Kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a neurobiological disorder characterized by inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity, tend to have a harder time in school because of the disorder.
“Research suggests that children with ADHD exhibit deficits in cognitive and achievement testing, lower grades, and an increased use of special education services in comparison with the general population,” said Jacqueline Iseman, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist with a private practice in Potomac, Maryland.
Kids with ADHD also are more likely to need tutoring, repeat a grade or have learning difficulties, she added. So how can you help them do well in school?
They’re more easily distracted by outside noise and their own thoughts, said Terry Matlen, ACSW, a psychotherapist and coach who specializes in ADHD. They’re typically disorganized. For instance, they forget to bring assignments home or take completed homework to school, leading to lower grades, she said.
They also tend to manage their time poorly and procrastinate, which usually results in submitting work that’s well below their capabilities, Matlen said.
But this doesn’t mean that children with ADHD are doomed to bad grades or poor school performance. And, as a parent or caregiver, you can do a lot to help your child manage their symptoms and do well in school. Below, you’ll find strategies for success.
1. Make sure your child is receiving effective treatment.
“[This] means checking in regularly with the healthcare provider who is following the child for medication and counseling, if that is part of the protocol,” Matlen said.
The Multimodal Treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Study (MTA study), conducted by the National Institutes of Mental Health, found that a combination of interventions, including school support, behavior therapy and medication, was typically the most effective strategy for treating ADHD, Iseman said.
2. Be compassionate, not critical.
Remember that your child isn’t intentionally trying to forget their homework or fail a test. Their ADHD makes it harder to concentrate, pay attention, accomplish assignments and stay engaged in tasks that don’t interest them. Explain your child’s difficulties to them in the framework of having ADHD, Matlen said.
Avoid using negative consequences to force your child to study or focus, she said. Don’t remove recess or give extra homework. Don’t take away breaks during the day. Again, because of ADHD’s symptoms, “trying ‘harder’ simply doesn’t work.”
3.Follow up with school staff.
“Parents should be in close contact with the teachers to make sure communication is open and that issues are addressed immediately,” said Matlen, also author of the book Survival Tips for Women with AD/HD. For instance, when your child is first diagnosed, share that information with school staff.
This might include “his or her cognitive and academic profile, the child’s diagnosis, as well as recommendations provided by the clinician, particularly those related to the school setting,” said Iseman, also co-author of the books School Success for Kids With ADHD and 101 School Success Tools for Students With ADHD.
Speak to your child’s guidance counselor about how to best support your child. This might include tutoring, counseling or a mentor, she said.
If your child isn’t doing well and has been diagnosed with ADHD, find out if they qualify for an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) or a 504 Plan, Matlen said. “These are specialized services and accommodations to help a child even the playing field so that he or she can work at his maximum potential via special education support.”
4. Create structure.
Kids with ADHD tend to do best when they have a schedule from morning to night, Iseman said. Create a schedule that includes “school, homework, playtime, chores, after-school activities and family meals.”
Leave a space next to “chores” to check off when your child completes each task. Post the schedule in a visible spot. If changes need to be made, let your child know “as far in advance as possible,” and put it on the schedule.
5. Help your child get organized.
Matlen suggested setting up a space for your child with little to no distraction. Also, help them break assignments down into bite-sized chunks, she said. And “Help with color coding notebooks and setting up a homework assignment folder.”
This piece offers excellent specific tips for helping with homework, along with a sample homework plan.
6. Set rules.
It’s important for kids with ADHD to have clear rules, expectations and consequences, Iseman said. When your child follows a rule, reward them, she said.
“These rewards do not have to be materialistic, but instead can include an extra book at nighttime, a choice of where to eat dinner, or having a sleepover with a friend.” Talk to your child about the rewards they’d like, she said.
7. Offer praise.
“Children with ADHD frequently receive criticism from others. Therefore, they are accustomed to and will expect negative feedback,” Iseman said. She stressed the importance of looking for good behavior and praising kids.
“Praise that is specific and immediate will go a long way toward increasing the frequency of the desired behaviors.”
8. Suggest using a fidget.
Sometimes using items like stress balls, which your child can squeeze throughout the day, helps with concentrating, Matlen said. They can keep these items at their desk.
Remember that kids with ADHD don’t need to try harder. Rather, they “need special accommodations and understanding so that they can soar, and they will — when given the proper supports,” Matlen said.