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ADHD at School

Both the inattentive and hyperactive symptoms that are characteristic of ADHD can cause difficulties at school. Modern classrooms do not always allow for freedom of movement, hands-on learning, or lessons that are tailored to unique interests and learning styles; thus, young children who speak out of turn, fidget excessively, find it difficult to manage their time, or struggle to pay attention to lectures may find it challenging to keep up or behave appropriately. Older students—in high school or beyond—may continue to find that their ADHD symptoms slow academic progress.

How can I help my child with ADHD excel in school?

Children with ADHD can keep up and even thrive at school, particularly if strategies addressing their specific challenges are deployed. ADHD treatment plans—whether behavioral or pharmacological—will often help students focus and tame problematic behavior, while specific accommodations can be used to adapt curricula, classroom environments, and testing procedures to their learning styles and to compensate for developmental delays. ADHD awareness among school staff, as well as a supportive environment that respects learning differences more generally, can also go a long way toward building a student’s confidence and encouraging her to find areas in which she excels.

How can I tell if my child needs accommodations?

ADHD can hinder children’s academic progress in several ways, not all of which are immediately obvious. If your child struggles to finish reasonable assignments, consistently receives poor grades, has frequent behavior problems that don’t respond to typical discipline, or becomes anxious or upset when completing schoolwork, it could indicate that ADHD is interfering significantly with his progress—and that he could perhaps benefit from accommodations. A teacher expressing concern about a child’s academic or behavioral challenges is another indicator that something is amiss. Whether or not the teacher raises the alarm, it may be possible to address the issues by working directly with them; when such informal interventions fail to help, however, exploring accommodations is a smart next step.

How do I get accommodations for ADHD?

First, you should request the school evaluate your child, in order to assess how ADHD, learning disabilities, and other comorbid conditions are affecting her educational progress; this evaluation is provided at no cost. (In some cases, the school will suggest that your child be evaluated, rather than the other way around.) The school will use the results of the evaluation to determine whether your child needs accommodations—either an IEP or a 504 plan—and may work with you to determine what those accommodations will be. If the school decides that your child does not need accommodations, you may appeal and/or seek an outside evaluation; you may need to pay for this out of pocket.

What is an IEP? Does my child need one?

An Individualized Education Program, or IEP, is a type of special education plan established by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a 1990 law that ensures that children with disabilities receive adequate public education. IEPs can entail in-classroom accommodations, modified curriculums, out-of-classroom services like speech therapy, the use of assistive technology, and other modifications designed to help a child receive a free and appropriate public education (known as FAPE). To determine if your child is eligible for an IEP, request an evaluation from the school’s special education department.

What’s the difference between an IEP and a 504?

IEPs and 504s are both plans that provide support to students with disabilities. They function differently, however, and were established by different laws. IEPs are guided by special education law and are generally more robust; they provide in-classroom accommodations (such as extra time on tests or breaking long assignments into smaller pieces), curriculum modifications, and out-of-classroom services such as occupational therapy. They contain clearly defined goals for the child, must be reviewed on a set schedule, and require the parents’ input. 504 plans, on the other hand, are guided by civil rights law; they are typically much shorter, less formal documents that generally only provide in-classroom accommodations. Schools are not required to ask parents’ input on 504 plans, although many schools choose to. Children with only ADHD, or those whose impairments are mild to moderate, most often receive services under a 504 plan.

My child is gifted. Is it possible for her to have ADHD?

Yes. ADHD has not been found to correlate with intelligence, and many children and adults who have the disorder are of above-average intelligence or are highly talented in particular domains. Such individuals are known as twice-exceptional (2E), and may require additional support in order to thrive.

What does twice-exceptional, or 2E, mean?

The term twice-exceptional, or 2E for short, refers to children and adults who are gifted and have a developmental delay like ADHD, autism, or a learning disability; similarly, they may have another mental health disorder such as obsessive compulsive disorder. Though many parents assume that gifted children will succeed in school, this isn’t necessarily the case; 2E children in particular—despite their ability—may struggle academically due to trouble focusing, social deficits, or brain-based challenges that make reading, writing, or expressing themselves more difficult. Accommodations, tailored curriculums, and support from teachers and parents can be immensely helpful for 2E students.

How do I get accommodations in college?

Like elementary, middle, and high schools, colleges and universities are required to provide accommodations to students with disabilities; they don’t provide IEPs or 504 plans, however, and the exact accommodations they provide may not be identical to what a student received previously. In order to receive accommodations, the student should register with the college’s disability services office, which will evaluate their disability and outline the accommodations available; this is typically formalized in a letter that students can give to professors. College accommodations often include additional time on tests or assignments, a private room for test-taking, or the ability to use a laptop or other electronic tools in class or on exams.

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