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Special Education

Olympics Star Fought ADHD

By Christina A. Samuels — August 12, 2008 1 min read

The New York Times (registration required) recently ran an article about Deborah Phelps, the mother of Olympics swimming sensation Michael Phelps, and some of the academic challenges her son faced.

Deborah Phelps is currently the principal of Windsor Mill Middle School in Baltimore County, Md. She’s been an educator for more than 30 years. But what strikes me, in this article, is some of the stinging comments that she got from teachers when her son was young:

As he entered public school, he displayed what his teachers called “immature” behavior. “In kindergarten I was told by his teacher, ‘Michael can’t sit still, Michael can’t be quiet, Michael can’t focus,’ ” recalled Ms. Phelps, who was herself a teacher for 22 years. The family had recently moved, and she felt Michael might be frustrated because the kindergarten curriculum he was getting in the new district was similar to the pre-K curriculum in their old district. “I said, maybe he’s bored,” Ms. Phelps recalled saying to his teacher. “Her comment to me — ‘Oh, he’s not gifted.’ I told her I didn’t say that, and she didn’t like that much. I was a teacher myself so I didn’t challenge her, I just said, ‘What are you going to do to help him?’ ” In the elementary grades at their suburban Baltimore school, Ms. Phelps said, Michael excelled in things he loved — gym and hands-on lessons, like science experiments. “He read on time, but didn’t like to read,” she said. “So I gave him the Baltimore Sun sports pages, even if he just read the pictures and captions.” She will never forget one teacher’s comment: “This woman says to me, ‘Your son will never be able to focus on anything.’ ”

I’ve read and heard genuine concerns from teachers who feel that they’re mistreated and misunderstood by parents. But I’ve also heard from plenty of parents who have the same thing to say about teachers and school administrators. And I don’t think any parent would take kindly to being told their child will “never” be able to focus.

Parents, teachers, readers -- what do you think?

(Deborah Phelps has back-to-school tips for parents on the Facebook page ADHDMoms. You can download the article as a pdf here.)

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A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.