Communication and Advocacy Tips for Parents

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Parents of children with ADHD will find that they need to learn advocacy strategies to ensure that their child receives the help he or she needs (Rief, 1998, 2003). As a parent, it is your responsibility to step in and intervene on behalf of your child whenever the situation arises that your son or daughter needs more support, intervention, and understanding of his or her disorder.

Parents can be very helpful by providing resources and information about ADHD to teachers, coaches, and other adults directly working with their child on a regular basis. Much of the teacher training and public awareness regarding ADHD is a direct result of parents' strong efforts (for example, individually or through organizations such as CHADD) to educate others about the needs of their children.

They should learn about their child's rights under federal laws to a free, appropriate public education and to accommodations and/or direct special services if the ADHD is affecting the child's ability to learn or perform successfully at school. (See Section 5.4, Educational Laws and Rights of Students with ADHD.)

To be an effective advocate parents must communicate with school staff regarding their son or daughter to a far greater degree than is necessary for most children. The level of involvement with the school significantly increases when one has a child with any disability or special needs.

Many parents feel uncomfortable at school meetings, particularly team meetings that involve several members of the school staff. Here are some tips during team meetings:

• Try to enter meetings with an open mind and cooperative attitude. Be willing to share your opinions, feelings, observations, suggestions, and any information about your child or family that may help with planning and intervention.

• Do not be afraid to ask questions and request that certain language (educational jargon) be explained. Ask for clarification on anything you do not understand.

• At certain meetings, such as IEP meetings, you should receive a copy of any reports or paperwork to which staff members make reference. If not, request a copy.

• Take notes during meetings. In addition, it is helpful if you enter meetings prepared with a few notes to yourself regarding items you wish to share, discuss, or ask about.

• You are welcome to bring someone with you to meetings. It is most helpful if both parents can attend school meetings together—even if parents are divorced but share custody. Schools are used to working with sensitive family situations and will do what they can to effectively communicate and work with parents and guardians.

• Keep a file on your child that includes all copies of testing, reports, IEPs, report cards, health records, immunization, and other important data.

• Include in a file a log of communication with the school and other professionals working with your child, including dates of doctor appointments and medication logs; summaries of conversations, meetings; notification of disciplinary actions/referrals your child received at school; interventions promised to be put into effect; and so forth. Having this information easily accessible will likely come in handy at some time.

• Prepare for meetings by trying to learn how your child is functioning at school (in classroom and other settings); in what areas your child is struggling (academic, social-emotional, behavioral); and the kinds of supports and accommodations that may be helpful and available.

Parents have a right to have their child's educational needs assessed by the school district. If they wish to have their son or daughter evaluated to determine whether he or she has a disability that qualifies for special education, related services, or accommodations, they should:

• Speak with the classroom teacher, special education teacher, other members of the multidisciplinary team, the principal, or director of special education about pursuing an evaluation.

• Submit to the school a written, dated letter requesting an evaluation, including the reason for the assessment (for example, concern about a child's educational performance). This will begin the IEP process and timeline. The evaluation will determine whether a child qualifies for special education/related services based on an identified area of disability.

• It is generally recommended to first proceed through the SST process to initiate and evaluate effectiveness of pre-referral interventions before requesting formal testing if this process is used at the school site. (See Section 5.2.)

• Read the paperwork the school provides regarding procedures, the assessment plan, and due process rights under the law. If you have any questions, ask.

• Know that you are a key member of the team in this entire process.

It is highly recommended that any professionals with whom parents choose to work (physicians, psychologists, educational therapists) exhibit the following qualities:

• Are knowledgeable about research-validated treatments and keep current in what is known about ADHD

• Have experience and training working with children/families with ADHD

• Have an understanding of family issues with regard to a child/family member who has a disability

• Be familiar with the surrounding issues and common co-existing conditions/disorders with ADHD

• Be aware of and adhere to the AAP Guidelines in diagnosis and treatment

• Possess a firm belief in a multimodal treatment approach

• Have a strong interest in working together as a team (with parents and school personnel) and willingness to communicate on a regular basis

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