When your child has executive functioning issues or ADHD (the impairment of executive functions), it’s important to talk with his teacher. If the teacher knows what your child struggles with and how he learns best, it can have a big impact on how well the school year goes. Here are tips for explaining these issues to teachers.
1. Request a meeting early in the school year.
Setting expectations and establishing patterns early can help your child develop good habits for the coming school year. If he’s in elementary school, email his teacher to request a meeting. Try for a time close to the start of the school year. (But remember that some teachers may want to wait until they’ve gotten to know your child for a few weeks.)
If your child is in middle school or high school, you don’t have to meet with all of his teachers. Wait a week or two to see how things are going. Then reach out to the teachers you think may need help understanding your child’s specific issues.
2. Ask the teacher for her perspective.
Start the conversation by asking what she knows about executive functioning issues or ADHD. Listen to her carefully. She may have taught kids with these issues before and have strategies to suggest.
But it’s possible she won’t be familiar with executive functioning issues. Be prepared to explain what executive functioning issues are and that they’re often the main issue in ADHD. You can also suggest that she reach out to a special education teacher or counselor. You might even want to bring a short, helpful article to leave with her.
3. Explain how executive functioning issues affect your child.
They can affect your child in many different ways. And it’s important to pinpoint for the teacher your child’s specific challenges and how they’re likely to play out at school.
You might say, for example, that your child has trouble with working memory. Explain what that means and how it might impact his performance in class. Or tell her why an assignment that’s supposed to take an hour could take your child three. Be clear that you do expect your child to adapt to the school’s expectations, but you want to make the process as easy as possible for everyone involved.
4. Emphasize that your child is not lazy.
Some kids with executive functioning issues have trouble getting to class prepared, completing homework and meeting deadlines. If your child has difficulty with any of these things, talk about how his issues can make it seem like he just isn’t motivated. Explain that he may need extra support from the teacher to meet these expectations. And let her know that you’re ready to help provide any support he needs at home, too.
5. Share organizational strategies that have worked for your child.
Maybe you’ve developed a system with another teacher that helped your child stay on top of class work, like a homework checklist. If so, let his teacher know. Explain to her how the system worked and why it helped. Most teachers love resources they can use in the classroom. But be willing to listen and be open to her suggestions for improving or adapting the system.
6. Ask the teacher to alert you if your child is consistently late.
Time management and planning are problems for many kids with executive functioning issues. If your child has trouble in these areas, he may be making too many trips to his locker to get the right books for each class. Or maybe he’s not getting up early enough to get to homeroom on time. You may not be aware of these issues, but his teacher will be. If you know what the problem is, you and your child can work on a solution.
7. Let the teacher know what will help make assignments clearer.
Your child may have trouble taking in instructions. But his teacher can make this a little easier. If she posts directions on the board and says them aloud, it’s more likely that your child will understand the homework assignment. If she speaks slowly when giving multi-step directions, that will give your child time to absorb them, too. You can also ask if she wants students to write down assignments in a specific type of student planner and how often you should check it.
8. Remind the teacher of any accommodations.
If your child has an IEP or 504 plan, don’t assume his teacher is familiar with it. Remind her of any accommodations your child is entitled to. And explain to her why they can make a difference. If you run into issues related to your child’s accommodations, your child’s case manager may be able to help out, too.
9. Ask what you can do.
Just asking shows that you want to partner with the teacher to help your child succeed in school. It can make her feel supported and reassure her that you don’t expect her to do everything. It also sets the stage for further communication. As a result, the teacher may be more likely to reach out to you about any trouble your child is having while problems are still small and manageable.