The Educational System in the United States is Failing Kids with ADHD
I worked for the department of education in New York City for many years as a substitute teacher. I have had a plethora of experiences working with children in special education classrooms, general education classrooms, ICT or inclusion classrooms, and in afterschool programs. I have also worked with children who have IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) or special needs. I have worked with children who have autism, ADHD, and various mental health issues, and I have found my experiences to be eye-opening.
I recently moved to Oregon and I wasn’t sure what to expect from the educational system. I soon found myself alarmed by the way that students with special needs were treated in the public school system. The administration did not seem to understand how to give my child what he needed. Because he has ADHD (which I believe is hereditary, because I have it), it is difficult for him to focus. Instead of being given assistance, he was called work-avoidant and defiant. Even though he exhibits well-understood and recognizable symptoms of ADHD, when I tried to explain the cause of my son’s behavior, my concerns were dismissed.
It’s sad how ADHD is still looked at as an excuse or a fabricated diagnosis. Many teachers and administrators want to believe that children are just lazy and have the capacity to do more work than they are putting forth. It’s easier to view it this way rather than saying that child actually has a mental health issue that needs attention.
I’ve heard people say that ADHD is overdiagnosed. I can’t comment on that because I haven’t read the statistics regarding it. But I can tell you that ADHD is a real mental health issue that I live with and so does my son. I can testify that the educational system in Oregon is ill-equipped to deal with children who have ADHD. I have yet to find a place within Oregon’s educational system that has the capacity to give children with ADHD the services they need.
For example, I requested an FBA for my son, which is a behavioral assessment to determine what services will help him. The educational institution denied my request even though I know that this will help him because I have an educator’s background.
My voice went unheard and my pleas were met with condescension. I was treated as though I am a “mere parent” who knows nothing about education. My needs are not important and neither are my son’s, apparently.
I was hung up on when I called the Department of Education and tried to express my concerns. I was treated poorly. I told the Department of Education in multiple emails that they were violating the ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) but they don’t seem to care that they’re breaking the law.
I am at a loss as to what to do for my son to get him what he needs, and it’s becoming increasingly frustrating to deal with our educational system. I don’t think the lack of aid I’ve experienced is unique to this state, but rather it’s a national problem.
Because people think that ADHD isn’t real (they believe that children are just being complacent and not living up to their potential), they don’t understand the educational accommodations that kids with ADHD need and they are ignored. All too often, children with ADHD are stigmatized as “bad kids.” They are told that they need to sit down when they don’t have the capacity to sit still because their brains work differently than other people’s brains.
Currently I am trying to fix the situation with my child so that he gets the accommodations that he needs. The IEP process has been long and hard. It is taxing on my mental health as I have a disability also.
I have been treated poorly by the system, and sadly I am not surprised. Because there is a lack of understanding about people with mental health issues, my actions are often misinterpreted, just like my son’s. I am seen as rude due to my ADHD symptoms. I am looked at as being antagonistic due to the fact that I am assertive. In the Pacific Northwest, when you assert yourself, you look like you are starting a fight.
I’m not starting a fight. I am simply advocating for my child to get what he needs so that he can get an education, which is not unreasonable. I wish that people could understand this. My friends and family get it, but the administration doesn’t.
If I had the time and energy I would form an ADHD advocacy group for parents of children with ADHD. I would help them to get the accommodations their children need. I hope that people start to realize that this is a real mental health issue that affects millions of adults and children. It’s not something that we’re making up. This is the problem with many mental illnesses: People believe that it’s all “in your head,” as if the brain is not a part of the body and does not impact every area of our lives.
If people cared enough to learn about these different mental health issues and educate themselves instead of living in ignorance, the world would be a better place. We are all unique individuals and people with ADHD are actually fascinating human beings. They think quickly and they interrupt you because they have hundreds of ideas and they want to get them out, but we are stigmatized and we are misunderstood, which leads to us feeling depressed and isolated; all because we don’t know how to relate to people who don’t understand us.
That is what is happening to my son at the moment. He is suffering because he is misunderstood. He’s being told that he is not following directions when he is having difficulty functioning due to his own mental health issues.
Why should he be punished for something he can’t control? Shouldn’t the school try to work harder to understand who he is as an individual instead of acting in a punitive manner?
My hope is that we can learn to help kids who have ADHD rather than telling them that there’s something wrong with them. Who wants to hear that there is something wrong with them? Nobody.
Let’s stop thinking about what’s wrong with us, and start thinking about what’s right with us. Let’s look at the positive aspects of ADHD, not just the negative ones. Being able to hyper focus is like having a super-power. You can zero in on a single project and get it done so much more quickly than somebody else could. I like to think of my brain as a car—when it’s in neutral it does nothing, but if I can get it into drive, the race is on. I can do anything. The trick is getting my brain to switch gears; it’s taken me some time to figure out how to do that, and I’m still learning.
I want to know if you, too, experience my same frustration with the educational system in the United States. Do you have a child with special needs? Are you having trouble getting them the services that they are entitled to? Let’s come together and try to change the system so that it can better serve our children. Kids don’t deserve to be stigmatized. They deserve to be helped.