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ADHD Parents Together
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School Options Advice

I am looking for feedback from other parents regarding how best to approach school. My son (age 7) is intellectually gifted and has fairly severe ADHD as well as sensory issues. He has really struggled socially and I suspect that he also may have dysgraphia. His teacher complains about his handwriting and often keeps him in at recess to redo his work.

However he does very well on tests and is grade levels ahead in reading and math. He often asks me to help him find more challenging work and when we brought this up his teacher basically instructed us to work with him on advanced math at home. In the class she has him help correct other students work which I doubt is doing him any favors socially. Because he does so well academically the school has said he does not need an IEP.

I feel like on one hand he needs remedial help with social skills, writing, and executive function but on the other he needs accelerated coursework. I also feel strongly that he would benefit from a much smaller class size and more individualized instruction.

My question is this: if you have had a similar situation, what has worked and what hasn’t? We are open to a private program but there are none in our area that come close to meeting our son’s needs. We would have to move. Is it worth it? I have this gut feeling that if we could find a good fit for him at school he would truly thrive. Whereas now I am just watching his self-esteem drop daily and enjoy school less and less.

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This sounds very familiar. I have B/G 13-year old twins (as I've said in other posts) so our situation is a little more complicated. Both have ADHD. We opted to go to public school over private. My daughter would have done awful in private but my son would have thrived. Not knowing early on and being overwhelmed w/2 ADHD kids with other issues, we kept them both in public...went through a lot with both but he's now settled and doing well in public. But we do have extra resources that have helped. My son has all of what you mentioned (and anxiety). it all started to come out in 3-4 grade. He had a very demoralizing teacher, which ramped up the anxiety. Finally, by spring I was able to get his teacher changed, but the self-esteem damage had been done. the 504 did nothing (in 5th grade). In early winter of 5th grade I approach the school re: IEP. He went through the process (4/17) and was granted an IEP (for the ADHD) under "Otherwise health impaired." His grades were excellent. When undergoing the IEP process the 3rd marking period grades came in and he receive his first (and only) "f". There are 3 criteria in the state of NJ - 1) Student must have a disability according to an eligibility category (in his case, ADHD), 2) disability must adversely affect the student's educational performance (he was melting down and refusing to do work) & 3) Must be in need of special ed services (it was easy to identify services he might benefit from - aid, modified work, etc). I think it was his anxiety, which lead to behavior problems that got him the IEP. He moved to middle school for 7th grade and is now in a intense in-school counseling program which is helping him greatly. My daughter, who is all in advanced classes (bored out of her mind in elementary school), was denied and IEP in Nov. 2018 because her grades were too good basically. She is horrible with her focus and went through a depressive funk. The work is a lot harder and there is a lot more of it. Her tenacity got her through. Although multi-tasking helps her through as well: while doing a math sheet in class, she was listening a documentary on the great white shark, reading an article on the history of the sharpie marker and was the first finished with her math sheet. (Meds were awful for her and now she is refusing any.) I thought an aid, time extensions for assignments, etc. could help but she didn't qualify. She also didn't want "any special services." I feel your pain and KNOW it this isn't easy!!

RE: your son, I think it depends upon his personality and how badly bored, etc. he is, but it sounds like private school would be a good fit. If you decide to go for it, do it sooner rather than later!! Smaller classes could help him socially as well as stimulate him intellectually. But you won't want to do it once he makes a friend or two. He won't want to move. Good luck.

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Thank you for your detailed reply. I’m glad to hear your children are doing better. It sounds like a long road. I guess I’m hoping that by finding a good school fit, we will be able to avoid fighting with the schools in the first place.

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The only addition to this I would make is, something private schools do not have the resources to handle kids with ADHD, so investigate thoroughly whether or not the would be able to provide an extra teacher to help if needed. My son was in a private PreK program, and when his behavior got bad they didn’t have the resources to remove him from the class to allow him to calm down. This was all pre-diagnosis, so they just labeled him a bad kid, and we are still fighting that mentality to this day (he’s in 1st grade)

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Oh I completely hear you! I don’t think any of the private schools in our area would be able to meet my son’s needs. I am considering a school that is specifically set up for gifted children with learning differences. On paper it sounds perfect but of course we would visit and vet it further. The downside is that all of these types of schools are in areas with high cost of living and have a huge tuition.

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Your son sounds very similar to mine!

What has helped us a ton is just being very open and communicative with my son's teacher and the school. Once a teacher realizes that we want to help them to support our son, and aren't making the teacher the enemy (even when we disagree), it's been a much more beneficial relationship all around. I think enough parents get defensive & combative over any criticism of their child, that teachers tend to be initially wary how to approach things.

