15 Ways to Address School Struggles for Children and Teens with ADHD

By Gene Carroccia, Psy.D.

Children and adolescents with Inattentive and Combined ADHD experience more academic and behavioral difficulties at school. They often have academic under-performance, lower grades, and homework, learning, reading, information processing, and behavioral challenges. Below are some approaches parents can utilize to address their problems and promote success.


For a more detailed look at each topic, read the book Treating ADHD/ADD in Children and Adolescents: Solutions for Parents and Clinicians by Dr. Gene Carroccia, published by Charles C Thomas Publishing, LTD

1. Creating a strong partnership each year with teachers and school staff allows ongoing collaborations to help address difficulties as they arise at school. Parents should firmly engage teachers and school staff, preferably at the beginning of the school year, to discuss child and adolescent academic, learning, and behavioral challenges. Contacts and meetings should occur regularly over the year, particularly if challenges continue. The school may not understand or effectively address school problems. Therefore, being an involved parent is paramount.

2. As part of this engagement, parents should strongly consider disclosing their student’s conditions and diagnoses with the school. While some parents are concerned and hesitant to disclose their child’s diagnoses or conditions to the school, for many families this is the best way to partner with the school to address the student’s needs.

3. Obtain outside of the school system providers to fully diagnose and treat psychological, speech, sensory processing conditions, learning disorders, and other neurodevelopmental conditions. Most schools do not fully assess and treat student’s conditions and some are not clear about what they do and do not offer. So, parents may have the misunderstanding that the school is addressing all of the child’s problems and may not realize that outside the school treatments may be necessary. Comprehensive diagnostic services are also important because a high percentage of children and teens with ADHD have multiple psychological and neurodevelopmental conditions that can impact their school performance and overall functioning.

4. If learning and reading difficulties occur, particularly if ADHD medication is used and are believed to be effective, explore if the student has an undetected visual processing disorder or learning disorder. Visual processing disorders and learning disorders will impact learning in significant ways and can be undetected by schools, primary care physicians, and other clinicians. Parents can obtain a visual processing evaluation from a behavioral or developmental optometrist (not an ophthalmologist). Neurodevelopmental or neuropsychological testing from a neuropsychologist (not a neurologist) will explore if they have a learning disorder or other conditions impacting their learning.

5. Obtain official Individual Education Programs (IEPs) or 504 school plans to address academic, learning, and behavioral school difficulties. According to federal laws, students with ADHD and other qualifying neurodevelopmental and psychological disorders, learning deficits, and medical conditions are entitled to receive a free and appropriate education (FAPE) which includes special accommodations, modifications, and school services. These plans are important because they help the school officially recognize the student’s difficulties and can help them receive the assistance they deserve for success. To initiate these plans, parents should use a form letter to formally request that their child receive a case study or psychoeducational evaluation from the school to explore if they qualify for a 504 plan or IEP. Documentation from clinicians can also help parents obtain official school plans.

6. Utilize educational advocates and consultants if families are experiencing difficulties with the school system in obtaining and consistently providing 504 plans or Individual Education Programs (IEPs). Advocates guide and coach parents towards obtaining the best educational services, plans, and accommodations, as well as protect a child’s educational rights. School administrations tend to be on better behavior when other professionals become involved with disability proceedings. They should know disability law, special education rights and needs, and relevant state school policies and procedures.

7. Effective ADHD medication can dramatically improve school functioning. If medication is used but seems unhelpful, explore if it’s the most appropriate medication and dose for the student because every brain is different and multiple meds should be tried. Be sure they are they consistently taking the meds and pay close attention to when stimulants wear off because homework, studying, and learning will be harder when this happens.

8. Use the homework/behavioral notebook system. This is a way of helping the student become more organized and accountable with their homework assignments and school behaviors. It involves the student writing down their upcoming tests and daily homework assignments. Then, obtaining teacher signatures to verify homework. For behavioral issues, students ask teachers to provide daily notebook ratings for their behaviors. Students then show the notebook to parents when they come home and earn positive or negative consequences that day based on if homework was written down and signed or their behavioral ratings.

9. Create effective homework routines at home. The homework notebook system is helpful by showing what homework was actually assigned and any upcoming tests. The homework area should be as free as possible from distractions, and parents should commit to be accessible to monitor the child’s work and be ready to sit down and assist them with their difficulties. Timers can be used to indicate when regular breaks will occur. Homework is best done soon after school, before playing or screen use, and particularly if stimulants are used because they typically wear off by dinner or earlier.

10. If grades decline, parents should expect students to initially say “I don’t know” when asked why they are under-achieving. Parents may need to become “detectives” to explore why this is occurring. The mystery can usually be solved by contacting the teachers to explore the academic areas to which the child is struggling and work on the difficulties. If students have chronic learning and reading difficulties, these should be further explored diagnostically and with official school plans (see above).

11. Teach study skills and encourage reading at home. Reading the material 1 or 2 times is not really studying. Most students are not specifically taught how to study effectively. Study skills involve reading the materials first, then doing something active with it like creating a study sheet with the material written out, and then memorizing the material. This should be done 2-3 days before tests. Also, those with ADHD often dislike reading unless they love the topic and are not in the habit of pleasure reading. It is never too late to encourage reading by getting reading materials they like and heavily rewarding reading at home.

12. Create the routine of a weekly organizational review (Sundays are good days). This can include reviewing what tests, projects, and appointments will occur for the upcoming week, as well as cleaning our book bags and assembling school outfits for the week.

13. Request that teachers incorporate specific ADHD classroom approaches that are appropriate for the child. While some teachers may be resistant, if the student has a 504 plan or IEP, these may be able to be incorporated. These can include having a highly structured classroom, using a clear classroom behavioral management system, encouraging the student to approach and ask questions, seating near the teacher or aide, reduce workloads, and provide regular access to in-class break or rest area.

14. Work with tutors who are familiar with ADHD and learning disorder challenges.

15. Utilize educational therapists. While less common, these are professionals with various educational backgrounds and experiences who work with students with conditions. They can teach a range of academic skills, provide scholastic case management services, and are more comprehensive than tutors. They work outside schools in learning centers or private practices.

For more detailed information on these topics, read the book Treating ADHD/ADD in Children and Adolescents: Solutions for Parents and Clinicians by Dr. Gene Carroccia, published by Charles C Thomas Publishing, LTD