There is a debate among parents with children who have ADHD as to what school would be best for their child – a public school or a private school. I tend not to get into this debate because of two important reasons:
- Not all schools are equal no matter public or private
- Not all children are the same and learning requirements differ
Just because a child has ADHD doesn’t mean that one way of learning or one type of school system will work for all of them. As with the child without special learning requirements, every school must be visited with one child in mind, not all children.
The School Adventures of Paddy
Paddy was born nine weeks early and had many forms of therapy from birth. Occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, and developmental therapy to name a few. At the age of five he was diagnosed with moderate to severe ADHD with possible autistic tendencies. To put simply, his ADHD was so severe that the neuropsychologist couldn’t tell if he was on the spectrum or not. Although our first meeting began with a lecture of how they do not medicate most children with ADHD at that young of an age, our meeting after the tests started with a list of recommended medications for Paddy. It took a couple of months, but eventually we found the right medication and dose and then marveled at the fact that we could have conversations with our son. His mind always moved so quickly that conversations were difficult.
At three years of age he started school in the Early Childhood Development program. Having a June birthday meant that he was young for his age group. We always planned on holding him back in Kindergarten not only because of his age but because of his younger emotional abilities. Being premature and ADHD means his emotional maturity would be behind his peers. At the end of Kindergarten we were told by his teacher that he would be mentally bored if he repeated the grade level again and for a child with ADHD this could mean a lifelong hatred of school. We agreed. Paddy was just too smart to be held back because of being socially behind his peers. So, with the help of his IEP (individual education plan) and arguing (lots of arguing) that social skills are a requirement for effective learning we had him move on to first grade.
This decision led to yearly discussions with the public school systems that Paddy needed social help along with educational help and it would be in his IEP that the schools would provide this help. We didn’t ask for anything too dramatic, we just asked that he be guided during social times at school. In particular gym classes, lunch time, and recess. Most of the teachers had no problems helping him because of his quiet nature. (Yes, children with ADHD can be quiet.)
We moved around too. He is a Junior in high school now and has gone to schools in three different states. His IEP was modified by all school districts, and I was able to successfully argue that social help was a requirement for all the IEP’s. Some schools were better than the others, but in the long run, we were successful.
Private schools were never an option for Paddy because of his social requirements and his intense IEP. Most affordable private schools do not have the ability to help with the social aspects of ADHD children. A smaller class size would not have changed Paddy’s ability to learn, as he has an amazing memory. The public school system, in the long run, was the best option for him.
The School Adventures of Kit Cat
Kit Cat was born on her due date unlike her big brother. She was active, opinionated, and loud. She wanted everything her way and her way only. Good thing she had such an easy-going big brother! Kit Cat’s story is vastly different from her brother. At the age of one she was diagnosed with Verbal Dyspraxia and began intensive speech therapy. By the age of three she was put in the Early Childhood program so she could have speech therapy everyday. By the age of five she was also diagnosed with mild to moderate ADHD. Thus began her part in the public school system and an IEP.
Her public school story isn’t as happy as Paddy’s. The school was able to keep up with my demands for her IEP, but they weren’t able to help her with bully’s. Like I said, she is active and opinionated. Naturally, I encouraged her to keep her personality and have raised her to be respectful but not to compromise who she is. She is a girl who loves dinosaurs and dragons. She loves climbing trees while wearing her tutu and tiara. She loves getting dirty and hates combing her hair. She wants very little to do with girlie aspects of being female. She loves the sciences and loves to immerse herself in books. This means she was bullied by almost everyone, even certain teachers. Her public school adventures were miserable however she needed the speech therapy that many private schools couldn’t provide.
Once she got to fifth grade and her speech therapy was getting reduced because of how well she was doing, we were able to switch her to a private school. Our school districts allows public school therapist and teachers to come in and help students with their special needs. It is a wonderful program that I wish all school districts allow. In the private school she floundered initially because of how much she emotionally prepared herself to be bullied. Her fifth grade teacher was able to help her break her wall she put around herself and she has flourished since. She is in seventh grade now and got a first place ribbon in the science fair and went on to win third place in her group in the diocesan fair. She no longer tries to anticipate being bullied and enjoys time with her peers.
The Educational Differences
To be upfront and honest – yes, Paddy was bullied in school too. But his bullies did not affect him like Kit Cat’s did. Paddy is laid back while Kit Cat is full of passion. His laid backness meant his bullies got bored and stopped. Her passion meant her bullies enjoyed her reaction too much to stop. For the school’s part, the public schools rarely admits to the bullying. They admit there is bullying, but they don’t admit to specific bullying. In a way, that is a form of bullying, but I digress.
Paddy has succeeded in public schools and the private schools would not have been able to provide the help he needed socially. Kit Cat did not do so well in the public school and needed the smaller classes and fewer people that the private schools provide. So, my answer to which school is better for kids with ADHD is that it depends on the child’s needs and what the schools can provide.
There is no straight answer to the question because the question is not as black and white as it seems. As all children are different, so are all school systems.
All children need different ways to learn. Even siblings. This is why school choice is so important for our children. And why I will also fight for my right to have to kids go to the right school for them without having to go bankrupt.