Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: School Tips

Well, it's really that time again. Already! And you and your child need to be ready for school, and the school needs to be ready for him or her. What should you do and where do you start? Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a particular problem in some schools, and how teacher's react and tolerate students can be very different. Last year might have been great. Or it might have been a disaster. This year can be different, and it most likely will be different, so get ready...now!

So here we go with some school tips for children with ADHD:

1. First, get to know who's who in your school, and your district. Prepare a contact list of everyone you might need to work with during the year. The time to do this is now, while there are no problems, and there is time. Your phone calls and initial contacts will also be more welcomed as your a parent trying to be prepared, rather than a parent with a complaint.

These individuals might include the Director of Special Education or Support Services (whatever your district might call this person), the supervisor of the program your child is in (there may be one in the school, and one in the district office), the chair of the special education or support committee at the school, the head of your school's parent group, your local schools school psychologist, counsellor and of course the school principal, secretary and if its an older child there may be a department head or dean you should know. Also, you may want to get the contact information for your schools Ot or PT, who often can be very useful with developing plans and interventions. Get their phone numbers, and school emails. The emails are very important because you may use those to leave important messages, and especially messages that might need to be revisited later. Remember, if it wasn't in writing, it didn't happen.

2. Gather copies of last years IEP (individual education plans), behaviour plans of FBAs (Functional Behaviour Analysis) school grades, previous correspondence, doctor's diagnosis and psycho-educational assessments. Clearly mark any suggested interventions you find on your child's IEP or behaviour plan. Never go to a meeting without these documents in hand. After every meeting take a few minutes to write up a short summary note for yourself. Especially note who was suppose to do what, by when, and how they were suppose to measure success. I recommend punching holes in them and putting them together in a binder so that they never get lost. (And you thought kids were the only ones who lost important papers!).

3. As soon as you can meet with the classroom teacher and whoever is the supervisor of your child's program. Remember, the classroom teacher is SUPPOSE to be the person designated to implement an Individual Education Plan. That's not always the way it is, and often classroom teachers have not even read the child's IEP.

Now, let's address some strategies that should be seen in use in the classroom:

4. Make sure there are classroom rules posted prominently somewhere. Have your child repeat the rules back to you to make sure he or she understands them. These rules should be stated in the positive. We do this, or do that. Not in the negative. We don't do this or that.

5. Make sure your child will be seated close to the teacher, and away from distractors such as doors, windows, pencil sharpeners and so on. In no way should your child be seated separately, or made to feel different or pointed out.

6. The most effective means we have of modifying behaviour with students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is through immediate feedback and consequences. Consequences should be positive and reinforcing rather than punitive and reactionary. Make sure there is a way to monitor how many positive reinforcing statements are made, compared to corrections. If corrections worked, you would have no worries and their would be no IEP for your child.

7. Positive point systems are the most effective means we have to teach new skills to children with ADHD. Make sure there is one in place in class. It should be a system that always get's your child closer to his or her goal, rather than one that leaves them two points short at the end of the day. (Hey, you earned 98 points! Only two more to go, bet you'll earn those early in the morning!)

8. Make sure your child is allowed physical breaks, is allowed to walk around (with permission) and stand if necessary to do work. Many of these breaks can be built into your child's day with tasks like handing out papers, erasing the board and so on.

9. Use visual cues to help your child follow rules, switch activities and transition throughout the day. Visual supports are less likely to make your child prompt dependent than verbal reminders (which quickly become nagging and turn a child off).

10. Reduce background noise and distractions as much as possible. Some children with ADHD listen to music or "white noise" on headsets. This is something the OT can help you arrange.

11. Reduce the total workload, and reduce homework! There are numerous papers out there about the need to reduce homework for children with ADHD. The goal is to work hard, not to finish everything. It's to make a good effort, the best effort you can. And that's enough.

12. Make sure when giving instructions the teacher get an initial recognition from your child (hey, look here for a minute. Great. ....) and then repeats back the instructions. This will vastly increase the chances a task will actually get done. And any task with more than 3 steps, should be written down.

13. Reduce (do away with) copying from the board! This is one of the most difficult tasks there is for a student with ADHD. There is simply no reason to insist on this.

14. Use visual timers, not just clocks, to help your child stay focused and understand how long a task will take to complete. There are a number of these available commercially (Time-Timer) or you can make one with a few pieces of tape and coloured paper around your clock.

15. Do not use loss of recess as a punishment for a student with ADHD. Why would you remove an activity that will most likely lead to the child doing better the rest of the day?

16. Schedule the difficult tasks and subjects early if you can. The more tired your child is, the more difficulty they will have with focus and attention. Do the hard stuff first, then take it easy. Just like adults do!

17. Use a peer buddy. Yep, someone for your child to look at, follow, get social cues from. He or she should be allowed to look at that student's work as an example, and ask that student questions to clarify.

The most complete and authoritative guides for parents of children with ADHD is "Taking Charge of ADHD" by Russell A. Barkley, PhD. If you have trouble locating this book you can find it on my website where I connect you with books I have suggested through Amazon.ca If you have more time to read about school and learning I would also suggest Dr. Mel Levine's "A Mind at a Time," "The Myth of Laziness," a great book for any teacher interested in why students fail and how they can help,and for kids "Keeping A Head in School: A student's book about learning abilities and learning disorders." Dr. Levine has several other excellent books for children and adolescents to help them understand their brains and how having a disorder like ADHD is not a disaster because they also have some wonderful and powerful skills and talents that others don;t have. Everyones brain is different, and every brain fits in.


For more information about child and adolescent parenting you can visit my web page at www.relatedminds.com, for children with ADHD click here, and for adults with ADHD click here (ADHDHelp.ca) or my Psychology Today Website. You can also call my office at 778.998-7975 to make an appointment for a consultation.