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How can I help a child with ADHD succeed in school?

5 ultimate tips for helping your child with ADHD succeed both at school and at home.

Trouble paying attention, easily distracted, acting impulsively. We, as a society, commonly think of these as negative characteristics that lead to failure at school; yet, they are also attributes of many children with ADHD. ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder) is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood. In fact, around 6.1 million children in the US were diagnosed with ADHD in 2016. So, are we saying that 6.1 million children in the US are doomed to fail at school? No, of course not!

Now I’m not denying that there are special challenges that children with ADHD will face at school. Research does suggest that children with ADHD are more likely to need tutoring and receive lower test marks. Therefore, as a parent or teacher of a child with ADHD, their performance at school is definitely a reasonable concern.

First things first, it is most important to remember that helping children with ADHD is not about getting them to try harder. While it may be tempting, it’s actually quite counter-productive to push them to try harder to concentrate or stop getting distracted. Rather, it is about providing them with a supportive environment and appropriate accommodations for them to succeed. So, here are a few steps you (as a parent or teacher) can take to help accomplish this.

1. Get a proper diagnosis

This might seem obvious to some, but it’s a step that is sometimes overlooked. Lack of treatment is a major consequence of not receiving a diagnosis. Behavior therapy provided by specialists or medication can be extremely helpful and is only possible with an ADHD diagnosis. In order to be diagnosed, one must be evaluated by a medical professional at a neuropsychological testing center, much like our very own Newton Neuropsychology Group. A medical professional will not only be able provide you with an accurate diagnosis, but also provide any medications or suggestions for cognitive-behavioral therapy.

2. Work as a team

Parents, the school administration, and teachers are all essential components in creating a supportive environment for the child. Parents are vital in providing information about their child’s needs and goals to the school. This is fundamental in ensuring that all important adults in the child’s life have context and information. In turn, the school may be able to place the child with teachers that fit their learning style. Teachers can also adjust their help by minimizing distractions in the classroom. Some examples include seating them at the front of the classroom, away from windows and doors. Teachers can also observe specific behaviors in the classroom that they can communicate with the parents.

"Helping children with ADHD is not about getting them to try is about providing them with a supportive environment and appropriate accommodations for them to succeed."

3. Create structure

Establish rules and routines both in the classroom at home, keeping each day consistent and predictable. Structure is beneficial for all children, but especially for children with ADHD. A symptom of ADHD is lack of self-control, and these routines can help with managing their symptoms. Set aside a specific time for homework, chores, and even playtime. This can act as a stepping stone for the child to build skills and learn time management both at home and at school. Additionally, get organized! Break down assignments into small chunks, and work in a space with minimal distractions.

4. Encourage hands-on learning

Create opportunities to learn topics firsthand. Even children without ADHD will have trouble concentrating if lessons are based on sitting still and staring at a whiteboard for hours on end. Put on plays, sing, build models, get up and dance! There are endless possibilities to how we can use our bodies to learn. A physical/kinesthetic learning style is very common in children with ADHD, meaning they prefer to use their hands and sense of touch to learn.

5. Educate yourself

Honestly, the fact that you’re reading this blog post right now is a pretty good indicator that you are already making great progress on this step. It could be a scary and anxiety-inducing thing to be raising or teaching a child with ADHD, especially if it’s your first time. Take the time to learn about ADHD, treatment options, and other people’s experiences. The more you know, the better equipped you will be at dealing with any situation that comes at you.

Hopefully, this list was able to help you in some way, even if it was just reinforcing some ideas you already had. A combination of school support, home support, and behavior therapy and medication will be the most effective strategy. And remember, school (and life) isn’t only about academics. It’s also a place for social and emotional development and experiences. If your child isn’t as academically successful as you hoped, be sure not to overlook their possible social/emotional strengths, and vice versa. Please leave a comment below to share your experiences with ADHD and any other tips you may have!


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