Does your son have a 504? The school may be open to that, if not the IEP. My son currently doesn't have one, as most of the accommodations he would need (lots of visual cues, a fidget, etc) are already built in to his 1st grade class - but the school plans to work with us on establishing a 504 once he gets old enough for testing / needing extra time.

Bringing in the school psychologist has also been very helpful in finding what accommodations at school & home may be beneficial.

If your son is kept from recess frequently, I would definitely discuss that with the teacher. On occasion to hit home a point is fine, but regularly keeping a child with ADHD away from their main opportunity for symptom relief is just shooting everyone in the foot.

We also requested the school OT evaluate my son for his terrible handwriting. He didn't currently qualify for regular OT services, but she did give the teacher and myself a list of ways to help hm. Some are things he has fun doing at home anyway - coloring, window markers, play dough to work the fine motor skills, etc.

Anyways, just some thoughts that occurred to me!

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Thank you for those suggestions! I just wrote a letter to my son’s teacher requesting an evaluation and outlining my concerns. I struggle with social anxiety and have a hard time asking for things but I know I have to be my son’s advocate.

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I hope things start to work out!

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Hi SylvieS,

It was third grade when my son with adhd started showing signs of checking out and shrinking back in his crowded class and with his maxed out teacher. It was heartbreaking. He usually got attention for the wrong reasons. We made the decision to move him to a private school (along with our two younger kids) that focuses on matching the developmental stages children naturally progress through. He’s thriving there while learning subjects hands-on plus music, art, PE and small class sizes.

It has been a big switch and big sacrifice financially but worth it.

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That is really good to hear! I’m glad your son is doing well. It would be a life altering financial sacrifice for us to move and pay for private school in a higher cost of living area. But my instincts are telling me it would be worth it.

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Hi, my daughter is identified gifted with adhd. She is in 3rd grade. She has an IEP because of the adhd. She is in public school. She also has social issues and doesn't have any friends. We are planning to change schools for multiple reasons (because my daughter has no friends and never will in this school and also because I am looking for a better gifted program). We are open to moving because our jobs have changed and my husband and I both have very long commutes. In our state you can open enroll in a school even if you are out of the school district, if they have room. Even if we don't move, I plan to change schools. I have avoided private schools because they do not have to follow an IEP and the cost. It is hard to know which school is right- though. I tour, meet the princupal, try to meet or observe the teachers and meet the resource teacher but it's impossible to know until you get there how it's going to be. my daughter recently started a new medication (she had been off meds for 8 mos due to the side effects) because she was struggling at school and home. The medication has helped a lot just praying no side effects develp. You might want to look into gifted program and the public schools in your area and see if there are any options available in your area.

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Thank you. I’m sorry your daughter is having social struggles. It is so hard to see these bright children with so much to offer struggle so much to fit in. The public gifted option I. Our district starts in 4th grade. I haven’t met with the administrators yet but I know it isn’t well funded and Suffers from a lot of the problems of the traditional public school.

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This sounds so familiar. My son also struggled greatly with public school. Trying to fit a square peg into and round hole is what it felt like. Every day we had issues. We had a 504 plan drawn up for guidance in the classroom, but the teacher's support and compliance was lacking, to say the least. My son also struggled with self-esteem issues, emotional reactivity outside the norm and handwriting. I would recommend the book "Rethinking School : How to Take Charge of Your Child's Education" by Susan Wise Bauer. It was a great resource. In the end, we chose to withdraw from public school and homeschool instead. This may not be for everyone. Homeschooling my child with ADHD is very difficult because he is so easily distracted and needs 1 on 1 attention to stay on task; however, we are able to go at HIS pace, follow his interests, not focus on written assignments (he types them) and his self esteem has really improved, because he now realizes that he is very bright. I wish you the best on your journey. Remember, you are your son's advocate.

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Exactly! A square peg in a round hole. And the teachers mostly just blow off our concerns. We live in a part of the district that has a very high performing elementary school and the argument I get is “well-there are a lot of high achieving kids here and we have a rigorous program.” My son isn’t high achieving. He is gifted and there is a difference. His brain is different. He is actually struggling and unhappy despite his intelligence and that is the problem. That is also why I don’t think any of the private schools here will be a fit.

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Both of my kids are ADHD/Gifted. I have had to fight for them to get services because academically they were at/above grade level, but socially and emotionally they were having issues.

I hate to say it but in both cases, I think we were successful due to also having an educational advocate and appealing to the special education director. One kid is getting support for handwriting but also has been allowed alternative options. For instance he types for things like spelling tests. They are also not allowed to take away gym or recess from him.

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I think part of the reason I am considering moving and paying for a specialized school is that I want him to be somewhere where they just “get it”. Where we don’t have to have an advocate and meetings and concessions just to get him the minimum of what he needs. I’m so glad that you have made progress with your school, I just wish it didn’t have to be such a fight to do so.

