The following is a redacted copy of a letter I wrote for a client recently to help her get the accommodations her daughter needs. I honestly don’t know if it will be helpful or not. I don’t know if they even consider the professional opinion of a coach. I thought it would be interesting to share, both as a practical document and in terms of addressing the larger philosophical issue of what to do with our ADHD children, especially the bright ones. (FYI: I haven’t met the dumb ones yet. Misunderstood and struggling: yes! Dumb: no way! Perhaps my next post will be on our need to redefine “smart” in our school system and in our society.)
To Whom It May Concern:
Hello. My name is Matt Reid, ACC, AACC. I am a certified ADHD coach. I am located in Milton, but have clients with ADHD between the ages of 13 and 60 across The United States. I also teach and speak to parents groups, support groups, and groups of teachers on ADHD related topics across New England. I also have ADHD myself. I primarily work with my clients one-on-one, but occasionally am asked by parents to get involved in their interactions with their respective school systems.
This letter is to support [Removed] need for accommodations at [Removed] High School. It is my intention to add depth to the rather brief letter provided by her doctor. [Removed] came to me this winter with a legitimate medical diagnosis of ADHD, (combined type.) During the course of several sessions I had with [Removed], I saw no reason to doubt the ADHD diagnosis. She is classically ADHD, having trouble maintaining focus and sitting still. These issues are greatly improved through the use of medication, but are not by any means eliminated.
[Removed] is typical of many of the ADHD teens with whom I work. She is very bright, but her functioning is considerably affected by their ADHD. This type of kid represents a large subgroup of the ADHD population. Unfortunately, it has been my personal experience for more the 25 years and my professional experience for as long as I have been an ADHD professional that school systems often do not know what to do with very smart kids with ADHD.
First off, I want to say that it is not my intention to come across as argumentative, or aggressive. I certainly don’t want to make any accusations about the [Removed] Schools, [Removed] Unfortunately, my experience, more often than not, has been that this sort of issue can up being rather contentious. Here’s to hoping that [Removed] is the exception, but I can tell you what I see across the state on an almost daily basis: Often the school sees a kid who isn’t quite failing, doesn’t seem to need any subject-specific help, is wildly inconsistent, and may appear unmotivated or lazy. As a result, the system doesn’t make much of an effort to be supportive of or flexible for that student.
I worry that this is exactly the situation [Removed] could find herself in. With [Removed] and students like her, it is supremely important to peel back the layers and see what is going on underneath. Any good ADHD clinician knows that there are two equally important questions to ask when assessing the effects of the disorder. First, what is the person not able to do because of the diagnosis? Second, what is the person able to do, but at a tremendous and unreasonable cost? It is apparent that [Removed] falls definitively in the latter category. She is clearly intellectually capable of succeeding in her current course of study. However, without substantial changes in the structure of her learning environment, her ADHD will not let her succeed due to the volume of output required. (It is tragic that kids who are smarter, hard working, and with better compensation mechanisms often have a harder time qualifying for the help that they need.)
The bottom line is that her current situation is untenable. I cannot speak directly to what went on in junior high, as I was not working with [Removed] at that time, but I’m told she was happy and successful. She liked school, was on the above level track, and was on the honor roll. By the time she found her way to my office only half way through her first year at [Removed] High, she was angry, anxious, stressed, sleep deprived, and literally hated school. She was doing six to seven hours of homework a night to barely get by, not sleeping, and under a constant level of stress that I would not wish on any adult, let alone a high school freshman. (Incidentally, there is actually a growing body of research suggesting that serious long term psychological and neurological damage may be done to teens when subjected to this level of stress over an extended period of time.)
In the case of ADHD students like [Removed], the worst possible solution is to just drop them down to less demanding classes. For one, it doesn’t work. If we dumb it down for them, the resulting boredom exacerbates the ADHD symptoms. Often in this situation the kids don’t actually do any better. Sometimes they even do worse. It is a travesty when smart kids are told at a young age that they are somehow not as smart as they really are, simply because they process and produce more slowly than the neurotypical kid next door.
The philosophical question for kids like [Removed] is how to intellectually challenge them without killing them? This is where “reasonable accommodations” come in. I understand the perspective of the school. My father was a teacher and administrator for 35 years. I understand the instinct to be wary of kids trying to “get away with something.” I can assure you that this is not that case of a kid/family trying to game the system.
The best thing from the school’s perspective, about kids like [Removed] is that the accommodations that benefit them the most often don’t require a substantial allocation of resources by the school. Some of the accommodation I would recommend for [Removed] are as follows:
- Untimed tests.
- Extended time on written assignments.
- Competency based grading. (The idea that if she learns the material, she won’t be graded down because she didn’t complete all 30 math problems.)
- Reduced course load, including the option to take summer courses to make up requirements.
- Inclusions of free periods in a lighter schedule so that she can choose a quiet environment like the library to get work done during the day, or to decompress from the stress of school.
- Relaxation of school requirements of how many years of a given subject she has to take to graduate.
- The option to include an academic support class in her schedule with the goal of helping her strengthen her executive functioning.
I realize this has become a rather lengthy letter. Perhaps you can tell that I’m passionate about this subject and about helping ADHD kids, [Removed] specifically. I went through exactly what she is going through 20 years ago at Newton North. With most of these accommodations in place, I learned, excelled, and have become a successful, happy, productive adult. I know that that is what we all want for [Removed] too. With some institutional flexibility, creative outside the box thinking, and the right accommodations, I’m am confident that [Removed] will be able to succeed.
I am happy to make myself available for any questions or additional follow up. Feel free to contact me at any time.
Matt Reid, ACC, AACC