Challenges in the Classroom

Helping kids with ADHD to thrive academically.

ADHD is a neurobiological disorder that affects at least 5 to 8 percent of school-age children. Through different studies, it has been found that at least half of children who meet the criteria for ADHD are diagnosed. Of those diagnosed, only half are receiving treatment.

The American Psychiatric Association has developed a manual called the DSM-IV-R that contains standards by which children are diagnosed. Children with ADHD can symptoms of hyperactivity, impulsivity, inattentiveness or a combination of all three. Symptoms of impairment are seen in usually two or more environments.

The severity of symptoms and the degree of impairment affects a child’s performance in the school environment. As a parent of a child with ADHD, it is important to advocate for your child’s needs from the very beginning of the school year. The initial communication between the parent and the teacher should actually be before the school year starts to ensure that every accommodation is in place. The first step is writing and sending a letter to arrange an introductory parent-teacher meeting.

Often, this does not happen. As a result, classroom time can be problematic for many students, and the child with ADHD might grapple with a faltering self-esteem.

Even if as the parent you feel that a small amount of interventions could lead to your child’s academic success, and you have established a reasonable rapport with the teacher, commit to meeting with the teacher before school begins to confirm the accommodations are in place. Accommodations that might facilitate a child with ADHD’s classroom experience include sitting in the front of the class, being given more time for a test, taking a test in another room without distractions, being permitted to record notes, having access to peer notes and taking a test verbally.

Deficits in executive functioning impact the child’s learning and ability to fulfill academic requirements. Deficits can also hinder children with ADHD when it comes to staying organized, starting projects, behaving appropriately and controlling personal emotions. Children with ADHD may also have difficulty with their working memory.

Accommodations do not change the academic requirements for a student with ADHD. They merely support children in meeting their classroom obligations, learning the material and thriving academically and socially with other students. Accommodations should be detailed in a child’s 504 plan. Part of the Disability Act of 1973, 504 plans were originally set up to level the playing field for people with physical disabilities. The provisions mentioned in a child’s 504 plan help the child with ADHD be successful despite his symptoms, while the academic expectations for him are the same as other students.

Sometimes a teacher is willing to put the accommodations in place without going over the provisions with a parent or the school. But a meeting may be required in order to officially deem it necessary that the child is indeed eligible for such services. ADHD symptoms must impact a major life activity like learning for the child to be recognized as needing help.

Once the accommodations are in place at school, it is imperative to maintain communication with your child’s teacher. You should both assess whether or not the accommodations are leading to academic success. Agree on a form of communication, such as over e-mail or in a collective journal, to determine that interventions are working. All communication should be kept in writing and everything saved, including any e-mails and faxes that have been shared.

Be mindful that a 504 plan can be broadly interpreted by others. If after a period of time, you as the parent decide more specific interventions are necessary, then consider an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for your child.

When creating an IEP, write a letter to your child’s school, addressing the teacher, principal and child study team, outlining all concerns and accommodations that have been put in place for your child. State that the accommodations established by you and the teacher are unsuccessful and why you believe this. Ask for a complete evaluation by the school to grant your child complete modifications regarding school.

Remember that ADHD does not guarantee that your child is eligible for a 504 plan or an IEP. It must be shown that symptoms of a mental health impairment like ADHD have adversely affected a major life activity for your child. Be aware of each state’s requirements as to when the school must respond to your letter.

Once the evaluation occurs, school officials must meet with you to discuss the results. This can lead to the formation of an IEP with specific goals and objectives. Again, constant assessment is mandatory to ensure success and maintain the child’s healthy self-esteem. Keep a close eye on your child and a good rapport with your child’s teacher to allow for a positive intervention and success.