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We have a couple specialized schools near us. Cost is prohibitive for us personally.

A coworker did get their kid in the ADHD specific school and was super disappointed. He didn't find his kid challenged well. The friend who put their kid in the gifted school didn't feel they dealt with the ADHD appropriately. I kind of feel at times there will always be at least a small battle

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That is interesting to hear and it has definitely been a concern of mine. We have considered homeschooling but my son wants to go to school and I think he would be unhappy if I kept him home. Even so so was really close to doing it last year. I am going to talk with the teacher again and maybe try to talk with the principle too if we still aren’t getting anywhere. I just don’t want to alienate her.

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It sounds like your son is twice exceptional- schools are supposed to provide services for both giftedness and a disability or delay. There is some research indicating that emphasizing a child's strengths can be very effective to help mitigate delays. For example, giving him more challenging and interesting academic work to get him engages in improving his executive function. There are a lot of resources available for parents and kids if you google twice exceptional (2E) or GTLD (gifted and talented learning disabled).

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He definitely is. I just don’t the school understands his needs.

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Also, I told my son's kindergarten teacher that depriving him of recess is pretty much shooting herself in the foot. He is in 3rd grade now and it has never happened again. He does better with more physical activity, not less!

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Talking about depriving recess reminds me of what my grandsons grade school came up with. They felt even kids with problems needed to know there were consequences. But they didn't sit inside,they came out with the rest of the kids and walked the circumference of the basketball court for 5 or 10 minutes of the recess depending on the severity of the misbehavior.

They got fresh air is well as exercise.

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I'm sorry you are going through this but know you are not alone. Time and time again I hear the same thing regarding kids with adhd and co-morbid that are also above grade level being denied proactive help from schools.

I am also in a similar situation with my 2nd grade son. We just recently got a 504 plan with the help of his current teacher. The administration strategically picks teachers for him to avoid additional meltdowns.

I'm afraid I don't have a ton to offer for advice except to reiterate being open and honest with the school about your common goals for your son. Definitely, try to make the teacher your ally or find an ally on the staff.

Be prepared to go into battle by being as detailed and organized as possible. Make an IEP binder with all of your medical paperwork, everything you are doing on your end to help your child (meds, therapy, etc), all communications from the school regarding your son.

Reach out to the school or even county administrators with your concerns, see if your county has a special education liaison but start with the teacher first.

Best of luck!

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I recommend that you start looking up information on 2E or Twice Exceptional Children. You will find that there is a community filled with children who are gifted and challenged at the same time. My son sounds much like yours. During math he was taken into the library to help younger children learn how to read. In doing so the teacher could help with my son's social skills while he was mentoring a budding reader. It made him feel good about himself. The other thing we have been blessed with is PBL (Project Based Learning). This has helped him learn while not tied to a seat. Since this format requires children to work in teams they get to know each other in class and can ease the stress on the playground. Good luck!

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I love that your son was able to be a mentor and feel good doing it! Our son has been identified as 2E. I just don’t really like that term very much because, like gifted, it can really alienate those who don’t know what it really means. Or that has been my experience anyway. It has been in researching it that I have realized that he is being underserved at his school and that the road ahead may be very bumpy. I think that is what sparked my sense of urgency in finding a program that caters to his needs rather than cobbling something together at his current school. Thanks for the encouragement!

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Hi

I have had the advantage of working and supporting both families and school districts so I have gotten to see both sides of the system.

A few things to remember;

Federal law requires that students meet very specific criteria for a student to become eligible for special education. It is a 2 prong approach; meaning they have to meet the criteria for specific eligibility AND require special education services. This sometimes ties the hands of schools. I very much agree that working collaboratively with your school is the best approach. It has been my experience that 99.9% of school staff want what's best for your child and are working very hard (for not a lot of money). It is always hard when a child doesn't fully fit into one particular "mold". I have found that public school almost always serves complicated students better than private. They have more resources and a higher expectation of needing to differentiate for different types of kids. One thing that sometimes gets overlooked is the social piece. It is a schools responsibility to meet the needs of a student socially, behaviorally and academically. If your child is struggling socially, this needs to be an area a school needs to be aware of and support. Good luck and remember, you are your child's best advocate. Building good relationships between you and your school, though can be challenging at times, really is the best way to assure your child's needs are met!

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Thank you! I agree with you that most private schools are not equipped to address the complex needs of a twice exceptional (I don’t love that that terminology!) student. What we have found so far is that the school provides counseling and some behavior support but because he is not super disruptive they stop there and shut us down because he is doing well academically. I really don’t think his teacher has any understanding of the needs of a gifted student and that has been our biggest frustration this year. I will definitely continue to advocate for him within our school system but he just doesn’t seem to fit in this one and it is starting to affect his self-esteem. He needs a program tailored towards gifted students but with support for the ADHD.

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