Stepson May Have ADHD

What should you do when you and your husband disagree about ADHD and special programs?
I've known my 12-year-old stepson since he was 10. His study habits have been below average. His reading skills are on a second- or third-grade level. Encouraging him to do any type of schoolwork is extremely exhausting and frustrating. I believe he may have ADHD or some other type of disability. I also believe that it would help if he were in a slower reading and math class -- he'd have more self-esteem if it were easier for him to make good grades. My husband doesn't want to believe he may have ADHD or put him in any specialized school programs. Please help! I need some suggestions.
Your stepson is very lucky to have such a strong advocate. Even if he does have ADHD, he may very well have other learning problems as well. If he is indeed only reading on a second- or third-grade level, there is a very severe gap between his age and his performance level that could certainly suggest a learning disability. If a learning disability is identified, your school district is required by law to draw up an individual education plan (IEP) to provide your stepson with the services and supports he needs to do well in school.

Your husband needs to know that students who experience these kinds of significant learning problems in school are at high risk for dropping out and/or suffering severe social/emotional consequences due to their academic deficits. The Schwab Foundation for Learning has an excellent website ( with information for parents. You can also contact the Coordinated Campaign for Learning Disabilities at 1-888-GR8-MIND or for additional free information.

There are a number of parent advocacy groups for learning disabilities. They have branches throughout the United States where you can get information and support. Some of these branches hold meetings for parents where they can learn from other parents and professionals. Try the Learning Disabilities Association of America,, at 1-888-300-6710 or the International Dyslexia Association,, at 1-800-ABCD123.

As far as getting your stepson appropriate services, I'd begin by requesting a free, full psychoeducational evaluation from your local school district. Minimally, you need information about two very critical things to understand your stepson's needs:

1. What is his potential (I.Q.)?
2. How does he compare academically to other students his age?

This evaluation should also give you information about specific learning processes, including language skills, memory, and attention. These processes play significant roles in your stepson's learning. It's very important to know what is getting in the way of his progress in school.

Obtaining an evaluation for your stepson does not mean that his school district will automatically suggest a separate class for him. More and more frequently, supports are offered within the regular class for students with learning needs. For example, assistive technology, including books on tape, might be offered to your son so that he can keep up with the content of the materials in his class at the same time that someone is working with him directly on improving his reading skills. This assistive technology could be provided free or at minimal charge to you. You might also want to contact Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic for more information at 1-800-221-4792 or

No matter what recommendations are made after the evaluation is completed, you have input into what happens next with your stepson. The Complete IEP Guide: How to Advocate for Your Special Ed Child by Attorney Lawrence M. Siegel is an excellent book that walks you through the evaluation process and gives you thorough information about how to get appropriate help for your child.

Knowledge is power. Begin with educating yourself and then you can make informed decisions about the next steps to take for your stepson. Good luck!

For more than 20 years, Eileen Marzola has worked with children and adults with learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders, and with their parents and teachers. She has been a regular education classroom teacher, a consultant teacher/resource teacher, an educational evaluator/diagnostician, and has also taught graduate students at the university level. Marzola is an adjunct assistant professor of education at Teachers College, Columbia University, and Hunter College of the City University of New York. She also maintains a private practice in the evaluation and teaching of children with learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders.

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