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When getting ready for back-to-school season, it’s important to consider the needs of your child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

This neurodevelopmental disorder is known for symptoms of inattention and impulsivity, which can make it hard to concentrate, follow instructions, and finish tasks in school. Planning ahead with these six steps can ease the process of starting or returning to school and ensure a better experience for your child.

Most children with ADHD qualify for some accommodations in public schools under both Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Depending on your child’s eligibility, they may qualify for either a 504 plan or individualized education plan (IEP), with the latter offering the most services.

If you’re interested in obtaining one, it’s important to know that the process may take several weeks. This is in part due to coordinating all of the professionals required to attend IEP meetings, including, but not limited to:

  • your child’s teacher(s)
  • special education teachers
  • school psychologists
  • speech or occupational therapists
  • school administrators

Depending on the original date of eligibility, your child’s annual IEP meeting may take place during the school year. However, you have the right to call for a meeting at any time.

If you want to have an additional meeting before the next school year though, you may need to set this up before the current school year is over.

Researchers have noted that parents who help actively participate in schooling their children with ADHD can help improve their overall quality of education.

Whether your child has formal accommodations or not, it’s worth talking with your child’s teacher(s) at the start of the school year about any concerns you may have. Rather than approaching them during open house when they’ill likely be talking with multiple families, see whether you can set up a time for a virtual or in-person meeting after school.

Also, depending on the school, your child may not have PE classes every day. It’s worth asking your teacher whether they offer “movement breaks” throughout the day so that your child can burn off energy and focus better in the classroom.

Your child may also benefit from sitting in the front of the classroom closest to their teacher to help minimize distractions. Depending on their IEP or 504 plan, extra time for testing or other accommodations can also help ensure your child’s success.

While buying supplies is an important step in getting ready for the new school year, your child may also need help organizing them.

Younger children may need help labeling binders, folders, and pencil/crayon cases. You can assist them by coming up with an organizational routine in their backpacks and classroom desks. It may also be helpful to have separate folders for each subject.

Older children may benefit from a daily planner, where you can show them how to write down homework assignments and other important reminders. If they use a smartphone, you can also encourage your child to set alarms for upcoming deadlines and appointments (as long as these don’t go off in the middle of class).

Having a set routine can help your child refocus when they need to while also decreasing potential stress and anxiety.

Consider writing down the routine together either on a large piece of paper, a calendar, or a board and putting it up on a wall, the refrigerator, or in another common area so your child can easily refer to it.

Aside from your child’s school hours, consider establishing specific times for:

  • waking up and getting ready each day
  • any therapy appointments after school
  • extracurricular activities
  • tutoring, homework time, or both
  • regular breaks
  • a consistent bedtime

It’s also helpful to practice this routine for a few days before the school year starts.

The extra focus required during school days can be tiring for your child. Outside of possible activity breaks during the school day, regular exercise throughout the week may also help your child expend energy so they can concentrate better during school and homework assignments.

Try fitting in additional exercise where you can. Younger children can benefit from playground trips and running around in parks. You can encourage older children to play sports and go on family walks.

On the flip side, stress management and relaxation can also increase your child’s ability to focus. Meditation and other mindfulness practices can help with attention training. You can start by simply teaching your child to take a few moments each day to focus on their breathing.

Outside of possible behavioral techniques your child may receive at school through an IEP or 504 plan, you should also use positive reinforcement and feedback at home as often as you can. Rather than worrying about certain grades, your child may benefit more from feedback regarding their ability to focus and finish their assignments.

It’s also not unexpected for any child — whether they’re diagnosed with ADHD or not — to become overwhelmed at some point during the school year. You can help minimize stress by sticking with their routine, but you should also be on the lookout for clear signs when your child needs a break.

Ongoing support for your child’s mental and emotional needs will ultimately lead to better success in other areas of their life, including school.