Missed assignments, forgotten homework, misunderstood directions, and less-than-stellar report cards — you may be all too familiar with these if you are the parent of a child with ADHD. She may be misunderstood by her teachers, and you, as a parent, may be overwhelmed trying to stay on top of her assignments and relationships with educators and administrators.
Understanding the supports that schools can provide to children with learning disabilities and differences, and the complementary strategies you can use at home, will enable you to help your child manage her own learning. Read our ten tips to get started moving toward a more productive educational experience in both settings.
To read an overview of learning disabilities and differences in children, check out the Noodle Resource Guide for Parents.
Tip 1: Find an ally!
If you’re parenting a child with ADHD, the best possible step you can take is to find an ally at school. This individual can be a teacher, a guidance counselor, a learning specialist, an administrator, or a coach — but she is always someone who “gets” your child and will help you advocate for supports to ensure your child’s growth. Think of her as the go-to person when you have questions or concerns about your child’s learning experiences, or when you simply want to celebrate your child’s achievements.
Tip 2: Create a communication plan.
Consistent communication with your child’s school is vital to understanding academic and social-emotional expectations; creating timelines for multistep, long-term assignments; and staying informed if your child is missing work. At times, it may be difficult to begin these conversations with your child’s teacher, but as a recent Understood article suggests, opening with, “Help me understand … ” or, “How can I help?” will frame the discussion as a partnership.
Designing a plan for regular, scheduled communication is key to building this bridge between classroom and home. The easiest and most efficient way to establish such a collaboration is to send your child’s teacher an email on the same day each week to ask about:
- Positive achievements your child had from the week
- Upcoming long-term assignments
- Missing homework
- Test and quiz scores
Tip 3: Appreciate the importance of organization.
Creating an organizational system is fundamental to helping a child with ADHD keep track of assignments and ensuring that nothing gets lost between home and school. That said, your child many not have the same system as you — but this doesn’t mean she doesn’t have one! Ask her how she defines being organized, and help her to use this definition to organize school materials and classwork.
You can take steps to support your child as she learns effective organizational practices, such as:
- Helping her create “homes” — that is, locations where items are placed after each use. “Homes” should make sense so that a child uses them consistently. For example, a hook near the front door will increase the likelihood that she will hang her backpack there — and be able to locate the bag and her schoolwork later.
- Working with her teacher to make sure your child understands the “homes” within the classroom.
- Communicating with her teacher to develop a workable system for organizing papers; this may differ from the one used by her classmates. For example, an accordion folder may be better for her than individual binders.
Tip 4: Encourage your child to rely on “fidgets.”
The brain of a person with ADHD needs to do more than one thing at a time in order to focus on a non-stimulating task. Holding a “fidget” — or a small, discreet object — during circle time or a lecture can help a child’s brain focus on the teacher while energy is put into manipulating the fidget. Great fidgets include kneaded erasers, small pieces of Crayola Model Magic, strips of velcro on the underside of a child’s desk, rubber bracelets, and chewing gum (which is now often included on IEP and 504 Plans for older children in particular).
Tip 5: Provide purposeful movement.
Children will benefit greatly from movement during the school day. Such activity can be as simple as walking to the bathroom or water fountain, running an errand in the school for a teacher, or sitting on an exercise ball or balance disc. According to studies done by Mark Rapport, Ph.D., at the University of Central Florida, the ADHD brain requires movement in order to maintain appropriate levels of alertness. Hyperactivity needs to be channeled purposefully, not quashed. The school’s occupational therapist will be able to help implement these strategies in the classroom.
Tip 6: Discuss “chunking” with your child’s teacher.
When there are too many questions posed on an assignment or too many steps on a worksheet, the ADHD brain will miss something. Work with your child’s teacher to develop some of the following suggestions:
- Include interim due dates for long-term projects.
- Use single-sided paper for reading passages so that your child doesn’t have to flip back and forth between the passage and questions.
- Make sure that math problems appear widely across a sheet of paper so that your child’s brain is not overwhelmed by too many numbers arrayed closely on the page.
