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ADD/ADHD & School

What special services are available in schools for children with ADD/ADHD?
Children with ADD/ADHD often receive special services or accommodations to assist their educational development. However, a diagnosis of ADD/ADHD does not automatically mean that a student will receive services or accommodations. Rather, a school must determine that a child is substantially limited in educational, behavioral, or social functioning (i.e., there is an educational need for services) due to the disability of ADD/ADHD. A student with ADD/ADHD can qualify for services under two distinct federal laws: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Section 504 is a civil rights law that typically provides educational accommodations for students with less severe impairment. IDEA is a special education law that meets the needs of students with more severe impairment. A child with ADD/ADHD who qualifies for special education services under IDEA will do so under the category of Other Health Impaired (OHI). There are many laws and policies that ensure that schools meet the educational needs of children with ADD/ADHD, and the type and quantity of services usually depend on the amount of impairment present and whether the student is served through 504 or special education services.

Parents of a child who is suspected of having ADD/ADHD or who has already been diagnosed should consult with school staff to discuss possible eligibility for services through either 504 or special education.

What are some helpful educational accommodations/services provided by schools for eligible students who have ADD/ADHD?

Some of the educational accommodations/services provided by schools for students with ADD/ADHD might include (but are not limited to):

  • preferential seating in the classroom (i.e., next to the teacher, in the front of the room, & away from windows and/or other distractions)
  • extended time on assignments and tests
  • the use of headphones or earplugs to reduce noise distraction
  • working in a small group setting (as opposed to a large, bustling classroom)
  • assistance with organizational and planning skills
  • taking frequent breaks (which may include breaks with activity)
  • allowing the child to have a more active or “helping” role in the classroom
  • using frequent, positive reinforcements for appropriate behavior
  • ignoring minor rule infractions
  • breaking up assignments into smaller “chunks” to make work more manageable
  • asking the student to repeat what was said back to the teacher to check for understanding.

The classroom strategies that would be most helpful to an individual student generally depend on the age of the student and the subtype of ADD/ADHD (i.e., predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactive/impulsive, or combined) experienced by that student.

My child is in the 2nd grade and is still struggling with learning to read, is becoming frustrated, and has a hard time sitting still at school. Teachers have mentioned attention problems. How do I know if my child has attention problems or dyslexia?

It is common for children who experience dyslexia to exhibit attention problems when trying to read. As frustrations mount, attending to almost anything will become preferable to reading. However, only a Licensed Psychologist or other qualified professional will be able to determine whether your child has dyslexia, ADD/ADHD, both, or whether another difficulty may be present. The psychologist will review the child’s history, gather information from teachers, and conduct individualized testing to assess cognitive abilities, academic skills, and attention. The psychologist will be able to determine the cause of your child’s reading struggles based upon on the results of the evaluation. A proper diagnosis is critical in determining which interventions, accommodations, and services would be most beneficial.

My son seems to have some attention problems in school but can focus on video games for extensive periods of time. So, how can he be possible that he has ADD/ADHD?

Many children who have ADD/ADHD are capable of paying attention to a select activity for extensive periods of time, while struggling to pay attention in other settings. Children with ADD/ADHD are seen to have attention problems because they have a difficult time paying attention to activities that they consider “boring,” or those that are competing with other distracting stimuli. Conversely, most children without ADD/ADHD are capable of paying attention to mundane activities and tuning out extraneous stimuli when that is necessary. Regarding video games, they contain a rich amount of auditory and visual stimuli designed to capture players’ attention. Moreover, they offer immediate rewards and punishments for players’ behavior. In a way, video games contain the perfect environment for capturing the attention of children with ADD/ADHD. If only children could find their math classes as engaging as some of the video games at which they are so adept!