Educational Help : Special Ed or Not?

Educational help and support is necessary. Let's face it - school is a complicated place! It is a complicated place when you are smart and well behaved and "typical." Imagine how difficult it is when you are NOT.

Think about all the expectations we have of children in school : sit still, listen well, pay attention, play nice, do your homework, do your classwork, be respectful, write this down, copy that down, don't forget your homework, tell you parents such and such, take this flier home, don't forget to put that in your backpack, don't forget your backpack, watch the teacher, raise your hand, walk in line, be quiet, learn, learn, learn.

That's a lot of stuff! Now, imagine having ADHD, or bipolar disorder, and maybe a learning disorder, and lets throw some sensory issues in there too! Now still, LEARN, LEARN, LEARN!!!

Children who are different are noticed very early on. Maybe even as early as preschool. But often we tell ourselves they are young and immature and we have to give them time. And often, this is absolutely true. But to ignore early warning signs completely can be a recipe for disaster. Educational help is good preventative medicine.

Preschoolers by nature are pretty active. However, in small doses they are able to follow directions, make transitions, and play appropriately. Preschoolers with ADHD by comparison, are likely aggressive, can't take turns, do not play cooperatively, and appear very strong-willed. They also might refuse daytime naps, don't settle well, and have difficulty settling and going to sleep at night.

My own son for example, completely gave up naps at preschool (did not go over well with staff!), and would bite other children sometimes several times a week.

Even the most verbal of preschoolers sometimes have to think hard to find the words they need to describe a concern or desire. A large percentage of children with ADHD have significant delays in language development, preventing them from finding the right words quickly. Couple that with an innate lack of impulse control and you have aggressive behavior that arises when verbal skills are needed.

Elementary age children with problems are even easier to notice. Elementary schools, especially in today's era of accountability, are fundamentally designed to make anyone with developmental delays stick out badly! We expect 5 year olds to sit for an hour, we expect 6 year olds to read entire books, we expect 9 year olds to remember what they have for homework, do it, and bring it back to school, without any adult assistance.

Yes, I know that there are many of us parents who step in every chance we can to help with the day to day fundamentals of organization and function. But in reality, schools also expect by 4th or 5th grade that kids can be responsible without parental help.

So if your child is constantly in trouble, failing in their classes, has few or no friends, lacks self esteem, and thus hates school - what are you to do?

If you are at a point where behavioral issues are still the primary focus, I would strongly recommend a trial period (at least one month) with a good behavior plan in place.

If an attempt at a behavior plan proves unsuccessful, then this is what I suggest :

FIRST - I am going to assume that 75% or more of you with these children have already been told by the school what kind of educational help they would like to offer and what they want you to do. So as clarification for you and information about educational help for the other 25%, here are your options and/or processes you might choose to go through....

  • Seek a medical evaluation for probable ADHD/ADD or other psychological and behavioral concerns
  • Based on that evaluation, possibly consider a medication intervention
  • Based on that evaluation, possibly consider some other alternative treatment intervention
  • Seek counseling and parenting resources outside of the school to address behavior concerns
  • Ask the school to conduct a Psycho-educational evaluation to rule out learning disabilities or processing issues

These steps, or any combination of these steps can result in one of two options : a special education placement or a Section 504 plan.


With the children we are discussing, a special ed qualification will be considered if 1) they are found to have a learning disability and/or 2) a diagnosis of ADHD, bipolar, or other condition allows them to qualify for an OHI (other health impaired) category because the condition interferes with their ability to learn.

A placement in special education can take on many different forms. It can mean resource classrooms, self-contained classrooms, instructional aides, assistance devices, and more. Visit the special education page for specific information on what this all means and how it can look and help.

Section 504 PLAN

When students have no learning disability but have a diagnosed condition like ADHD or other "medical" condition and therefore have a need for modifications to their school environment, they can be given a 504 plan. This right is available to any student with a diagnosed medical condition (from ADHD to diabetes and so on) that interferes with their ability to succeed within the "typical" school situation. It allows the school to legally make modifications to expectations, settings, environment and so forth, to create the best situation for success.

For more specific information on the origin and use of the 504 plan, please visit the Section 504 page.

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