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Child with ADHD Will Have Multiple Teachers

LD and ADD/ADHD Expert Advice from Jerome J. Schultz, Ph.D.

Q: Next year my son's school, which is a fifth and sixth grade intermediate school, is going to be "departmentalized," meaning there will be one teacher for each subject. This will be very difficult for my 10-year-old son, who is ADD, to handle. Right now in fifth grade he switches class only once per day to go from the morning teacher for three subjects to the afternoon teacher for three subjects. It's a constant problem dealing with a transition and making sure he has all his books and materials for class. We already do a notebook system with a folder inside for each subject and a signed checklist. What further advice do you have for handling a different teacher for each class? I know it's early to worry about next year, but I have his annual IEP meeting next month and I want to be prepared. Thank you for your help.

A: The transition from a rather self-contained elementary program to a more departmentalized middle school can indeed be a very difficult time for a child with ADHD. The good news about having more teachers is that a child has a greater chance of connecting with them. The bad news is that unless the teachers are united on some kind of team that is child centered and meets regularly, the movement from class to class can expose your son to many different and uncoordinated learning and teaching environments.

First of all, you have to find out how much the new teachers understand about ADHD and how to deal with it in the classroom. I would suggest that you talk to other parents of kids with ADHD (try a local ADHD support group for parents, or ask the guidance counselor at the middle school to put you in touch with parents of children with ADHD). You might be able to connect with parents through the special education parent advisory council that is found in most school systems.

If you sense that there are weaknesses in the teachers' understanding of your son's condition, then take some other concerned parents of kids with ADHD with you to a meeting with the building principal and the director of special education. Ask them to tell you what kind of supports and training are available for teachers who are providing services to kids with ADHD. If the answer is satisfactory, breathe a sigh of relief. If you're skeptical, ask how you, as a group of parents can help (buying teacher-training videotapes on ADHD, bringing in a guest speaker, etc.).

You should also prepare a written profile of your son's strengths (with testimonials from his fifth grade teachers) and his learning needs. Keep it simple and personalize it (some parents have included photos or samples of their child's best work in a portfolio). Talk about your child's extra-curricular interests and skills, so the teachers can begin to relate to him on a personal level when he enters school. Highlight strategies that have been helpful in the past, and suggest that your son will continue to experience success if the new teachers are able to implement these strategies in their classrooms. Tell them specifically of your concern about how your son will deal with transitions, and ask them to communicate with you (either by return mail, email, or in a personal meeting) how they have helped kids with this issue in the past.

You'll undoubtedly notice that these suggestions are teacher and parent-centered. There certainly are things your son can do as well.

  • You can help him by taking him to the school this summer and walking him from class to class, and by teaching him how to memorize the combination on his lock (or buying him a key lock and giving him a "key necklace").
  • If there's room in the classrooms, he may want to store his notebooks and supplies for that class in the room. A plastic box with a lid, placed on a shelf, can be a simple repository for necessary items.
  • Having multiple copies of textbooks at home and at school will help eliminate the problem of forgetting books.

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Jerome (Jerry) Schultz is the founding clinical director of the Learning Lab @ Lesley University, a program that provides assessment, tutoring, and case management services for children with learning challenges. Schultz holds a Ph.D. from Boston College, and has completed postdoctoral fellowships in both clinical psychology and pediatric neuropsychology.


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