There are many schools out there that still like to use the terminology of “special education”. This description has been used for a very long time and has quite the negative feel to it in my opinion. The definition of Special Education from American Heritage is: “Classroom or private instruction involving techniques, exercises, subject matter designed for students whose learning needs cannot be met by a standard school curriculum.” The definition from Webster’s is: “Education modified for those with disabilities or exceptional needs, as handicapped people or gifted children.” Then the definition used by Princeton University’s Wordnet 3.0 is “Education of physically or mentally handicapped children whose needs can not be met in an ordinary classroom”. In no way do I feel that ADHD children fit the need for “special education” as used in the three definitions above. Yes, there are a few modifications that should be made for ADHD children, like extended time for tests, sitting close to the front/teacher, and avoiding distractions in the classroom, but that does not meet the required definition of “special education” as the child with ADHD can and does learn by standard ways of teaching. And if we are being completely honest with ourselves, I think everyone can admit that even the non ADHD child could benefit from the ADHD modifications. Something else to be honest about is that not every child without any form of disability cannot all learn exactly the same way and need a little modifications of instruction.

I bring this up because sometimes children with ADHD are pigeonholed in the archaic viewpoint of “special needs child” just because they need an IEP or other forms of support. As parents, there is little we can do about it as the school systems will not change their viewpoint. Most children with ADHD, although brilliant, cannot pass a “gifted child” testing because very rarely do the tests for “gifted children” have the ADHD brain in mind. The same is true for IQ testing (which in some states, gifted testing and IQ testing are the same thing). This leaves the ADHD child inside a vortex of swirling fog unable to advance but easily brought down. It is difficult for children with ADHD because they are always forced to prove themselves in a way different from their peers. Teachers have 20+ children in their classrooms and all their children require different methods for learning.

This means, as parents, we are the advocate for our children. Do not expect the school to go our of their way to assist just you. There are hundreds, possibly thousands, of students in each school. And each of those children, every single one of them, have different needs. Some are brilliant, but come from single parent households making life a bit more stressful. Some are not so brilliant, but come from a home with lots of extra money and the expectations of brilliance. Some families have parents suffering from a physical or mental illness meaning that their child needs extra attention from the teacher. None of these children have the benefit of having an IEP. As parents of children who have been diagnosed with ADHD, we have a sure fire way to advocate legally for our children. It is a privileged that we must utilize even if the school still uses the horrible wording of “special education”.

With an IEP and the term, “special education”, Paddy is in an advanced magnet program at his high school and is in honor’s classes. He had to work harder than most students to get to this goal because of the label of “special education” in our school system, but with the help of parental advocating he is succeeding. Kit Cat, also with an IEP, made her way to regional state science fair and made it to fourth place in her group. Yes, we are very proud of them! The diagnosis of ADHD has not stopped them because I have not allowed the schools to pigeonhole them into a stereotype. I have found that the individual teachers (well, most of them) have been more than happy to help me with them. Because of my enthusiasm for my children, the teachers have been right next to me helping to advocate for them. Teacher’s are in a difficult position now a days with the expectations that they have to somehow cater to all children’s needs without leaving out any child. This is difficult to master even in a small classroom setting. However, utilizing teachers knowledge of the education system has been the best way I have found to help my children.

Long story short – utilize your child’s teacher. It is not them who want to pigeonhole our children. They want to help. Listen to them. If you ask for a special accommodation and the teachers says this cannot be done, they are saying that for a reason. Just because one teacher was able to do that accommodation doesn’t mean another teacher can. I know this sounds odd, but hear me out. The teacher’s know their children in the classroom, you do not. One teacher can accommodate because the children in that classroom can also accommodate but the other teacher will not be able to. Let me give you an example: One teacher says that your child can utilize a bouncy chair to help your ADHD child with extra energy but another teacher will say no. This is because that teacher has a child in their classroom with sensory issues that will not be able to handle a child in the classroom bouncing quietly in their chair. That teacher should give another option for extra energy – special stress balls or sensory hand held toys. The teacher cannot be specific about the needs of all their children, just remember that. You cannot always demand the same accommodations. The teachers are not the ones who say “special education”, is is administration. Most teachers want to help all their children. So, listen to their teachers. They are just as frustrated by the system as you are. If you are a positive advocate for your child, you will see the teachers advocating for you as well.

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