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ADHD, Depression, and 504 Plans
Q: My 16-year-old son has ADHD and depression. He's been on a stimulant since second grade and it helps immensely. When he hit puberty, depression became a big problem. He has done well on 4 or 5 different medications for a short while and broken through them all. When his depression is well-maintained, his ADHD is fine. When his depression begins to kick in again, his ADHD worsens and extreme fatigue and apathy get hold of him.
We have a 504 plan on file and our son is in regular classes and makes mostly A's and B's. He pays close attention and completes his work in a timely manner. When his depression begins to take hold again, he has his head down in class, can't complete assignments, fails to write down homework, doesn't use his study hall, and sabotages his grades. He's gotten through most of this tenth-grade year with minimal accommodations and has worked very hard. But he has two teachers who simply don't believe he can go along fine and get good grades and then begin to fail and not hand in work the next day.
How can you make a teacher understand that consistency is going to be a lifelong problem and is out of our son's control? How can we better cover him next year as the work gets harder and teachers continue to be less understanding?
A: Unfortunately, most teachers have had minimal or no course work about the needs of children with ADHD in their graduate or undergraduate training. I'm sure many students in your son's school would benefit from teachers increasing their knowledge about this important topic. Try approaching your PTA to gather a group of parents to meet with your son's principal to suggest some staff development about ADHD. CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorders) at 1-800-233-4050 has many resources for teachers about this topic and related learning disorders. Some branches even have speakers who will come in to schools to share information.
There are also excellent videotapes (my favorite is Rick Lavoie's How Difficult Can This Be?) and many books and articles geared to teachers. Two excellent books are Harvey C. Parker's Problem Solver Guide for Students with ADHD: Ready-to-Use Interventions for Elementary and Secondary Students and Sandra Rief's How to Reach and Teach ADD/ADHD Children: Practical Techniques, Strategies for Helping Children with Attention Problems and Hyperactivity. Rief also has two videotapes showing her strategies in action.
In addition, there should be someone on staff whom teachers can go to when problems with children with ADHD arise in the classroom. That person could be the resource room teacher, consultant teacher, or guidance counselor. A one-time presentation about ADHD will never be enough to really effect change. There should be someone on site who can coach and support teachers throughout the school year.
As for your son's 504 plan, Parker's book has some excellent modifications listed for kids like him. You need to talk to his current guidance counselor to see what would be an acceptable modification. For example, perhaps you can build in an accommodation that will allow him to earn "homework passes" during his productive times that he can use later during "down-times." Extra time to complete assignments can also be written on a 504 plan. Another good source for suggested modifications is Lawrence Siegel's book, The Complete IEP Guide: How to Advocate for Your Special Ed Child.
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For more than 20 years, Eileen Marzola has worked with children and adults with learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders, and with their parents and teachers. She has been a regular education classroom teacher, a consultant teacher/resource teacher, an educational evaluator/diagnostician, and has also taught graduate students at the university level. Marzola is an adjunct assistant professor of education at Teachers College, Columbia University, and Hunter College of the City University of New York. She also maintains a private practice in the evaluation and teaching of children with learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders.