Supporting students with ADHD at school

Many strategies can be used within schools to support children who have attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

Given the prevalence of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) among children ages 4 to 17 – including 11 percent of children in Michigan – many parents may be wondering how to best support a child with ADHD within the school setting. Schools have an obligation to provide educational services to students with disabilities, including those who have been diagnosed with ADHD or who are showing symptoms that may indicate they have ADHD. If a child receives a formal diagnosis, schools can use a variety of strategies and work in partnership with parents to help young people succeed both academically and socially.

ADHD is chronic condition that is commonly treated with behavior therapy, medication or a combination of the two. While many experts support using both behavior therapy and medication to treat ADHD (known as a multimodal approach), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stresses the importance of using only behavior therapy for children under age 6. By working with their child’s doctor, parents can make the best decision about if and when to have their child use medication to treat ADHD.

If medication is prescribed and needs to be taken during the school day, a school district must provide medication assistance to a young person as part of a Section 504 plan to ensure that medication is administered according to the doctor’s recommendation. Open communication between a child, his or her parents, teachers and doctor is important for assessing whether the specific medication, dosage and schedule are having the intended results (with the minimum side effects). It’s also important for young people and parents to expect that schools will provide medical confidentiality related to their child’s ADHD disability and medication. In a recent conversation with one young person who took ADHD medication during most of her school years, she shared that it was common knowledge about which students were being administered ADHD medicine during the school day. It was also common for some of these students to be bullied because of their disability, and some were even pressured by other students to give them or sell them their ADHD medication (which speaks to the importance of ensuring that medications are kept in secure and locked locations at home and at school).

When a school evaluates a student and determines that he or she has an ADHD disability, the staff will follow the regulations of Section 504 to determine what kinds of services and support (including administration of medication) are needed. Since children with ADHD can be easily distracted by other students or nearby activities, accommodations are often made within the physical environment of a classroom. For example, a child could be seated closer to the teacher and a low-distraction work area could be provided for quiet study time or test taking. Teachers can also use a variety of academic instruction strategies that are beneficial for students with ADHD, such as providing clear and frequent expectations during lessons about behavior (for example, that they should talk quietly with other students when doing group work) or providing students with tools like color-coded folders that can help them organize assignments for different academic subjects. In addition, teachers can identify behavioral intervention techniques, such as reinforcement of positive behavior, to help students learn how to manage their behavior.

Several resources can be used by schools to address the needs of young people who have ADHD. These include the “Dear Colleague” letter that the United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights recently sent to schools to clarify their obligation to provide educational services to students with ADHD. Two additional U.S. Department of Education resources that teachers may find helpful in providing these services include Identifying and Treating Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A Resource for School and Home and Teaching Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Instructional Strategies and Practices.

Keep in mind that children will likely be most successful when behavioral strategies are reinforced within both the school and home settings. You can learn more about home strategies by reading the Michigan State University Extension article titled Parenting Strategies for Helping Kids with ADHD. In addition, you may be interested in the variety of workshops, webinars and resources provided by MSU Extension that are focused on the health and well-being of children, youth and families.

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