ADHD in Schools

ADHD in schools may require special attention. ADHD is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. ADHD is a mental disorder in the category “Attention-deficit and disruptive behavior disorders” category. Learn about ADHD in schools, including ADHD meds.

Because attention and cooperation are integral components of school education settings, ADHD in schools can pose challenges for both educators and students.

What Is ADHD?

Teen ADHD is a mental disorder that causes problems in two main areas: interpersonal interactions and school performance. Broadly speaking, it tends to manifest with

  • inattentive behavior (inattention)
  • excessive activity for the context (hyperactivity),
  • impulsive behavior (hyperactivity),

or a combination of those traits. A person with ADHD can have one of three types: the Inattentive type, the Hyperactive-Impulsive Type, or the Combined Type. Those children or teens with the first type of ADHD are the least disruptive to others, but also the least likely to be diagnosed. It is believed to afflict between 3 and 5 percent of children, but is more often diagnosed in boys than in girls. 

ADHD is diagnosed on age-related criteria. That is, the child not only needs to exhibit certain symptoms, but also to exhibit them to a degree that is beyond the expected range for a child of their age. This is because it is normal for children to exhibit these behaviors from time to time in the course of development. The occasional inattentiveness, hyperactivity, or impulsiveness is different from the chronic condition of ADHD.

The symptoms are given in the 3 areas listed above, and multiple symptoms, present in multiple contexts, are required for a diagnosis.

Sample symptoms for each area include:

Inattention: makes careless mistakes; has difficulty organizing; is easily distracted; doesn’t follow through with responsibilities and instructions.

Hyperactivity: fidgets and squirms; constant motion like a wind-up toy; unable to stay in seat.

Impulsivity: difficulty waiting turns; interrupts others.

Undiagnosed ADHD in Schools

Especially because many children with ADHD are not diagnosed, and because home environments may be more flexible, problems that eventually point to an ADHD diagnosis may first turn up at school. For staff members who haven’t worked closely with students with ADHD in schools or who assume that if a teen had ADHD, it would have been diagnosed earlier, could incorrectly conclude that a teen with ADHD was lazy, a poor student, unruly, defiant, a “class clown,” or otherwise misconstrue the situation. If there is any suspicion of ADHD in schools, it is wise to have a child tested. If a diagnosis of ADHD is found, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), services must be offered to the student by a public school to help create a workable learning environment.

School Modifications for Students with ADHD

ADHD in schools may require school modifications to include a variety of features, depending on the child’s specific situation. Here are some examples:

  • Focus: The teacher can give verbal cues to help students focus when speaking and visual cues when using, say PowerPoint slides. The teacher can take the time to help the student see the structure of each textbook, so the student understands how the headings and any use of color, boldface, italic, or other device make meaning. Students can be encouraged to add their own focus to printouts that they are reading, using underlining and color, and to their own notes.

Limitation of distractions to the students will also help. This may include careful choice of who sits near a student, use of one-on-one instruction time, and breaks for movement between tasks.

  • Ease of recording information: Access to a computer for note-taking has been recommended for students with ADHD in schools.

  • Organizational Help: Standardization of activities, such as when homework is given out, when it is handed in, timing of weekly routines, can help. Binders with dividers, a careful set up on a laptop computer, or some other strategy for keeping items where they can be found in the physical world, in the virtual world, or both, will likely prove helpful methods for dealing with ADHD in schools.

Administering Medications in School

Teen ADHD treatment can include both therapists and medications. A teen’s school will likely have a policy that forbids the students from having possession of the medication in school, but even if it doesn’t, the medication for school time should be kept by the school nurse or health officer. Talk to school personnel about ways of making it easy for your teen to keep to the medication schedule and avoiding negative responses from classmates.


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