my first D… speechless.

I was an A/B student growing up. {I’m not bragging but you need to know where I’m coming from before you read what I’m about to tell you.} I made As and Bs and did the bare minimum to get them. If straight As were important to me, I could have worked harder and accomplished them, but Bs were just fine.
As and Bs were certainly expected in my family. Punishment accompanied a C on a report card. My sister and I never earned a D or an F, so I can’t say what the consequence for those letters would have been, but I assure you, the world as we knew it would have ended. We were capable of “good” grades and expected to put forth the effort to earn them. 

I was raised to think As and Bs are expected of a smart child. But now I have a super smart child (he’s tested gifted) and we do not have a neat and tidy A/B report card. Luke got a D, in writing. With even greater sadness, I must admit, this D was actually an F, but apparently they’re allowed to bump it up to a D to spare a child’s self-esteem. {It doesn’t spare their feelings, but I’ll get to that in a minute.}

You can tell by looking at Luke’s report card that this is a child with a learning disability. His report card is screaming, “Learning Disability! Learning Disability! Please help me!”

I’m not referring to ADHD when I say Learning Disability either. If ADHD were the sole problem for Luke, his grades would be more consistent. It is obvious that his ADHD is well somewhat managed in the classroom — he’s earned As and Bs in every other subject. 

Writing is a completely separate obstacle for Luke. I am convinced it’s a Learning Disability called dysgraphia. We’ve jumped back into another evaluation for resource services at school and I hope his problem is glaring enough at this point to receive services and help to find a way to succeed in writing and earn a grade more in-line with the others. It will be 2-3 months before we know though.

Which brings me back to my real problem with Luke’s D. It isn’t that he got a D. I learned long ago that grades aren’t what really matters for Luke. It’s that he got a D when he probably did the best he could with the brain he was given. It’s that he is upset about it. 

He was with Daddy Friday afternoon when he brought home his report card and took a look at it. They looked at it together and Luke pointed out the D. He didn’t really say how he felt about it but it was written all over his face. He was sad and defeated.
Emma had received her report card the day before and came home with straight As. (Luke received his that day too, but in typical ADHD fashion, forgot to bring it home.) I was so torn about how to praise her for a job well done and yet not set Luke up to feel like a failure when he saw the D we already knew he was getting. I praised Emma for a great report card and then explained to her privately that I would not be going on and on about it in front of her brother but that we are crazy proud of her (she pulled a C at mid-term up to an A by working hard to achieve her goal). I HATE that she has to miss out on Daddy and I jumping up and down and squealing with her, but I can’t make Luke feel worse than he already does. I refuse to make him feel like a failure, even at the expense of not making Emma feel as over-the-top great as I should (and maybe I shouldn’t anyway because we all know straight As aren’t everything). Now my heart is broken for both of them. 
Luke didn’t really want to talk about his grades, and that was fine by me. I didn’t know what to tell him or how to handle it anyway. a D isn’t okay, and yet, for Luke is has to be acceptable. I told him that Daddy and I are really proud of him for doing the best he can and that we know his problem with writing is a difference in his brain and that we are working on trying to figure out how to help him with it. What more is there to say?

How do you handle your ADHD child’s bad grades you know really aren’t their fault? 
How about siblings and the discrepancy in capability? How do you keep credibility when stressing good grades for one and not the other?

COVER3D_400sq_bestsellAward-Winning Blogger. Freelance Writer. Author. Warrior Mom.
A self-described “veteran” parent of a son with ADHD, Penny Williams is the author of the Amazon best-seller about her parenthood in the trenches, Boy Without Instructions: Surviving the Learning Curve of Parenting a Child with ADHD. She is also the creator of the award-winning website, {a mom’s view of ADHD}, a frequent contributor on parenting a child with ADHD for ADDitude Magazine and other parenting and special needs publications, and co-founder of the annual Happy Mama Conference & Retreat, a weekend away for moms of kids with neurobehavioral disorders. Look for her second book, What to Expect When You’re Not Expecting ADHD, in late 2014. Follow Penny at

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504 plan, adhd and school, classroom accommodations, dysgraphia, learning disabilities, parenting/FAMILY, Penny Williams, school failure, siblings, special education (IEP) ·

About the author

COVER3D_400sq_bestsellAward-Winning Blogger. Freelance Writer. Author. Warrior Mom. A self-described “veteran” parent of a son with ADHD, Penny Williams is the author of the Amazon best-seller about her parenthood in the trenches, Boy Without Instructions: Surviving the Learning Curve of Parenting a Child with ADHD. She is also the creator of the award-winning website, {a mom's view of ADHD}, a frequent contributor on parenting a child with ADHD for ADDitude Magazine and other parenting and special needs publications, and co-founder of the annual Happy Mama Conference & Retreat, a weekend away for moms of kids with neurobehavioral disorders. Look for her second book, What to Expect When You’re Not Expecting ADHD, in late 2014. Follow Penny at


  1. Sunny says:

    Penny, That is a hard situation! Sounds like you handled the whole thing well with both kids. But Luke does seems deflated by the D.

