one {mom’s view} of finding the perfect school for my ADHD kid

One of the #1 complaints of parents of children with ADHD is problems with school. Maybe the teacher isn’t knowledgeable about ADHD. Maybe the school’s administration thinks ADHD is bogus and the child just needs to try harder. Maybe the child with clinical-grade distraction is being swallowed up in a classroom with one adult and more than 20 kids. Maybe the child is being bullied because (s)he’s obviously different. Mainstream public schools are a breading ground for significant problems and low self-esteem for a child with ADHD.

I have been watching my son loose his spirit for the last few years now, since starting school. Before diagnosis, kindergarten was an absolute nightmare — the worst year for our family by far. Early in first grade, I realized there was something troubling Luke and he was diagnosed with ADHD. He had a wonderful teacher who did everything in her power to help him in her classroom. She recommended him for special education services as well, but he was denied. It was a difficult year with medication trials and trying to determine how to help Luke succeed in school. Second grade was tough too. We were still wrestling with medication but he was getting by in the classroom, except for writing. In second grade I realized his disability was more than ADHD and more than poor handwriting, it included monumental problems with written expression. By the time we realized it, there were only a couple months left in the school year so we didn’t pursue intervention — there wasn’t enough time to complete the long process and federally-mandated timeline.

This school year, now in third grade, the wheels have really come off the bus. Not only has his writing disability taken control of academic success (or lack thereof), but he has also endured a lot of bullying and feels an overall sense that he doesn’t fit in. He has also started saying that he’s “stupid” — this from a kid who is also in the gifted program. He’s not stupid. Far from it. But he sees kids around him succeed and, despite his best efforts with the tools he has, he cannot succeed much of the time. It’s terribly heartbreaking.

In October or so, Luke’s current teacher said she was trying to help him in the classroom with writing and was struggling to do so. She said she tried to refer him for services on her own but couldn’t since it had only been two years since Luke had last been evaluated by the school (what a heinous law). I immediately piped up and told her I’d request an evaluation since the school has to honor a written request for evaluation from a parent/guardian. That afternoon I fired off a formal request to the principal.

It took the full two months the school is held to by law to conduct Luke’s re-evaluation. It was determined that he does has an impairment in writing and that he qualifies for services. That was a huge relief. I had fought to find him appropriate help for school success for two years and I finally made it happen. But that relief was premature. Just because the school recognizes your child needs special services does not mean they are equipped to provide the tools and environment right for your child. I’ve been fighting for over two months now to try to get Luke the assistive technology he needs, to no avail. They feel they are making progress by trialling one or two programs a month during the 30 minutes he spends each day in resource for the subject of writing, but he’s struggling in all other academics the other six hours of the day, with nothing to address the problem.

Even deeper than the learning disability compounding existing school problems, I am realizing that the mainstream public schools here just can’t provide the environment that is right for my {ADHD, SPD, Dysgraphic, Gifted} son, that will enable him to learn and feel good about himself. He needs a much smaller student:teacher ratio (currently a whopping 22:1). He is best engaged and focused through hands-on learning experiences and an emphasis on science. I figured this out last summer when he attended Camp Invention, a summer day camp that centers on science and problem solving through hands-on projects and play. Despite my fears, he did amazingly well at this camp — not one complaint about his behavior from anyone and he was the happiest I’d ever seen him that week.

So I know logically, and in my heart, what type of school atmosphere would be best for Luke, and I’ve come to the realization that the public school system he’s in will never be that place. So began my quest to find the right school for Luke.

There is a charter school here that would fit much of this criteria and be really great for Luke. As a charter school, it’s free. However, our charter schools in Asheville have massive waiting lists every year. There are so many applicants to each that they have to hold a lottery drawing for any empty spots. The only way you have a decent chance of getting your child in one of these charter schools is to enter in kindergarten when the grade isn’t full of returning students. I put in an application at this charter school but was told they didn’t anticipate any openings in fourth grade next year, so the lottery would serve to determine seniority on the waiting list. {ugh.} I also entered him in my second choice of charter schools but the chances are just about as slim there. I had him in the lottery at this second school last year and he was #27 on the waiting list! They only have 15-20 kids in all of third grade, so all the students would have to leave, and then half the new students would have to leave again to get a spot open for Luke. {so depressing}

Now we have applications in at two charter schools and fingers crossed that he can be the first name drawn at one of them. I then began looking at private schools. I first searched for special needs schools and came up empty-handed. Knowing that Luke does so well with a hands-on environment, I focused on that type of school and found one that looked great — Odyssey. Luke’s counselor recommended the same school later, which I found a good sign. I inquired about financial aid and was told it’s very scarce but not impossible. You see, we can’t afford private school. We really can’t afford private school.

