Oct 7, 2022, 6:49:19 AM CDT Oct 10, 2023, 2:41:09 PM CDT

How to help kids with ADHD in school

Learn ways to support children with ADHD at school with tips from Children’s Health experts

Teacher helping student Teacher helping student

When your child has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), they may have a hard time paying attention, staying on task and demonstrating organizational and social skills – all things that can make an environment like school challenging. However, parents, teachers and school administrators can work together to create a positive learning environment for kids with ADHD.

"It's so important that everyone involved is willing to compromise and stay positive," says Ashley Hurse, Manager of School Services at Children's Health℠. "For every child, there will be accommodations and activities that are not successful, but parents can work with teachers and the school to find new things to help their child succeed in school."

Here are some tips to learn more about how to help your child with ADHD be successful in school.

How can I help my child with ADHD succeed in school?

To receive accommodations from your child's school, you should schedule a visit with your child's pediatrician. The pediatrician may ask a few questions or have you and your child's teacher fill out a questionnaire so your child can receive a proper diagnosis. Once your child is diagnosed, you can work with the school on implementing a Section 504 plan – an accommodation plan to set your child up for academic success.

Parents should model great advocacy skills so their child can eventually advocate for their own educational needs. They can also reinforce appropriate behaviors they want their children to exhibit in the classroom at home.

"Structure is the biggest thing for kids with ADHD," says Hurse. "Children function better when they know what is expected of them."

Hurse proposes setting up to-do lists and practicing step-by-step behaviors, like cooking a meal, which involves following a recipe. She also recommends using timers so kids can better prepare for transitioning to the next task or activity.

"Transitions can be very hard for kids with ADHD," says Hurse. "It's so important to let them know verbally or visually what is coming next and for teachers to give clear directions and rules."

What resources or accommodations must schools provide for kids with ADHD?

All students are guaranteed a free and public education, and schools must take steps to accommodate children with ADHD and other disabilities. Schools can support this requirement through simple accommodations (e.g., extra time on tests) or special education services.

Students with disabilities attending public schools are protected from discrimination under both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1975. The ADA is comparable – and in many areas the same – to Section 504. The difference is that Section 504 applies "only" to public schools and other entities receiving federal funding. The ADA extends coverage of Section 504 to all state and local entities, including private schools, regardless of whether they receive financial assistance from the federal government.

If your child is diagnosed with ADHD, and it appears that they are not showing adequate progress with the use of the accommodations in their 504 plan, they may need further testing. This would involve requesting an individual evaluation. This will determine if your child qualifies to receive special education services.

How can parents communicate with teachers about ADHD accommodations?

Before speaking to your child's teacher, make a list of concerns specific to your child's needs. You can also share techniques that have been effective at home. Make sure to have clear and consistent communication and documentation with your child's teacher to keep a record of what is and isn't working.

"It's important to remember that everyone – parents, teachers and administrators – want what is best for the student," says Hurse. "All those involved want to create the most valuable learning environment for your child."

Parents can propose accommodations, including:

  • Color-coded notebooks
  • Fidget devices (e.g., fidget spinners, kinetic sand)
  • Checklists with rewards
  • Timers

"Fidget devices are especially effective for kids with ADHD because they allow children to move without being disruptive," says Hurse.

How can teachers support children with ADHD in the classroom?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), teachers can use different strategies to support children with ADHD in their classrooms:

  • Behavioral classroom management reinforces positive behaviors through reward systems
  • Organizational training focuses on reducing distractions through time management and planning

Hurse notes that kids with ADHD (and most kids) need an outlet, such as recess, as a break from the classroom environment and that taking recess away as a punishment can be counterproductive.

In practice, these strategies can look like accommodations, including:

  • Planners for assignments and other help staying organized
  • Daily report cards
  • Communication with parents
  • Visual schedules
  • Small group teaching
  • Shortened assignments
  • Alternative seating choices, especially for younger children
  • More breaks
  • Extra time on tests and assignments
  • Limiting distractions in the classroom
  • Positive reinforcement and regular feedback

Learn More

See tips for managing ADHD by establishing structure and consistency at home. Learn more about ADHD and how Children's Health can help you find a diagnosis and treatment plan. You can also learn more about our school services team and see additional education resources for families.

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