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Son with ADHD Switching to Private School
Q: My 12-year-old, who has ADHD and LD, had a tough first year in middle school. He was constantly acting up and not able to complete his homework. He also got in with a bunch of friends that thrived on being the tough guys. He had resource room help in school, which basically amounted to a personal secretary to chase him down to do work. Homework was a nightmare.
We're switching him to a private school with smaller classrooms and individual help if needed. They also require participation in sports. They are not mandated to provide special education services since they are not a public school. Do you feel the smaller classrooms and individual attention will help him to stay on track or are we in for the same troubles as last year? What can we do to help him have a successful school year in this new environment?
A: The smaller setting may help your son, but I think it is important to hook him into services at the beginning of the school year before he encounters any stumbling blocks. Middle school is a tough transition for many kids with LD/ADHD. This is the time when they are meeting with a variety of teachers for different subjects, each of whom has different demands and different tolerance levels for the student who may not follow the straight and narrow path. Long-term assignments become more common, with students having to plan and track a schedule to meet those demands. Loads of new information has to be integrated. Students are required to write more, do research, and respond at a higher level to classroom discussions and readings. It is going to be important that your son begin the year with a system in place to, at the very least, record and track homework and long-term assignments.
Try these steps to make the transition to a new school easier:
Contact his new school early and see if it has a study skills course for students. Many schools start this kind of support in fifth or sixth grades because they know that students have trouble mastering the levels of independence that are necessary at this time. You can also check summer school or community centers to see if they offer courses like this. Ask if there is a planner that students use regularly that can be checked by someone at home and at school to see if assignments are being recorded.
There are some excellent books and videos available that can make this transition easier. Have a look at Leslie Davis and Sandi Sirotowitz's book and video, Study Strategies Made Easy: A Practical Plan for School Success or Sandra Rief's How to Reach and Teach ADD/ADHD Children. Both offer excellent ideas for time management and organization skills.
Meet with your son's teachers early so that they see that you are serious about your role as part of the team working together to support your child. Ask that you be informed as soon as any problems occur so that you can work together to nip them in the bud.
If your son is having difficulty doing his homework because he lacks the skills necessary to complete it successfully, it will be critical for you to make sure he has the support necessary to develop those skills. If his school does not offer the regular help of a learning specialist, then you will need to provide outside support for him. Call the toll-free number of the Learning Disabilities Association (1-888-300-6710) to see if there's a branch of this advocacy group in your community. They should have a list of recommended tutors. Many branches also hold regular meetings for parents to offer support and information. You can also try the Coordinated Campaign for Learning Disabilities at 1-888-GR8-MIND or the National Center for Learning Disabilities at 1-800-575-7373 for referrals.
The most important thing to remember during this transition is to be proactive and not just reactive. Your son will make a much easier transition if supports are put in place early and are modified or supplemented as the need occurs during the year.
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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.