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LA parent voice: How a mom helped her son with ADHD shine by getting the most out of his IEP

Esmeralda Fabián Romero | March 27, 2018

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(Courtesy: Lia Martin)

Every week, we sit down with Los Angeles parents to talk about their students, their schools, and what questions or suggestions they have for their school district. (See our previous interviews.)

Lia Martin’s 10-year-old son, Taylor, used to be two years behind grade level and didn’t want to go to school. Now he’s a year ahead in both math and English language arts — plus his teachers helped him discover his artistic talent and he is representing his classroom in an LA Unified art contest.

To help Taylor, who has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Martin said she followed her “mother’s instinct” but also learned how to get the most out of her son’s Individualized Education Plan, or IEP.

“When I found Vintage Math and Science Magnet, I talked to other parents, the teachers, the principal, administrators. I let my instinct tell me if that was the right school after I knew what the school was well known for and matched it with my son’s needs.”

The principal and support staff at the North Hills school, which last year was named a National Blue Ribbon School, have been very involved in her son’s IEP and make sure the plan is followed, Martin said. But before the IEP was developed, she sought legal counsel and a private evaluation to assess her son’s struggles as well as his gifts.

“When he started at Vintage, he was two grades behind in English language arts, because it was the hardest subject for him, so he was put in intervention. But teachers got very creative about finding a way to reward him when he was focused.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 11 percent of all U.S. children ages 4-17 have been diagnosed with ADHD. Boys are nearly three times as likely to be diagnosed with the disorder. Symptoms include trouble concentrating, paying attention, staying organized, and remembering details.

Martin first noticed her son’s struggles when he was in preschool and throughout kindergarten when he was at a different school. “He was being misunderstood by teachers as they focused on his behavior and were missing his talents.” She had to learn how to navigate Taylor’s ADHD challenges and then learn about IEP’s.

Martin believes all kids, including those with ADHD like her son, have their own gifts and that they just need extra support. She found that support by developing the right IEP at the right school. But that process was not easy, so Martin decided to write a book about her experience: “Finding Einstein: My IEP Journey.” She hopes it provides hope and help for parents like her.

“Having an IEP doesn’t mean your student doesn’t have intelligence or they don’t have anything to contribute. They need extra support, and a good IEP can make the difference.”

How did you know your son needed an IEP?

My son had a 504 plan with accommodations that the teacher was not really following. My son didn’t want to go to school or was spending a lot of time outside of the classroom because he didn’t feel right. He was going to transition to first grade, so I thought it was the right time to get counseling and find something else and the IEP was the next step. Once you find the right school team, you sit down and start a conversation on what are the academic goals for your child.

You don’t need to have a degree in education to know what kind of support your child needs most.

How did you know the right school and the right IEP for your son?

You know your child’s IEP plan is working because you have to see an improvement. With my son, I could see how he was improving every year. Not only was he meeting grade standards, but in math he was above standards. I expected that because the school’s focus in math and science was one of the reasons why I chose Vintage magnet. I knew he could do better in that setting. He is now a top student in his class.

Also, my son’s teachers discovered he had an artistic talent, and they encouraged that and let him draw in class when he was done with his assignments. He got better and better. He’s so good at it now that he was chosen to represent his class in an art contest for LAUSD. He has fun there, he’s popular among his friends. It has to do a lot with just being a mom and feeling what’s the right place for your child.

What would you like other parents to be aware of when finding the right support for children with learning differences?

Do the research on all the options the school district can offer you. Don’t be embarrassed to ask. You may find something you know your son is really good at, then match it with your child’s talents. That your child has an IEP is not something to be ashamed of. If you get that extra support your child needs, you will be able to see their real brilliance. As a parent, you don’t have to know everything about education, you just need to know your kid to find what’s best for him.

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