Behavioral Issues, Learning + Attention Issues, Mental Illness + Psychiatric Disorders
It’s that time of year again. Kids are back in school. Teachers are getting to know your child, and your child is adjusting to the routine of being a student. Is a parent-teacher conference far behind? If you’re the parent of a child with ADHD, these conferences can fill you with dread. You might wonder if your child is paying attention at school. You might be worried he’s not keeping up with his peers academically. You might be eager to get information, or you may fear the year is off to a bad start. Any of these feelings are normal. The purpose of a parent-teacher conference is to share information with each other so that the teacher better understands your child as both a learner and as a person. Here are some ways to make it a good experience.
- Ask in advance what the agenda is for the conference. Some schools schedule short, 15-minute check-ins while others plan for longer appointments. If it’s a shorter appointment, you should let the teacher know that you’ll probably need a little more time given your child’s unique needs. Ask her how she’d like to handle that. Would she like you to provide her with additional information before the meeting via email or a note? Would it be better to schedule a longer time or schedule an additional team meeting (if your child is on an IEP) to discuss specific concerns? Asking this ahead of time will help keep expectations realistic.
- Be prepared to share general information about your child’s ADHD. Don’t come prepared to talk about every issue your child has ever faced. Instead, prepare a short synopsis that you can say in less than a couple of minutes. Include when your child was diagnosed, how you knew he might have ADHD, and how you’ve treated it. For example, you can say something like, “Billy was diagnosed with ADHD when he was in 1st grade. He was always an active kid, and he struggled in kindergarten to listen. He’s done well with the support he receives on an IEP, but we’ve had difficulty finding the right medication. He loves his friends but hates homework. This year, we are hoping that we can strike the right balance between making sure he is working to his potential without stifling his creative spirit.”
- Bring copies of any recent and relevant evaluations. The teacher should have copies of evaluations and IEPs/504 plans at school, but they might appreciate a hard copy for their files. In middle and high school, it’s less common for teachers to have those documents at their fingertips. If you have something you’d like to share, come prepared to share it.
- Be aware that the teacher might have some misconceptions about ADHD – for example, they might assume that all kids should be on medication or that video games cause problems with attention. Come prepared to talk about how ADHD affects your child and correct anything you know to be false. This means it’s important to know the facts about ADHD. You could also bring the teacher a copy of your favorite book on ADHD.
- On the other hand, be aware that your child’s teacher is an expert in education and will likely know a lot about ADHD and how to manage it in the classroom. Ask her about how she manages attention problems in the classroom and how your child’s behavior compares with other kids she’s taught in the past.
- Be prepared to discuss medication issues – your feelings about medication, whether you’ve tried it, how it’s worked, what your child is taking, when it’s administered, and what to expect. Come up with a plan to let the teacher know when your child has forgotten to take his medication. It happens in every family – you drop your child off at school, arrive home and find the pill next to the cereal bowl. Ask the teacher if she’d prefer for you to bring the medication to school, or (if that’s not possible) to let the office know so that she can prepare for a day that might be more challenging for your child. Also, discuss how medication affects your child. For example, does he pay attention more but not eat lunch because of the side effects?
- Give the teacher specific ideas that have worked well for your child in the past and those that haven’t. For example, if your child is hyperactive but slow to complete work, a previous teacher might have kept him inside during recess. This might have been counterproductive, while other things might have worked quite well. For example, “Sandra has difficulty completing homework unless she is very confident in her skills in a particular area. Homework where she is practicing skills she already knows is a better use of her time than homework where she is required to learn things outside the classroom.”
- Talk about events that might affect your child’s behavior this year. Is there a new baby coming? A divorce? Is dad or mom traveling more than usual? Kids with ADHD can be affected more than other kids when routines are changed. It’s important to let the teacher know.
- Come with a list of topics and questions (but not too many – focus on what’s most important). Some topics you might want to make sure are covered include: your child’s strengths and weaknesses in the classroom, homework expectations, social skills (i.e., how does my child get along with others), and what you can do to help at home.
- Lastly, be prepared to listen! This is a special time for you to learn about your child’s teacher and the expectations for the school year. Go into the parent-teacher conference with an open mind, knowing that both you and your child’s teacher want to see your child be successful.
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