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When There Is No IEP: How To Help Your Child Succeed In School

Guest Post by Suzanne Burchill

My son was diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) about 4 years ago. Today he is in 5th grade and still struggles with the classic symptoms of ADHD: lack of focus and attention, easily distracted, difficulty staying on task, lack of organization, blurting/ shouting out in class, difficulty sitting still/staying seated, and lack of impulse control.

Can we have an IEP?…. Pretty Please

These symptoms have caused a lot of problems for him both socially and academically.  Last year, my husband and I started to notice that my son’s grades were beginning so suffer, so we requested an evaluation from the school for an Individual Education Plan (IEP).

At the end of the evaluation, the school professionals decided that my son wasn’t performing poorly enough to qualify for an IEP.  So my husband and I were left to ask ourselves “What do we do now?”

Without the requirements of an IEP, how could we make sure that the school was doing everything that they could to help our son succeed?

I Am My Child’s Biggest Advocate

We decided that our best approach would be to make ourselves our son’s loudest and most determined advocates.  Not that we weren’t his advocates before…we just decided to be a little louder and more “in your face” about it.

Working with my son’s teacher, we implemented a few strategies for school that have proven successful, and even used some of those strategies to make our evenings a little easier.

Here are four things that we found to work for us.

1. Keep the Lines Open

lines of communicationWhen it was time to meet the teachers before school started this year, I introduced myself to my son’s 5th grade teacher and said, “Just so you know, you’re going to be sick of me.”  I’m not sure if he believed me or not, but I’m pretty sure that it didn’t take long for him to realize that I was serious.

I am in contact with my son’s teacher, mostly through email, at least once per week.  He emails to update me on how my son’s behavior and academic performance has been, or if there are any special concerns that have come up; and I email him to keep him informed of any medication changes, any issues that my son has told me about, or any questions I have regarding school and/or homework.

My son’s teacher has told me that he actually appreciates the open lines of communication and we’ve found that it is helpful to us as well.

2. Make It a Team Effort

Teacher RelationshipYou need the whole team to work together to get to the goal.  At various times during the school year, we have requested the presence of other school personnel aside from my son’s teacher at meetings, including the school principal and the school social worker.

We all work together as a “team,” all of us have a role to play, and we all bring something different to the table.  Together, we have devised and implemented various behavior plans to address needs as they arise, discussed ways to use positive reinforcement rather than punishment to help with behavior issues, and shared in my son’s triumphs and victories.

3. Accentuate the Positive

Positive ReinforcementAs mentioned above, we have had a lot of discussions with my son’s teacher, the principal and the social worker about positive behavior reinforcement.  Because behavior issues are a huge issue that my son struggles with, it is very important that we are all on the same page when working to help discourage inappropriate behaviors and encourage more appropriate ones.

My son’s teacher came up with a behavior control plan that breaks up my son’s day into small chunks which coincide with his different classes.  The plan allows my son to earn points based on his performance during each specific part of his day, and then use those points to “purchase” things like extra recess time, an extra book during reading time, or other incentives.

We have found that this method works at home as well.  My son earns his weekend video game time based on the amount of points he’s accumulated during the week.  If he does exceptionally well all week and/or gets a great grade on a test, he gets rewarded with “bonus” video game time in addition to the time he’s already earned.

This system of positive reinforcement seems to work much better than taking things away when he doesn’t meet expectations, and it helps to build his self-esteem.

4. Sing Their Praises

PraiseAt home, I’ve discovered that a few simple words of praise for a job well done can go a long way.  One of my son’s chores is to bring up the trash cans after they’ve been emptied on trash day.  I always make a point to thank him after he puts them away.  Last week, he did it completely on his own without being asked, which has never happened before.

Despite his behavior issues, deep down my son tries very hard to please.  A pat on the back for doing a great job can go a long way in making someone want to do a great job the next time.

At the end of the day, I will do whatever I can to help my son succeed in life and I’ll actively recruit anyone who is part of his daily routine to help me along the way.  So far, this strategy works for us.  And my funny, sensitive, bright, wonderful child will only benefit from our efforts.

So… What Works for you and your child?

Suzanne Burchill has been with the Friendship Circle since 2005 as the Bookkeeper/Executive Assistant.  She’s also a busy mom of 2 who enjoys music, movies, cooking, crafting, and spending time with her family. 

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Guest Post

Written on April 20, 2012 by:

  • G88ter

    What  a  great Blog!  I am sure  there are many out there  who will benefit from you experience. Keep up the good  work and  patience with your  son . I am sure  he will benefit from it all in the  end .

  • Shirapicard

    I feel like this article was written specifically for me.  I am the mom of a 5th grader with ADHD and I have implemented very similar techniques.  I think its wonderful to have a support group and hope we can continue to be in touch.  I am very thankful to my son’s teachers and principal who have worked well with me.  We are in touch mulitple times per week and constantly update our techniques as a team. 

  • Emmeline1

    I recommend reading “Wrightslaw: From Education to Advocacy” and the Wrightslaw book on special education law.

    The school official apparently is not familiar with or doesn’t understand the law regarding what qualifies a child for an IEP.

    “According to IDEA regulation 300.101(c), the school must provide special
    education to a child with a disability “even though the child has not failed or been retained in a course or grade, and is advancing from grade to grade.” (page 204 in Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd edition).”

    From Wrightslaw:
    “In determining if a child is eligible for special education and related
    services, the team that includes the child’s parent needs to answer
    these questions:
    Does the child have a disability? Yes ___No ____

    Does the disability affect the child’s educational performance? Yes ___No ____

    Does the child need special education and related services. Yes ___No ____”

    My ADHD son is now in second grade, an A/B student, and has an IEP as OHI (other health impaired). At minimum, the accommodations you already have could be formalized in a 504 plan.

    Is Child with Passing Grades Eligible for Special Ed … – Wrightslaw

    Is a Child with ADD/ADHD Eligible for Special Education? – Wrightslaw

    ADHD Classroom Accommodations: IEP & 504 Plans for ADD …


  • Michele

    In my book, College Readiness and Disability, I put a list of things schools can do for free that help students with disabilities be more successful.  These can include:

    behavior modification assistance
    early release from class or school if helpful/necessary
    late arrival to class or school if helpful/necessary
    buddy system for checking if assignments are written down correctly and prompts to turn in homework or classwork
    preferential seating
    physical cues to emphasize or eliminate verbal cues
    allow use of a footrest that elevates heels 3″ and toes 5″ to improve attention & focus
    standing while reading or doing classwork
    listening to music with headset to drown out distracting noises while doing classwork
    repetition as needed
    use colored pens for keeping track of place value, grammar, etc.
    use colored columns on graph paper for math to keep track of columns
    using graph paper to keep good spacing for handwriting
    arrange a quiet place to go and/or calm person to visit when student feels he’s losing control in class with physical cue to teacher when he feels he must leave
    quiet room for lunch if noise is upsetting or disturbing in cafeteria
    all assignments given a week in advance to give student more time to study, learn
    weekly e-mail with assignments to parents for them to monitor
    bus buddy to help with bus behaviors or stop bullying
    weekly communication with each teacher, principal, other involved school staff
    extra monitoring on field trips (not denial of field trips)
    hall buddy if student repeatedly gets lost in hallways
    lamp by desk for vision problem
    student-teacher conference to plan timeline for projects, longer assignments, term paper
    and many, many more.

    I also have a blog at where special education and helping students with disabilities is the focus. 


  • Iris

    I would love to know more about your reward system at home and school.  How do you put this into action?  I need to do this with my son…


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