School is one of the first places where ADHD is recognized, usually because the behavior of a child with ADHD is noticeably different from that of other students. In school, children are expected to be punctual, complete assignments, stay organized, follow directions, and remain seated—all activities with which an ADHD child will struggle. Fortunately, there are strategies you can implement in coordination with your child’s teacher so that your child can have a rewarding and positive school experience.
Meet with the Teacher
Don’t wait for your child’s teacher to contact you; be proactive and schedule a meeting to discuss your concerns, preferably before school begins or within the first week of class. If possible, include the guidance counselor and a school administrator. Share your observations and concerns with the teacher. It is also a good idea to let the teacher know which home strategies work well for your child.
Listen to the Teacher
If the teacher has had a chance to observe your child in class, listen to his or her concerns. It may be difficult to hear, but keep an open mind and remember that before you can help the teacher, you need to have a clear picture of classroom expectations. You need to understand the specific problems your child has with assignments—are they incomplete or missing, or is your child not understanding the content? As the school year progresses, communicate frequently with your child’s teacher and show your support. By doing this, you create a partnership with the teacher so that you can both monitor your child’s progress.
Create an Individualized Behavior Plan
ADHD students often struggle in school because they don’t know what is expected of them. Developing a plan that addresses those expectations, and sharing it with the teacher, helps your child stay on track and remain focused. This plan can be behavior-oriented or address learning strategies. The key is to pinpoint the areas in which your child needs the most help, and then define what needs to change.
Here are examples of common problems students with ADHD encounter and potential solutions to include in the plan:
- Does your child fidget and squirm? Perhaps he or she needs to be seated near the teacher or take frequent breaks during the day. Providing a squeeze ball or piece of paper for doodling can help with fidgeting as well.
- Does your child forget his or her books? Keep an extra set of books at home.
- Does your child miss assignments? Create a planner for your child that you and the teacher sign off on each day.
- Does your child interrupt others? Develop a “silent” signal with the teacher when your child begins to interrupt.
Experts suggest including your child in the plan creation. Clearly define the problems and/or obstacles, and then define what is expected of everyone involved: teacher, student, and parent. Everyone should sign the agreement to help reinforce it.
Accommodations for ADHD Children in Schools
Teachers may also need to adapt their teaching styles for students with ADHD. Communicate with your child’s teacher about how they can implement some or all of these changes:
- making assignments shorter and simplifying directions
- giving additional time for tasks
- frequent repetition of directions or highlighting directions
- varying activities and tasks in shorter time frames
- varying the types of activities and the how the teacher presents information (for example, using hands-on, creative activities or oral presentations)
- making a quiet environment to allow for task completion and test taking
- using eye contact when giving or repeating directions
- working with other peers during task completion
- breaking tests into smaller sections
- providing written information and directions whenever possible
- having a visual schedule of activities and assignments
- having the child repeat questions or directions before beginning a task
- teaching organizational skills, such as creating lists and using a planner
Behavioral and Social Accommodations
Your child will need additional motivators and accommodations to foster successful school relationships. An inability to control impulses and read social cues can often lead to conflicts both with other students and the teacher. Children with ADHD can also suffer from low self-esteem and feelings of isolation because they act impulsively without knowing why, and then get in trouble for their actions. The teacher can make some classroom changes to help alleviate these problems, such as:
- Giving positive praise frequently: This is a good motivator for students because they typically have the desire to do the right thing and to please others. Praise draws attention to positive, not negative, behavior.
- Predictability and consistency: A structured environment with predictable consequences, which are consistently enforced, helps the ADHD child understand which behavior is acceptable and which is not.
- Caring and nurturing: A teacher who listens well will be able to address behavioral issues and teach social cues in the classroom.
- Routines: A consistent routine minimizes chaos and distraction and helps the child with ADHD stay organized and focused.
- Setting goals: Establishing behavioral goals, and providing incentives for completion of those goals, can further motivate ADHD students.
- Taking breaks: Teachers need to provide regular opportunities for active play and exercise, especially for students with hyperactive symptoms.
As important as it is to advocate for your child’s academic and social needs, keep in mind that teachers must meet the needs of more than 30 children per class, and may not always be able to give your child the level of individual attention you’d like. Be patient and supportive of your child’s teacher, and understand that there may be other children in the class who need their own special accommodations.
Supporting Academic Goals
The symptoms of ADHD often interfere with the usual ways schools assess learning (e.g., tests and homework). In particular, inattentiveness and disorganization have a larger affect on grades than hyperactivity or impulsivity. The more severe these symptoms are, the more difficulty the child will have in school. Here are some ways you can help your child to achieve and even exceed his or her academic goals:
Track your child’s class activities. Set aside time every day to discuss what he or she learned in school, and be available to help with homework or projects. Research shows that consistently assisting with homework can boost student achievement. Students with ADHD also need frequent reminders, so a discussion about which assignments are due and when can help your child stay on track.
Set aside time once a week to help your child organize his or her backpack. Buy your child a planner and show him or her how to use it to record assignments. For children who lose or forget assignments, buy a special “homework” folder. Remember, the simpler the system, the easier it will be for your child to use.
Find a Tutor (or Be the Tutor)
Tutoring can be beneficial. Students with ADHD are often distracted in large group settings because there are multiple stimuli. One-on-one attention can benefit children with ADHD because it eliminates distractions so that they focus on one task at a time.