CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), the national education and advocacy organization, recently released the results of a survey they conducted to explore its “longstanding concerns with the process, quality and implementation of Section 504 plans and with compliance with the regulations governing them” (See Summary of Survey on 504 Plans in the School System for the full report.). The results of their survey highlight the problems I find in my practice on a regular basis. There is a tremendous disconnect between the services parents believe their children need (often with the guidance of knowledgeable professional clinicians), and the services teachers and administrators are willing and/or able to effectively provide. Further complicating the problem, there is a lack of awareness on the part of parents regarding their rights to receive services and pursue disagreements as well as a startling lack of sufficient knowledge by school personnel regarding proper design and implementation for effective Section 504 Plans, as well as their obligations to do so under certain criteria.
The sad reality is that there are countless children who are struggling at school and with homework that are not receiving the support they need in order to develop appropriate skills and confidence to perform up to their potential and become independent learners. While the CHADD survey clearly points to the problems that exist within the legal and school systems, I would like to offer some suggestions for changes that can happen without the need for changes in policy or legislation.
Provide teachers with the essential information they need about ADHD and Executive Function skills
Each year, I conduct full day trainings for teachers and support staff to education them regarding how ADHD and deficits in Executive Function skills impact learning and behavior. By the end of the training, participants express confidence and feel empowered, knowing that they have gained insights and tools to help them understand and support their students’ struggles at a deeper level. When children are truly understood and accepted regarding their challenges and intentions, stress levels go down and learning and behavior improve. The teachers I train know that there are a wide range of interventions and environmental changes they can make on a class-wide level that can improve the learning and performing for ALL of their students, with special aid for those most in need.
Provide parents with support and guidance to help their children carry out their teachers’ expectations
Very often there seems to be frustration and disconnect between teachers, parents and students. I find that teachers often rely on parents to help children learn to manage the homework process as well has how to manage their time, materials and efforts regarding projects and test preparation. I find that parents are often unsure of how to truly help their children and whether the support they are providing is over reaching or merely necessary to help their children keep pace with curriculum expectations. The reality is that children need to be explicitly taught HOW to be efficient CEO’s of their brains – effectively utilize their Executive Function skills. They must learn how to take an overall approach to managing their time, materials, efforts and emotions in order to effectively manage there homework, projects, and test preparation. Since this learning and performing must be done at home, parents are the one’s there to witness and support the efforts. In my homework workshops for parents, they learn how to teach their children the management strategies they need. I believe the schools should provide this parent education in order to effectively coincide with grade and curriculum expectations.
Teach students, teachers and parents the tools necessary to reduce overall stress both in school and at home
The science is very clear. When we are under excessive stress and pressure our ability to think clearly, manage our emotions, and perform effectively is reduced. (Read my blog about Mindfulness and Education). This is true for students, teachers and parents alike! Mindfulness practices help us learn to manage our thoughts and emotions. Many schools are beginning to incorporate Mindfulness practices into their daily class routines. The research has found that a few minutes each day can reduce behavior problems and increase academic performance across the board. As parents learn these to incorporate these practices at home, the positive impact is felt across the family.
Ruth Hughes, PhD, former CEO of CHADD, and Matthew Cohen, JD, Special Education Lawyer, wrote an excellent blog (“Do 504 Plans Help Students with ADHD?“) summarizing the results of the CHADD survey and they include important information if you feel your child’s 504 plan is not working. They also include an excellent Call to Action advocating for new guidance for school districts. Please join the efforts for positive change for all involved. Let’s stop making independence and peak performance for students the overarching goal. Let’s focus instead on allowing children to learn the tools they need to be successful in classrooms where who they are and how they need to learn is embraced, accepted and supported.