Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a behavioral problem that starts during childhood and affects three to five percent of school-aged children.
Children with ADHD may qualify for special education services under two laws: the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. IDEA provides state funding for special education services; Section 504 ensures appropriate education for all children who have significant mental or physical disabilities.
The qualifications for IDEA are more stringent; however, if a child with ADHD does not qualify, he or she may be eligible for services under Section 504. With IDEA, ADHD is classified under “Other Health Impairment” (OHI), and children who qualify for IDEA can receive services under “Specific Learning Disability” or “Emotional Disturbance.” IDEA requires an evaluation, which is used for the individualized education program (IEP), a series of short-term academic goals for the child. Parents are given input into the IEP and it cannot be changed without their approval.
Section 504 does not require an IEP, though children who qualify for Section 504 do receive special services that help them academically. As part of Section 504, children are evaluated for special education needs. While parents are not as involved with the child’s educational plan through Section 504 as they would be with IDEA, they can request meetings with the child’s teacher to go over her progress and educational needs.
If a child with ADHD and academic problems qualifies for IDEA or Section 504, classroom adaptations are available. For example, the curriculum can be adjusted to allow the student more time on each topic to absorb the material. The child may benefit from having a quiet study space and an uncluttered desk. During the school day, the teacher can allow the student to take breaks in between classes or at certain times, which can help with hyperactivity symptoms. If the child has problems with attention, the teacher may work with the child to develop study skills.
Behavior management and motivational strategies may be implemented if the child has hyperactive or impulsive symptoms. Parents also are involved in the child’s classroom adaptations, working with the teacher to monitor progress in the classroom and discuss measures to be taken at home. For example, if the teacher uses a Daily Report Card for behavior, attention or both, the parents can continue its use at home, such as with finishing goals and administering rewards.
Posting daily schedules and assignments can help the child visualize what needs to be done each day and can help with organizational problems. Teachers and parents should emphasize any changes made to the child’s schedule. In the classroom, the teacher should use both verbal and visual instructions. Before moving on to the next instruction, the teacher needs to make sure that the child has processed the material. Since children with ADHD can have attention problems, teachers can help them carry out tasks with multiple or complicated steps by breaking the tasks down into more attainable goals.
Assistive technology is available to help with certain troublesome areas. Michigan State University researchers point out that classroom computers can help children with ADHD. For example, a computer program that helps with reading skills can provide immediate feedback and help with both the learning problems and the child’s self-esteem. Correct answers result in a reward, such as the program saying “good job.” The computer program can show the error in an incorrect answer and show the child how to improve. A results log can help teachers monitor progress.
The adaptations available for children with ADHD can help overcome the hurdles that the symptoms pose in the classroom. Children with ADHD may benefit from multiple adaptations, and the parents and teacher may need to try a few to find the most suitable one(s) for the child’s needs. Whether the child qualifies for assistance under IDEA or Section 504, parents should stay up to date on their child’s academic performance, and which techniques help him or her the most.