Helping a Child With ADHD Succeed in School

Your kid may have trouble sitting still in the classroom and focusing on assignments, but, with these guidelines, he can still reach academic success.
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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common behavioral disorders in children. Once called Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), the more common term is now ADHD. There are three types of the disorder: inattentive, hyperactive, and combined. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 9.5 percent of children, or 5.4 million children aged 4 to 17, have been diagnosed with ADHD as of 2007. Boys are more than twice as likely as girls to be diagnosed with ADHD (13.2 percent to 5.6 percent).

Children with ADHD struggle with core symptoms such as the inability to focus or stay still for a long time, and impulsive behavior. They have a physiological difference in their neurology that makes these problems pervasive and potentially disabling. Also, they experience more obstacles in their path to success and more challenges in school than the average student. In the classroom, children are required to sit still, pay attention, and follow instructions, but these are the very things children with ADHD struggle with daily. With the proper guidance and ongoing persistence, however, they can remain on track to achieving academic goals. These eight tips offer advice and resources to helping your child succeed in school.

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Know Your Child's Strengths and Limitations

Not only do the core symptoms create an extraordinary challenge in school, but 20 to 30 percent of children with ADHD also have a specific learning disability. Most of what they are asked to do each day in a traditional school -- being consistently attentive and concentrating on tasks despite an extremely distracting environment -- is very hard for them, creating a significant threat to their self-esteem. It is important to advocate for your child's special needs in school, but it's equally important to address more than just their weaknesses.

Determine and focus on your child's strengths, automatically removing the focus from their struggles and limitations. "The combination of identifying strengths, creating a chance to succeed, and fueling the process with optimism and excitement leads to success and happiness most of the time," say Edward M. Hallowell, M.D., and Peter S. Jensen, M.D., in Superparenting for ADD. What does your child enjoy? What is her strongest subject in school? Put your energy into developing that strength and build your child's self-esteem for future successes. Be sure to get the teacher on board. If your child is passionate about science, offer books on science topics for weekly reading assignments. If he's inspired to build with Legos, incorporate Legos in his math lesson. If she is a star athlete, give her every opportunity to exercise and train. The more you cater to your child's interests, the more he will focus on the lesson or assignment.

Share Strategies for Managing ADHD Symptoms

Schedule a meeting with your child's new teacher before each school year starts. Most teachers will welcome information about their students. "Put together a collection of articles. You can then give teachers articles that pertain to a certain issue when the need arises," recommends Gina Robuck, M.Ed., in her article, "Raising a Teacher's Awareness About LD and AD/HD - Parents as Educators," on greatschools.org. Start with a few expert articles on ADHD management in the classroom and then go into detail over time. Put together a document detailing your child's learning style, categorized by environment, struggles, behavior management, and sensory needs. Be sure to include strengths and interests in addition to needs, and incorporate everything you've learned about your child.

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Be Your Child's Strongest Advocate

Most students with ADHD and other learning disabilities require tailored instruction and classroom accommodations to overcome their need for extra stimulation, lack of focus, difficulty with organization, trouble following multistep instructions, or specific language disabilities in reading and writing. Schools districts are required under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) to provide a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to all eligible students. Many children with ADHD do not qualify for special education services under IDEA, though; the school must agree that the ADHD negatively affects learning and educational performance, which is not always the case. If your child doesn't qualify for services under IDEA, request classroom accommodations through a 504 Plan (this refers to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973) to create an equitable learning experience and to eliminate discrimination on the basis of disability under any program or activity receiving Federal Financial assistance.

If your child is struggling in school, determine if she is eligible for school services and accommodations. Request an initial evaluation for special education services in writing. There are stringent procedures that must be followed to pursue Special Education placement or a 504 Plan. Sample letters to request initial evaluations can be found at LDOnline.org, Peppinc.org, and ADDitudemag.com. Or check ASKresource.org and ADHDparentsupport.com for sample letters about the 504 Plan. The evaluation process can take up to four months or more so; while you're waiting, read everything you can about your child's rights in school. A great place to start is Wrightslaw.com.

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Always Ask "Why?"

Children with ADHD are born with differences in their brains that manifest in distinctive ways in each child. The commonality is that these differences cause challenging behavior, often due to a lack of inherent skills like problem solving and adaptability. "Challenging behavior occurs when the demands of the environment exceed a kid's capacity to respond adaptively," says Ross W. Greene, Ph.D., Founding Director of Lives in the Balance and author of The Explosive Child and Lost at School. "We now know that [these children] are lacking skills, not motivation...skills like flexibility/adaptability, frustration tolerance, and problem solving. That knowledge makes it possible for us to help these kids in ways that are much more humane, compassionate, and effective."

Fortunately, the problems are highly predictable, so Dr. Greene advises that parents and teachers proactively and collaboratively solve them through a process he calls "Plan B." Plan B consists of three ingredients: The Empathy step (where caregivers gather information and understand the child's concerns or perspective on a specific problem); the Define the Problem step (where caregivers enter their concerns into consideration); and the Invitation step (where the adult and child brainstorm realistic solutions that will address concerns). "Motivational procedures -- such as sticker charts and time-outs -- don't teach kids the skills they're lacking...nor do they solve the problems that are reliably and predictably setting in motion challenging episodes," Dr. Greene says.

Life with ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder
Life with ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder

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