Q: My 9-year-old son has severe ADHD. He has done fine academically in public school. (He just finished third grade.) He's on medication and has an Individualized Education Program (IEP), but he still struggles terribly with disruptive behavior in the classroom and with rigidity. (For example, he's always arguing about rule violations for whatever schoolyard game.) He has no friends who invite him to do things. We're considering a special school, and his psychiatrist and therapist see pros and cons to staying mainstream vs. going private.

Another factor is that his brother will enter kindergarten at the public school this year. They generally have a good relationship; our younger son is very aware that our older son struggles with big feelings and can be volatile. I was wondering whether you have suggestions for how to think about this decision. Thanks.

A: You are not the only parent who has an academically bright child with ADHD, and decisions like this can be confusing.

Let’s review what is working before we dive into the rest. First, he is not only at grade level, but he also seems to be doing well (academically speaking). He’s on medication that seems to be working for him, and he has an IEP, psychiatrist and therapist. These may seem like basic elements for a 9-year-old with ADHD, but you may be surprised at how many children don’t have these resources. This all points toward a good working relationship with your son’s school.

But equally important to academics — and I would argue more important — is his social and emotional life at school and home, so you’re right to be concerned. With almost every choice in life, there are pros and cons. Aside from what the experts think, I’m interested in what your gut is saying. The IEP addresses your son’s academic work, but there should be a social/emotional section that addresses how to help him with the disruptive behavior in the classroom. Teachers are juggling so much, especially now, but there are small ways to help your son stay on task. The less he disrupts, the more confident he feels. The more confident he feels, the more likely he is to make friends and get along with his classmates.

I don’t know what kind of specialized school you’re considering; however, ones that work with children with ADHD can be lifesaving for both the kids and their families. Although some people may think your son needs to become more resilient, I would argue that he would benefit from having his path made easier, not harder. Children with ADHD who don’t get proper support suffer more with anxiety, depression and addictions down the road; placing your son in an environment where his learning style is celebrated, where he isn’t being constantly monitored and controlled, and where he can meet other children who are like him could change his life.

With every gain, there are sacrifices. Line up the pros and cons, then let your gut lead you. Therapists, psychiatrists and parent coaches can’t make this decision for you, so you need to come to a level of acceptance with your choice of school. All changes, even good ones, come with disruptions, such as spending more money, a difference in driving time and other bumps that come with a transition to a new community. Only you know whether the disruptions are worth it.

When I’ve had to make difficult decisions regarding my children’s schooling, I would remind myself to make one small decision at a time, and I would remember that nothing, aside from death and serious injury, is permanent. You have the power — and the right — to change your mind. The specialized school doesn’t work? Choose another one (if it’s available) or go back to the public school. When you remember that you always have a choice, you can begin to feel a little less burdened.

Finally, I see you mentioned that your younger son is also entering the school and that you’re worried about that. Yes, there is concern around the younger brother being the “better” or “easier” of the two in school, but I would focus primarily on what your older son needs now to feel safe, supported and successful.

In the meantime, I like Seth Perler’s work, which you may want to check out.

It’s also important for you to connect with parents who are in the same position you are, because you need support, too. Good luck.

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