An IEP or a 504 plan is designed to help the student with ADHD function more effectively and easily in school. Most students with special needs respond positively to the normal daily structure and expectations of the school day. For the ADHD child, the hardest part of the day is sitting for long times and completing work. For my son, the amount of work was overwhelming, so he has an IEP with accommodations since first grade. He also has accomodations for one on one help. The IEP goals also include assistance in organizing his materials and planning assignments. Now a sixth grader, he appreciates the extra teacher assistance and modifications.
Unfortunately, what was missing from his IEP this year was a plan for the rare times the school day or the sheer amount of work has overwhelmed him and he shuts down. Shutting down at home is commonplace. Refusing to do homework at home after school is a daily occurence for my child. It is not pleasant. It has been particularly challenging since middle school started. All year long, we have worked with the school to help mitigate the stresses of the school day. The school staff assured us our son was doing very well and having few problems. However, as the workload increased, we could see our boy acting out more at home and he appeared very stressed.
Eventually this stress was expressed at school during an after school homework session. For whatever reason, our son decided to shut down at school. As I mentioned, it isn’t pleasant and it also apparently violates the school’s rules. When my child shuts down, he truly shuts down any type of communication. His sweatshirt hood is pulled up, his head goes down, and he stops communicating. He is visibly upset. Apparently, he simply refused to do what was asked. He also refused to leave the room, he wouldn’t respond at all to the adults. He was eventually escorted to my waiting vehicle. He was also then suspended for one day.
I understand the need to suspend my child for his disrespectful behavior. One of the reasons the principal gave as to why she was suspending him was “other children were in the room and watched him act uncooperative”. I think that alone for a child in middle school is punishment enough. The principal also wanted to make sure the other children understand this behavior is not acceptable. Of course it isn’t. I am pretty certain, those other students already know that information. It is my belief, the other students probably had more compassion than the adults did in the situation. The principal noted my son’s hands were shaking he was so upset.
This is not a child willfully being disrespectful. As the mom, I am well aware it is embarrassing and awkward when your child is either out of control or simply shut down and not responding to your entreaties. I also know, he is not in control of himself. My analogy is it is similar to a child having an epileptic fit. They need space, they need time, and sometimes they need a bit of food or drink to get past this difficult moment where their brain isn’t functioning properly.
Since the suspension, my son shut down in spirit. I think he felt let down by the adults he trusted to help him. Unfortunately, there was no plan in his IEP to address this possible behavior. As his parents, we knew for almost a year, the potential for him to “fall apart” at school was there. We voiced our concerns but never put it in writing. There is a plan now in his IEP. The plan details a better, more proactive way to handle a stressed out child whose day has overwhelmed him. The plan is designed to help both the child and adults handle the situation should it ever occur again more effectively.
As parents, we can advocate for our children and ideally use these tools of the IEP and 504 to add in accommodations, assistance, and action plans.
Kim Stricker is a Chicago-area elementary education teacher, writer, and mom to two tween boys. Kim shares the unconventional experiences of parenting an adopted child with ADHD and Asperger’s, as well as his younger brother, at her blog, LifesLikeThis . She is also a parent advocate and blogger for Empowering Parents.