    I think the problem here is the school. My daughter doesn't love writing but they allow her to draw pictures instead sometimes. Our kids don't even get grades. They simply have a list of skills that are checked off as each is mastered. (Montessori). Our last elementary school didn't have letter grades either. It seems a little harsh for elementary school.

    Maybe just keep reminding him that you know he is smart but has a tough time putting his thoughts in writing. And good luck with trying to get him some LD help. He obviously does well in other subjects.

  2. Fiona says:

    My boy came home with a Kindergarten report that is almost identical to your son's. I really feel for Luke and you…at least my boy is too young to really know what reports are at this stage, and has no siblings, so we just put it away in the drawer and don't speak about it!

    I've also handled it by asking the school for 'accommodations' to help him improve in these areas, and also helping him intensively at home (with the handwriting.) But as I'm learning, the school isn't very forthcoming about providing accommodations, even for simple things like keeping him near the front of lines during transitions. The work at home is helping a lot, but takes a lot of persistence.

  3. i was very intersted in Montessori… for the grade ideas… too… but I also feel that I might be setting him up.. because unforchantly the real world does not work.. the way montessori does.. your boss.. expects and may demand in the job force.. certain things… and some could be handwriting …. I am so afraid to see my son's first report card which is in a few weeks… Penny… Could you elaborate more on how someone is tested for dysgraphia… I have ADHD and learning disabilities… and i can already see my son….and his difficulties and they are not just ADHD… plus I told you he has NF1….. so I want to be able to help him like you help Luke…does a 504…cover disabilities…..?like dysgraphia? I have started handwriting without tears at home.. with some luck… and I hope that I can find that good paper you have too…

  4. dmd says:

    I tried to post this last night but my iPhone seemed to eat it or something.

    My very first thought was: They *grade* handwriting? Then, I realized that it was really more than handwriting – but expression, thought organization, and grammar. I really really really think they should separate any handwriting issues from the expression. At Dylan's school, he gets graded in reading and in language, but not specifically in written communication. His own handwriting has improved, although he is still inconsistent with expression (schoolwork grades range from A to F).

    I also find Luke's report card completely different from what my son gets in other ways. Dylan's is all computerized and report cards are only released to the parents at a meeting where you discuss how your child is doing. No chance of it getting lost on the way home and no opportunity for kids to feel bad b/c they see the kid next to them w/ straight A's.

    When I was in elementary school, we did not even have A-F grades. It was all s's and u's (satisfactory/unsatisfactory) which I still think is more developmentally appropriate, at least through third grade.

    Penny, I think you should look past the D. You know Luke struggles with handwriting. This gives you something to throw at them to say – help me! Help my son! Everything else is an A or a B! OBVIOUSLY, they can read what he's written enough for him. I think you should acknowledge his struggles and CELEBRATE his successes! There's a reason for that D – but it's clear he is really doing well in his other subjects.

    This actually was MY experience. I had a strict third grade teacher (a former nun who switched to public school). I had all satisfactory grades for everything except handwriting, which had a big U. The teacher's comment was something like: Deirdre is doing well in all subjects but her handwriting continues to be poor and must improve. In the space for the parent's response, my mother wrote something like: Her handwriting cannot be too bad if you can read her writing well enough for her to be doing well in all subjects. It probably didn't endear me or my mother to Mrs. Gaudet, who did not recommend me for accelerated classes in 4th grade, while she did recommend a classmate whom I fed answers to. But I got in there the next year after having a WONDERFUL teacher.

    ((Hugs)) It's tough on all of you, I know. Dylan got two Cs this quarter, in the key subjects – math and reading. But we acknowledged that it was a rough quarter and we know what we need to work on. And we celebrated the good grades and the fact that his teacher's remark was that his work had improved significantly since the beginning of the year. I was a straight A student so I've had to work to accept that Dylan's path will be different from mine. I'm still working on it.


  5. @Sunny, Montissori sounds pretty great. I wish it were an option for us. He gets beyond things quickly though and had perked up within a couple hours. Hated to see him sad about it though.