We visited Odyssey during their prospective student open house last week. We fell in L.O.V.E. with Odyssey. We got to spend time in the classroom Luke would be in next year with the teacher and her assistant. Luke came alive in that classroom. He began talking to the teacher about what kinds of things they do in her class: how they walk over to the botanical gardens once a week and check on their trees and how they’ve changed, how they garden in the school’s greenhouse, how they go into the supply closet time machine and emerge in a different time in history full of music and sights and sounds and individuals from that time, how the assistant plays his guitar in class a lot, how they move their chairs into formation like inside an airplane and turn on goolgeEarth and “fly into” the countries they’re studying, and so much more. All of this intelligent information started pouring from his lips as he discussed the topics her fourth grade class is currently studying. Despite the fact that his meds had long worn off by then, he was calm and kind and focused. He couldn’t believe that great place was school. There’s a sound recording studio, and a video lab in the computer lab, and a pottery room, and six acres with a pool and tennis courts. To him it was like a fun camp, not at all like a school. I was in L.O.V.E. with Luke in this place.

We will apply and he will spend the day in the 4th/5th grade classroom to be sure the school can meet his {special} needs and that he feels comfortable there. Once again, fingers crossed, but this time for the financial aid.

In talking with some other parents, I also discovered there is a local special needs school. The Key School is part of a larger {exclusive} private school in Asheville. This school is specifically for children with language-based learning disabilities who aren’t able to meet their potential in their current school environment. Why, that’s an exact definition of Luke! They have a 3:1 student:teacher ratio and employ the latest techniques in treating language-based learning disabilities. It almost reads like attending occupational therapy for school. I nearly passed out when I saw the tuition ($25,870 a year), but I had been told they are very liberal with scholarship money there. They have to be, right? Only the truly wealthy can afford $25,000 a year for school. A kid can go to college for a year for less. Speaking of college, the application and supporting documents was about four times the size of my own college applications. The stack of paper was so tall I almost had to get an over-sized envelope to mail it in. It took me a week to complete it, but the application is in and we are waiting for teachers and other professionals to submit their recommendations to the school as well. There’s an extensive admissions process with interviews and shadowing and such and he must be admitted before they’ll consider the financial aid application. We’ll need a 90% or greater scholarship to be able to send Luke to The Key School. I’m running out of fingers to cross…

And so, here’s my real dilemma right now (besides finding the patience to wait on all the above answers): do I try to get the public school system to pay for private school placement? I don’t have the money to sue for it. I’d have to just kind of “ask” and plead my case directly to the county EC Department. Some of the EC staff I’ve dealt with hasn’t been receptive to me “pleading my case,” but that individual wouldn’t be a decision-maker on this. In the latest issue of ADDitude Magazine, Gina, co-authoring sister of Shut Up About Your Perfect Kid, tells the story of how she got a private placement paid for with public funds for her daughter Katie, who has ADHD and Aspergers. Can I do that too? Can I make them see he really can’t feel good about himself in our public system? Will they “hear” me? IDEA doesn’t say a child has to meet their potential or even be happy, just that they get the same education as their peers, so will they feel compelled to spend already scarce public school funds for my one kid to find success and happiness? I feel like they can’t say anything but “no.” But then, what do I have to loose by asking?

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 http://BoyWithoutInstructions.com.

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adhd and school, CO-MORBIDITIES, dysgraphia, learning disabilities, parenting/FAMILY, Penny Williams, school failure, twice exceptional ·

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 http://BoyWithoutInstructions.com.

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The "ADHD Mommas" are not medical or mental health professionals, nor an ADHD coach. Any opinions shared here are just that, opinions. I, and the other "ADHD Mommas," are sharing our experiences with our own ADHD children. Please do not re-post or publish any content or photos without a link back to {a mom's view of ADHD}. Have the courtesy to give credit where credit is due. Copyright protected. All rights reserved.

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