- Simplify directions, and use a bolded, colorful, or italicized font for important words in the directions.
- When giving verbal directions, break them down into Steps 1, 2, and 3.
Tip 7: Use visual aids to support spoken instructions.
Hearing directions and seeing what needs to be done can help your child succeed in school. The visual support provides repetition for the verbal instructions, enabling the ADHD brain to integrate a new skill. If a child’s attention drifts while instructions are given in one mode, the repetition provides an opportunity to fill in the missing gaps of information. When directions are delivered in novel ways, the brain has multiple opportunities to latch onto the information.
For example, a child who has auditory strength may pick up most of the directions by listening, and then fill in the gaps through the visual aid. Similarly, a child who learns more easily visually may pick up some of the instructions as they are spoken, but will gain essential clarification through the visual supports.
Ask your child’s teacher to post a picture of what your child’s classroom desk looks like when it is organized. Having a visual image of an organized desk will provide your child with a map that she can refer to repeatedly, and it will ensure that she and her teacher are on the same page about what this area should look like.
Collaborate with your child’s teacher to create visuals, such as lists or pictures, of what your child needs to take home at the end of each day. This organizational support can be taped to a desk or binder so that your child sees it before leaving the classroom. You can, in turn, adopt this practice at home by creating similar lists or pictures for the materials that your child needs to take back to school daily.
Tip 8: Create homework routines that align with classroom practices.
Consistent homework routines, in both the classroom and at home, are critical to your child’s success. In order to support her outside of school, you need to understand the process for assigning homework.
- Does her teacher write it on the board? If so, can your child take a picture of it using a cell phone or digital camera?
- Is your child provided with a handout listing the assignments?
- Does the teacher post homework on a particular website? Do students and parents have accounts to see what has been assigned each day?
Likewise, be sure your child is clear on when and how homework gets passed in.
- Will her teacher collect it?
- Is it your child’s responsibility to hand it in?
- Is there a classroom location where assignments are turned in?
Tip 9: Create opportunities for your child to seek out emotional support in school.
Make sure your child has an adult she connects with and can visit in school if she’s feeling overwhelmed during the day. It is important that she knows there is someone to talk to who will be on her side (see tip #1 above!). Work with the school to establish a plan for how your child will meet with this person, and be sure everyone understands the process.
- Ask if she can have a pass that permits her to visit this adult independently, or if her teacher can provide a pass when needed.
- Ask if your child can set up a weekly appointment to check in with her support person.
Also check in with your child periodically to be sure the system is working.
Tip 10: Understand your rights, 504 accommodations, and Individualized Education Plans (IEPs).
Your child may need formal supports and interventions to help her realize her fullest potential.
A 504 Plan will provide your child with accommodations such as:
- Extended time on tests and assignments
- Daily teacher check-ins
- Preferential seating in class or during tests
An IEP provides modifications to the curriculum that may include:
- One-on-one or small-group interventions
- Changes in the amount of homework a student may be assigned
- Modified quizzes and tests
- Academic support classes
To learn more about your rights and whether your child may qualify for 504 accommodations or an IEP, read What Services Are Public Schools Required to Provide to Children With Learning Disabilities?.
All of these tips ought to be tailored to your child and adapted over time as necessary. The ADHD brain loves novelty, so it’s common for strategies to be effective for a while and then require tweaking. Educate yourself on ADHD, learn what supports your child’s school provides, and work with her teachers to create a strong school-to-home partnership — then enjoy the improvement in your child’s learning experiences!
8 Sentence Starters to Use When Talking to Teachers. (2014, January 4). Retrieved July 10, 2015, from Understood.
Low, K. (2014, June 13). Learning in ADHD Children — Hyperactivity Improves Learning in ADHD Children. Retrieved July 10, 2015, from About Health.
Reynolds, G. (2015, June 24). Fidgeting May Benefit Children With A.D.H.D. Retrieved July 10, 2015, from The New York Times.
Schlueb, M. (2015, April 17). Kids with ADHD Must Squirm to Learn, UCF Study Says. Retrieved July 15, 2015, from University of Central Florida.