    @Fiona, we have a 504 plan for Luke full of accommodations. But, they can't put staff resources into a 504 — like one-on-one help during writing each day. He has to qualify for special education and we are having him tested again for that now. He started using an AlphaSmart in class a couple weeks ago and it has almost eliminated the handwriting issue (they still have worksheets and things to complete where it can remain a problem). He still struggles immensely with the writing PROCESS though. That he needs special services for and that is really where the D comes from.

    @NF1, I am not sure where to get tested for dysgraphia. I had read online it would be an OT but I called our Pediatric OT we love and they do not have a diagnostic test for it, although they can “treat it.” I'm going to ask our counselor for a recommendation Thurs.

    @dee, it's def not just the handwriting that garnered the D, it is the writing process. I think they'd overlook his handwriting and he'd have a C or a B if that was all it was. We did talk to him about how wonderfully smart we know he is and about how we are exceptionally proud of him for all his other grades and accomplishments. It's tough to see him disappointed though.

    Thanks for all the comments and support ladies!

  6. Poor guy — he's at the age when being just like everyone else is so important.

    Did you ever report back about Luke using a laptop for daily work? I don't know if that would help with him at all, but one of Javi's classmates uses one very well. He doesn't have dysgraphia though.

    I hope he is cleared for special education so that you can finally get some tools and support in the classroom to help cool man Luke!

    As for Emma, I think it would have been okay to celebrate with her. She performed at her current best and Luke performed at his current best. In fact, you could've celebrated with both of them — with Emma for doing so well (to encourage her to keep it up) and with Luke for doing his best given his circumstances.

  7. Erin's3Kids says:

    I will be surprised if Luke does not qualify for special education services. A discrepancy between ability (high IQ) and performance (D grade in writing) is what is used to determine whether a child requires services. Since Luke is doing so well in other subjects it makes the discrepancy stand out even more. I taught in a resource room for kids with learning disabilites for 9 years before I became a SAHM and difficulty organizing thoughts to put into writing (as well as actual handwriting difficulty) was very common among the kids I worked with. Luke may also qualify for occupational therapy to help with handwriting. Often times, kids did not qualify for services when they were tested in the early grades, only to qualify later after the gap between ability and achievement increased. Good luck.

  8. cowdocmom says:

    OH, this spoke to me so much. It is heartbreaking to have one child for whom things come so easily and another who struggles for every answer. My oldest is in 7th grade and was diagnosed last year with an inattentive form of ADHD. He has struggled in school since kindergarten (over an hour a night to complete kindergarten homework and stay at grade level) and we have had to communicate with teachers on a weekly (sometimes daily) basis his entire school career to make sure that he has things done (and turned in) and studies for tests. He succeeds if we Band-Aid his executive functions in this manner, although tests that don’t allow for additional time can be miserable failures for him. In spite of this it was never suggested that he be tested for ADHD – my husband finally figured it out reading an article on an airplane (sigh). Medication has been an up and down road for us, he is tiny for his age (only 70 lbs at almost 13 years old) and he doesn’t eat well on any of the medications. The first medication we tried worked well for him academically but led to depression and suicidal thoughts. We are now trying Strattera (which also depresses his appetite) but he seems more emotionally stable on it.
    He mostly has A’s and B’s with the occasional C if we stay on top of his school work, but as he has become older that has become more difficult (multiple teachers in the upper grades). This fall when he was off medication he had all F’s and D’s at midterm (he brought everything up to a C or better by the end of the trimester). His state test scores indicate that he reads at a mid-fifth grade level (although at home he handles National Geographic articles and books that are supposed to be 6th to 9th grade level without a problem). The difficulty lies with his little brother who is in second grade and is passing AR tests on 5th grade level books now and seems to learn without effort (I was much the same as a child and anything less than an A was considered unacceptable for me – my sister was allowed some B’s). How do I make little brother feel good for his achievements without making his older brother, who works so much harder for everything still feel great about everything he has accomplished?
    It hurts so much to see the disappointment my oldest has in himself when his little brother brings home yet another 100% on a test or can do addition and subtraction with large numbers faster. Yet my big guy works so much harder for everything, he’s such a smart kid, if only his brain let him put those thoughts on paper. I try to encourage him by pointing out that he was the one helping teach his brother to read and do simple math and that little brother has a head start because of all of big brother’s help, but that only goes so far.
    Hugs to all you moms struggling with kids who don’t fall into the slots the system wishes them to.


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