My Energy-Based mostly Strategy to IEPs for ADHD
The origin of my strength-based approach
It’s fall 2005 and I’m in hell. After dropping out of high school once and college twice, I’m now an enrolled student at the University of Delaware. I have a grade point average of 3.5, but I now face my biggest academic obstacle: learning French.
There are two barriers to French class that are upset by my ADHD.
- I’m not very interested in learning the language, which makes learning painful.
- I am constantly frustrated by how hard the French lessons are compared to my other classes. My sigh-to-answer ratio in class is non bien (not good).
In the middle of class, in which I have long since lost the thread of a conversation, my professor asks me to answer a question with “Monsieur Osborn?”. I answer with the first sentence I learned in French, “Je ne sais pas” (I don’t know), but on this occasion I also add “Je suis mauavise en français” (I am bad at French). My very kind and patient professor replies with the words: “No, you are not bad at French; you’re learning French. ”And her words penetrate.
I realize that thinking that I’m bad at French isn’t really helpful in learning and surviving French. This change of mindset helped me take the three French courses I needed to get a degree in history.
My strengths-based approach to writing IEPs
Six years later I became a special education teacher. The IEP process I implemented for students then again challenged the way I naturally thought about skill building. Instead of focusing my efforts on what my students or myself were doing bad or good at, I began to look at skills in terms of strengths and needs.
[Get This Free Download: How Do I Create an IEP for My Child?]
ADHD or not, people need to develop a strong sense of self – a thoughtful understanding of their strengths and needs – in order to maximize their potential. If you think you are bad at something, it won’t help you get better at it. Understanding that you have a need in an area and a desire to improve is a healthier way to address challenges. And sometimes, with enough work, a need can be turned into a strength.
I got into teaching through an alternative certification program called Philadelphia Teaching Fellows. My training with the Fellows prepared me very well for class in a short period of time (a 5-week training institute), but I arrived in the classroom with relatively limited knowledge of IEP (Individualized Education Program) writing. To even finish my first IEP, I had to sit down with my SPED supervisor and write it down with her.
I knew that other teachers (even some with similarly limited experience) wrote better IEPs than I did, but I kept pushing myself to write better ones. I implemented feedback and over time my IEP writing became a strength rather than a necessity – to the point where I was hired to help other teachers write their IEPs. This process took four years.
On the ADDitude adult support group Facebook page, people sometimes ask, “Are you bad at …?” Questions and I think that’s not helpful. Instead, we should ask, “What are my needs?” And try to use strengths and strategies to build ourselves up instead of allowing our self-esteem to be unnecessarily compromised by our own self-talk and self-perceptions.
[Read: Your Own Worst Enemy: Silencing Negative Self Talk]
The world is working to set us enough boundaries; we shouldn’t set ourselves any limits. I wouldn’t be where I am today, a Special Education Director, if I made up my mind and told myself I would be bad at writing IEPs. C’est vrai (It’s true)!
Strength-Based Approach for Students with ADHD: The Next Steps
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