Back to School With ADHD

Back to School With ADHD

School can be a challenge for kids with ADHD. Help your child develop good school habits, and help the school understand your child’s needs.

Assignments completed but not turned in. Important papers lost (often in the bottom of a backpack or the back of a desk). Tears shed over a book that has to be read by tomorrow but was left at school. Sound familiar? Then there’s a chance you have a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Kids with ADHD have problems with executive functions. They have trouble organizing, planning and setting priorities, which can make school especially challenging. Medication may help with focus and attention, but drugs alone can’t overcome these executive deficits. The child will still need your support to get and stay organized and succeed at school.

Here are some ideas to start your child off on the right foot this school year. They could help make life easier for both your child and you.

1. Help your child at home

  • Help your child get organized. For grade-school children, a set of three folders may work: one for “work to do,” one for “work to turn in” and one for other school papers. For older kids, a set of colored folders, one for each subject, can help them keep their work organized and easy to find. The folders can be kept together in a ring binder.
  • Set up a homework space. The child’s bedroom or a quiet corner of the house is usually best. Provide a desk with a set of school supplies and a bulletin board for notes and notices.
  • Stock up on school supplies. Kids with ADHD often lose things. Keep extra pencils, pens, notebooks and other supplies on hand. If possible, get an extra set of schoolbooks to keep at home.
  • Create a “pit stop”. This could be a cabinet, chair or hook near the front door. Help your child get in the habit of leaving the backpack there when entering the house. Each night, spend a few minutes making sure everything needed for the next day (completed homework, bus pass, keys) is in the backpack and ready to go the following morning.
  • Provide tools for success. Teach your child to use organizational aids such as:
    • A daily planner. Have your child use this in class to write down all assignments. Check it each night to be sure work is completed.
    • A watch or clock. Help your child learn to use a watch to manage time spent on assignments.
    • Sticky notes. Have your child post bright-colored sticky notes as reminders of important due dates or activities.

2. Help your child at school

Your role at school is to be your child’s advocate. To get off to a good start, set up a meeting with your child’s teacher(s) before school starts or in the first week or two.

  • Help the teacher know your child. Some parents do this by writing a letter about their child. Include the specific diagnosis (hyperactive or inattentive subtype) and describe both the child’s academic weaknesses and strengths and personal qualities. This will help the teacher see your child as a whole person, not just a set of problems.
  • Discuss your child’s learning style. If your child has an individualized educational program (IEP) or 504 Plan, go over it with the teacher. Suggest classroom strategies that might help. For example, seating your child in the front row may help minimize distractions.
  • Treat the teacher as a partner, not a foe. Listen to the teacher’s ideas and be willing to work with the teacher to help your child. Be polite and respectful at all times.

3. Follow up throughout the year

  • Continue the contact. Arrange with the teacher how often you will be in touch to discuss your child’s progress. Some teachers like face-to-face meetings. Others prefer to send e-mails or weekly notes home with the child.
  • Get involved. Offer to help in the classroom if you have time. Join the PTA and volunteer at school functions.
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