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School Accommodations for Children with ADHD

Special needs mom, Clinical and School Psychologist
01/08/24  12:32 PM PST
learning disability

Children, teens, and young adults with ADHD often struggle to get through daily routines at home and in school, even though these routines have been in place since the beginning of the school year. As parents, expecting that our kids are going to be able to get things done at school without accommodation means we are setting them (and us) up for failure and frustration.

Some may argue that we are not preparing our children for ‘the real world’ when we accommodate our kids. However, I respectfully disagree. Childhood is about skill acquisition. Our children with ADHD simply need a little more time and space than some of their typical peers to gain the skills they will need for the next phase of their development. For example, we teach our children in elementary school the skills they need to succeed in middle school, and so on. These executive functioning skills include prioritizing tasks and assignments, managing time, organizing materials and belongings, and learning to self-regulate. All of these skills ultimately help our children, teens, and young adults with ADHD to successfully accomplish school and life tasks, while developing a sense of self-efficacy or a solid sense of self.

For college students, a 504 Accommodation Plan is needed and gained through the Office of Disability Services for the specific university or college. A diagnosis is required as well as documentation from a professional indicating the need for a 504 Accommodation Plan and specific accommodations needed based on a diagnosis (ADHD, anxiety) or a psycho-educational evaluation indicating a Specific Learning Disability in addition to ADHD and the types of accommodations needed based on what the data is supporting.

Differences between a 504 Plan and an Individualized Education Plan

If your child or teen has a diagnosis of ADHD, your child may be eligible for a 504 Accommodation Plan or an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).  A 504 Accommodation Plan gives your child accommodations within the classroom for homework, test taking, organization, standardized tests, projects, and papers. It requires a diagnosis by a professional (neurologist, psychiatrist, pediatrician, developmental pediatrician, or psychologist).

An IEP provides a special education program that requires testing (educational and psychological). Eligibility is based on a diagnosis provided by a professional (neurologist, psychiatrist, pediatrician, developmental pediatrician, or psychologist). Your child or teen’s ADHD diagnosis must be impacting your child’s ability to access the general education curriculum. Services available include Pull-Out Resource or In-Class Resource for certain subjects, as well as related services (such as speech, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and counseling). An individual or shared paraprofessional can also be a part of the IEP.

Accommodations for your child’s 504 Plan or Individualized Education Plan (IEP)

Below are a variety of organizational strategies for the school environment, as well as strategies for managing educational activities at home:

Elementary School Students

  • Weekly desk clean-out.
  • Weekly backpack clean-out.
  • Teacher review of accuracy of assignments written in daily planner.

Middle and High School:

  • Weekly check-in with Guidance Counselor to review grades and (missing) assignments.
  • Weekly check-ins between teacher and student to lesson, re-teach, or repeat content to ensure that the child has an understanding of the topic being taught.

Writing Strategies

  • Use a visual graphic organizer (e.g., the hamburger, ice cream, spider, etc).
  • Break down writing assignments into smaller parts with short-term deadlines.
  • Review written work before submission to review the accuracy of the prepared paper and allow for feedback and edits.

Taking Notes in Class

  • Teacher-generated lesson outlines for students to follow and fill in information.
  • Gaining notes from a peer note-taker.

Test Taking

  • Extended time on tests, quizzes, and class-based projects.
  • Allow for tests/quizzes to be taken in a low-distraction classroom.
  • Study guides are provided a minimum of 2 days prior to an assessment.

Sensory Strategies:

  • Allow for movement breaks throughout the day
  • Consult with Occupational Therapy and class teacher each month
  • Allow for fidgets or other types of sensory tools to improve attention and decrease restlessness
  • Allow the student to chew gum or hard pretzels during break

You can also use these strategies at home:

  • Break down a multi-step task into 1-2 steps at a time (school-based or activities of daily living).
  • Color code notebooks and folders for each subject so that your child isn’t processing the word “S-C-I-E-N-C-E” but rather the color green, for example.
  • Set a timer for a homework assignment and work against the timer. This will take a task that can feel endless and give it a time limit and an end.
  • Post reminders or information to be remembered (e.g., pack lunch) on a post-it note or set an alarm on a phone, tablet, or Alexa-type of device.
  • Take pictures of your child doing the activity, step by step, and use that to guide the morning or bedtime routine.
  • Place your child’s desk in a corner between two walls, away from windows and doors. Keep the surface empty. Place all materials in bins in the drawers.

Repetition and consistency within the home and school environment will help our children, teens, and young adults with ADHD to build the skills that they need as they enter into the next developmental phase.

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