Children with ADHD and school

One of the greatest dilemmas parents of children with Attention Defecit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) face is the dilemma of children with ADHD and school. The majority of the population approaches education in a very matter of fact manner. They wait until the year their child turns 5, and then they register them in the public school system. They don’t put much thought into the matter, except maybe to sigh that their baby is growing up so fast. Another, smaller portion of the population prepares for school at home, and yet another portion registers their children in a private school of their choice.

Whether you send your children to public or private school, or home educate them, you likely already know that ADHD can rock the boat in a big way. The biggest question is, what is the best thing you can do for your child with ADHD to improve their learning experience.

Common indicators that your child has ADHD

Before you can understand how to help your child, you need to establish whether they actually have ADHD or not. There are 3 main types of ADHD, and they each look different.

  • ADHD inattentive type. The inattentive child is often not disruptive as we tend to picture children with ADHD. Rather, this child is a day dreamer. They are easily distracted, and have a hard time staying focused on the task at hand. Because of this, they often fail to follow through on instructions, and leave tasks incomplete. They also easily make sloppy mistakes, and are by nature somewhat disorganized.
  • Hyperactive – Impulsive type ADHD. The hyperactive/impulsive type ADHD child is the child who seems to be driven by a motor. They get up when they’re supposed to sit, they run, they climb, and they fidget. They don’t seem to understand how to wait their turn, and talk without ceasing.
  • Combined type ADHD. Children with combined type ADHD are both inattentive and hyperactive.

If you suspect your child may have ADHD, you might want to have them assessed by a medical professional. Doing this is not always easy. You may be uncomfortable talking about your child with them present, or you may blame yourself for the struggles your child is having. You may be hesitant about putting a “label” on your child, or the effect an official diagnosis could have on your child’s self-esteem. Fortunately, there are many resources available online to help you better understand how you can help your child.

If you are interested in more detailed medical advice I would suggest you visit CADDRA is the Canadian ADHD resource alliance. It can be helpful to take some documentation along to your first doctors appointment. I have provided you a link to 2 great assessment checklists below.

  • This form offers a quick overview of the most common symptoms of ADHD. It is also the form many (Canadian) doctors will ask you to fill out before they make a formal diagnosis. Fill one out yourselves, and find a second person who spends a significant amount of time with your child to fill out a second copy of the same form. If you do wish to see a doctor about your child’s behavior, take both copies along.
  • This is an in depth assessment of more than just ADHD. Many children with behavioral issues end up with a diagnosis of more than just ADHD, or completely separate from ADHD. Again, it is a form used by (Canadian) doctors in assessing patients with behavioral issues. It is sufficient if you bring only one filled out copy of this form along to the appointment.

Understanding why your child with ADHD is struggling in school

It is not difficult to understand how ADHD could affect your child academically. It is common sense that it will be difficult to score well on a test if you forget to finish half the questions. It will be nearly impossible to thoroughly understand a lesson, if you are drifting in and out of focus mentally while it is being taught. Doing well on assignments will be a challenge if you are inclined to jump ahead and do the work before reading the instructions.

The direct effect ADHD might have on a child’s academics is fairly obvious to most people, but what is often overlooked, is the impact ADHD can have on a child’s mental health. Mental health problems like anxiety and depression are extremely prevalent among children with ADHD. While some believe there may be a genetic link between the two, I personally feel that in many cases a common set of external circumstances are to blame for the decline in the child’s mental health.

Children with ADHD tend to be labeled as “problem children”


It can be FRUSTRATING as a parent/teacher to deal with ADHD behaviors. When a child is constantly breaking things, hurting others, failing to listen to instructions, disrupting classroom instruction, and getting into mischief it is DIFFICULT for the parent or teacher to remain calm and patient.

But let’s allow ourselves to consider for just a moment what might happen if the vast majority of those things happen simply because the child’s brain is hard-wired to be impulsive. Although the child meant no harm, they continually seem to “get into trouble”. After a while that child will begin to believe that they are worthless and nothing but trouble. They will become depressed because they can’t seem to “be good” no matter how hard they try.

Please don’t think that I’m saying children with ADHD should be given freedom to do as they please. Children with ADHD need to learn how to function in the real world just like all other children, but the manner in which they are corrected often leads to a negative self-image. Positive reinforcement is often much more effective. Give them praise when you see them do the right thing, rather than merely pointing out what they do wrong.

Children with ADHD frequently struggle to maintain friendships

Just think about what we teach our children about what it means to be a good friend. We tell them to share their toys. We tell them to take turns while playing. We certainly teach them never to push or shove, and we tell them to listen to their friends ideas during play time.

Now picture the child who successfully does all these things meeting a child with ADHD. The child with ADHD may have been taught the exact same things at home, but it is SO difficult for them to remember these things when they’re actually playing. They are impulsive by nature, and they might only remember to wait their turn after they push their way into a line. They might have three times as many ideas for what to play as their neuro-typical friend, and of course, they want to try them all. Unfortunately, in their own enthusiasm they often forget to ask what their friend might want to do.

While we would love to believe that all children are sweet and innocent, the harsh reality is that children can be cruel. It’s hard to keep being a friend to someone who is pushy by nature, and at best, many children will avoid building friendships with the ADHD child. At worst, the child with ADHD will become the victim of bullies.

Whether the child with ADHD is merely struggling to make friends or a victim of bullying, it often results in social anxiety. The child feels out of place and becomes anxious, especially in social settings like school.

What happens when ADHD is combined with poor mental health

Poor mental health can dramatically change the way any child behaves. Children with ADHD are no exception to that rule. While an official diagnosis for ADHD typically requires the behavioral difficulties to be present both at home and at school, poor mental health can cause a child to behave completely differently depending on where they are.

At home your child might be agitated and restless. They might complain of stomach aches, and have a hard time settling down to bed. You could be living with tantrums and meltdowns before and after school, while their teacher at school sees nothing but an unusually quiet and withdrawn child.

In our case, we repeatedly sought help from the school system, but received very little support. Our son was pegged as a good kid who was just a little shy. What we as parents knew was that he was everything but shy. He was miserable, depressed, anxious, and generally unhappy.

Helping your ADHD child learn at home

Pulling your child out of school is not the ultimate fix for ADHD behavioral difficulty, but it can be a powerful tool that can be used to consistently help your child deal with depression, and ironically social anxiety.

Home educating your child with ADHD will require a complete commitment from your side to provide structure and consistency. Any child needs these things, but a child with ADHD needs them to an exponentially magnified degree. You will not make progress unless you are willing to be there, be empathetic but still firm, and be consistent.

Continue to encourage your child to make friends, and give him or her opportunities to socialize, but keep the pressure light. Allow the child to conquer their fears in small, bite sized pieces. Throwing them into crowds of people often causes the child to become overwhelmed and shut down.

Work with your child in choosing the best curriculum and/or learning materials to meet his or her needs. Children with ADHD are bright, and fully capable of learning. They are often more curios about the world around them than other children, and therefore have an immense capacity for absorbing new information.

Finally, love your child. Love them with all your heart and without reservation. This might seem obvious, but unfortunately, it is all to easy to become your child’s greatest critic. Let them know that they are loved unconditionally, and keep your temptations to criticize their every mistake at bay. Nothing can touch a child’s heart like the constant, tangible love of the adult that is caring for them.