Gifted and Talented Seventh-Grader with ADHD Is Failing

A child who has been diagnosed with ADHD should be eligible for a 504 Plan if he is having difficulty in school.
Our almost 13-year-old son was diagnosed with ADHD after much difficulty in the third grade. We paid to have Chad tested by a child psychologist specializing in ADHD, and Chad did very well for the remainder of his elementary years. He's been taking Adderall®. But now that he's in seventh grade, the bottom has dropped out of our lives.

Seventh grade has block scheduling, with long classes that meet every other day. Chad's in the Talented and Gifted (TAG) math, science, and geography classes. His progress varies from an "A" one day to an "F" the next. He absolutely cannot spell. He cannot do root words, prefixes, or suffixes. We asked his school to give him a 504 classification, which they denied because he's in advanced classes.

Our son's frustration level is very high because he knows he's capable of better. His bad grades are because he doesn't get a particular assignment down or he loses his papers. What can we do? It's hard on all our family relationships. We love our son and want to help.

Since your son has been diagnosed with ADHD, he should be eligible for a 504 Plan because he is having difficulty in school. If the school refuses to put him on a 504 Plan, they may be violating his civil rights as a student with a disability. The variability in Chad's performance and his spelling difficulties might also be related to an underlying learning disability. If he hasn't been evaluated for LD, then he should be. The school must do this evaluation if you ask for it. They are not allowed to deny this request, which is a reasonable one, since your son is not doing well and there doesn't seem to be a good explanation for it.

The move to block scheduling may be enough to throw him off balance. Unless these long class periods are filled with relevant material taught in a way that matches your son's learning style, then they could just be -- as some kids refer to them -- "90 minutes o' misery!"

If your son takes Adderall, the question is: Is it working? Are the teachers monitoring your son's performances while he's on the medication? Do teachers, pediatricians, parents, and child feel that the medication makes a difference? If not, meet with your doctor to discuss alternative medications or doses.

If the school doesn't feel your child has a special need, how does it explain his spelling problems and his disorganization? If a gifted quarterback threw the ball like a bullet, but got the plays confused, would the coach say, "He doesn't need any help, since he's on the team already?" I don't think so. Would he be booted off the team, or be given extra coaching and practice? I think we know the answer to this one. See how this reasoning plays in the next team meeting. Also remember that the adults in the school are likely to listen better if your son is able to advocate for himself. He can make an impressive case if he can demonstrate to them that he's having difficulty despite hours of hard work.

Jerome (Jerry) Schultz is the founding clinical director of the Learning Lab @ Lesley University, a program that provides assessment, tutoring, and case management services for children with learning challenges. Schultz holds a Ph.D. from Boston College, and has completed postdoctoral fellowships in both clinical psychology and pediatric neuropsychology.

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