people to attend with you, such as a therapist, primary care provider, or family member who is familiar with your child's unique needs.
IEPs are pivotal for children with ADHD, as they allow educators and parents alike to determine how a child is most likely to succeed in an educational setting and provide everyone with some peace of mind regarding a child's entry into school. IEPs possess goals, in addition to education plans, and are revised as often as necessary. Sometimes, goals are too difficult, or goals have been met, and new ones need to be created. An IEP meeting may be requested at any time but are not required to be altered for 1-3 years after they have been set, depending on a child's diagnosis and needs.
What Do IEP Meetings Look Like?
IEP and 504 plan ADHD meetings are called for the first time for children who have received a diagnosis. They may occur at the beginning of the year, if a child has a diagnosis in place, or may occur at any other point during the school year if a child receives a diagnosis mid-semester, or a teacher notices continuing difficulty in class. Fortunately, there aren't any restrictions for IEP meetings in terms of time during the semester, though they will usually not be called during summer holidays unless a child is already enrolled in summer school or a similar program.
IEP meetings vary in terms of time and complexity, based on educators and parents. If parents and educators are prepared ahead of time with desired goals, for instance, and agree on a child's plan, an IEP meeting could be a short 15-minute endeavor. If goals are created during the meeting, or parents and educators are not in agreement regarding goals or ADHD accommodations, IEP meetings can stretch out to a few hours, and may even be spread out over several sessions.
Parents and educators alike are given copies of a child's IEP and ADHD accommodations, so both can keep careful track of a student's goals and overall progress, and any concerns regarding the IEP can be brought up and altered throughout the year.
What To Bring to Your Child's IEP?
IEP meetings can be nerve-wracking at first; if you aren't sure what to bring or what to expect, you may be caught off guard. Bringing your child's medical and education records is a good start, if possible. Notes from any additional therapies your child may be receiving are also useful, as you can work with your child's team of therapists and your child's educators to create a seamless, integrated treatment plan.
Bringing a support system is also a good idea; you can bring another parent, a family friend, a therapist, or an advocate to give you peace of mind as you work to create an ideal education plan for your child. This is particularly true of contentious situations in which you and your child's educators do not see eye to eye; although it is not necessarily a common occurrence, there is a possibility that your child's education team might not feel comfortable putting every idea you have into place. In these instances, having a source of support is helpful, as is a series of replacement plans, in case some of your ideas are not accepted or are not possible in your child's school.
Any special systems you have in place at home can also be brought to your child's IEP meeting. Some children benefit from strict schedules at home, for instance, or consistent routines and reward systems. Although teachers may not be able to implement everything in the same way, being able to recognize and deliver effective motivational strategies for your child can help teachers develop similar techniques in the classroom.
Not All IEPs Are Created Equal: Educational Pitfalls
Some IEP meetings go smoothly, and all a child's needs are considered, while others might be far more experimental, if a child has not previously had goals, or a child's education team is not familiar with ADHD and its unique challenges. Understand that IEPs, though they are powerful tools in a child with ADHD's overall education, do not guarantee a child's success, and a child with ADHD might need more outside support than an IEP can offer. Some schools, for instance, might have a larger number of children with neurological and learning disorders, and have fewer accommodations, while others might have a smaller number of staff members, and may not be able to offer frequent one-on-one attention for your child. A child's school accommodation for ADHD is important but should not be mistaken for a health or therapy treatment plan for your child with ADHD; instead, work with your child's psychologist or primary care provider alongside educational supports to create an ideal learning and developmental environment.
IEPs and 504 accommodations for ADHD are very often the difference between a child succeeding and falling behind in school; ADHD is a complicated condition, and does not affect every child the same, so creating a specialized plan is vital in planning for a student's success. Involving everyone responsible for the care and development of your child will ensure your child has as many different perspectives as possible, as well as making sure you have all your bases covered. An educator's perspective of ADHD, for instance, will differ from your pediatrician's perspective, as they see different aspects of the condition.
Ultimately, you are your child's best advocate. If you feel the accommodations or modifications offered to your child are not adequate, you have the right to request changes. If you find your child's teachers are reluctant or entirely unwilling to comply with the terms of your child's IEP, you also have the right to demand that those terms be respected and implemented. ADHD is a difficult condition to live with, especially without proper support. Support is wide-reaching, and can include people close to your child, such as yourself and other family members, understanding friends, and even a qualified therapist, such as those found on BetterHelp.com, who is equipped to help walk you and your child through the process of living with ADHD and getting help through the education system.
The incidence of ADHD is increasing, and children with this condition require additional help to achieve their best in school and beyond. Additional supports are readily implemented with the use of an IEP and can provide tremendous help to a child struggling with ADHD's ups and downs. Although it might initially seem intimidating or confusing, your child's IEP meeting is about making sure their needs are met without fear of retribution or discrimination, so they can succeed and excel academically. Whether you are preparing to walk into your first IEP meeting, or your 20th, keeping calm and being prepared will make sure your child gets the most from his or her individualized plan.