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Back to School: Help for Children with ADHD & Learning Disabilities

Achieving Success at School

It's almost back-to-school time, and for school children with attention deficit disorder (ADHD) and learning disabilities such as dyslexia, that can mean fun, learning, and some big challenges.

ADDitude's tips will help parents and kids with ADHD and LD overcome challenges – not be overwhelmed by them. A good start to the school year can make all the difference.

Back-to-School Tip #1: The IEP or 504 Plan

A 3-step plan for success before school starts

1. Reread your child's current IEP or 504 Plan. What goals have been met? Which areas remain trouble spots?

2. Schedule a meeting with your child's support team. Bring anything that will illustrate your child's abilities: educational assessments, report cards, notes from the teacher, tests, or homework assignments.

3. Together, decide which goals you'll focus on this year. Which strategies delivered results? Which ones didn't?

Don't have an IEP or 504 Plan yet? Here's what you need to know to secure help for your child.

Back-to-School Tip #2: Talk, Talk Talk

3 important conversations to have before school starts

1. Talk to your child: Educate your child about her ADD while accentuating the positive. Remember that with challenges, ADD also brings positive traits, such as creativity and enthusiasm.

2. Talk to the teacher: Dr. Ned Hallowell says that building rapport with the teacher is key to a student's success. Whether you write a letter or meet in person, explaining your child's situation (such as ADHD medicine or accommodations) will enable the teacher to meet your child's needs. Then, meet again a month later.

3. Talk to the doctor: If your child is taking medication, or if you're considering a trial period, talk to the prescribing doctor to make a plan just before school starts. This will give you the time to fine-tune the dose and timing. After a few weeks, have a second conversation with the doctor to compare notes.

Back-to-School Tip #3: Medication and School

A 3-step process to ensuring coverage at school for a child who takes ADHD medicine

1. The medication authorization form: Ask the school for the form, which allows the school nurse to administer ADHD medication. Have your child's physician fill it out, providing information on the diagnosis, medication, time and dosage.

2. The prescription: Your doctor will need to write prescriptions for both home and school. Have the pharmacist label a separate bottle with specifications for school use.

3. The follow-up: Return the form, with the medication, to the school. Talk with the school nurse and your child's teacher about their responsibilities, asking them to alert you if they notice side effects or if your child misses a dose, for example.

Back-to-School Tip #4: Making Friends at School

3 ways parents can get involved to help kids with ADHD get along with others

1. Be explicit about expectations of proper behavior. Post guidelines for respecting each person's space, words, and ideas, with signs in the classroom or at home. Use specific and positive terms to praise your child: "I liked the way you shared your toys with Tina" says more than "You were good at recess."

2. Invent games that foster empathy. Role-play difficult social interactions, such as disagreeing with a friend. Then swap roles to let your child experience the other point of view. If your child has trouble reading social cues, use magazines or TV characters to identify body language and facial expressions.

3. Keep in mind your child's social maturity. Even if he's academically OK, think of him as being socially younger than his classmates. At home, let your child play with younger kids to develop leadership skills.

Back-to-School Tip #5: Homework Helpers

3 keys to consistent routines at home and school that lead to academic success

1. Consider your child's daily rhythms. Avoid homework wars by having your child complete her homework sooner rather than later—if not immediately upon coming home from school, then certainly before supper. If your child's an early riser, the morning (before school) is a terrific time to get homework done.

2. Have a plan of attack. This includes the what, where, and when your child will do her homework. Pick one dedicated homework location, such as the kitchen table if she need frequent reminders to stay on task. Help her stay organized by keeping all supplies at that location. Then, each day, strategize together: How much work has to be done? What looks easy? What looks hard?

3. Reward accomplishments and good behavior. Try small, tangible rewards for small, tangible feats. With the assignments your child really hates, such as math, there's nothing wrong with offering a small treat – from a grape to a gold star—for each successfully completed sentence or math problem.

Back-to-School Tip #6: Last-Minute Ideas

4 helpful considerations to keep in mind as the school year gears up

1. Get organized. Use systems for organizing time, papers, and supplies that your child can manage independently, such as colored folders for different subjects and storage bins for pens, rulers, and so on. Talk with parents of children a grade ahead of your child for an idea of what to expect from this year's assignments.

2. Set goals. Brainstorm attainable goals that your child might achieve in the next school year, such as turning in homework on time each day. Focus on strengths and areas that need improvement.

3. Pick after-school activities. Choose activities that will enhance his strengths and provide opportunities to work on tasks he finds challenging. If your child needs more physical activity, consider sports or dance. Does he need to practice focusing and recalling information? Try the chess club.

4. Make a calendar. Talk with your child about daily, weekly, and monthly schedules. Agree on predictable routines, school, extracurricular and social activities, tutors and homework helpers, and so on. The more input your child has, the more likely he will follow through.

Back-to-School Tip #7: Better Behavior at School

3 tips parents and teachers can use to help children control impulses, fidgeting, and disruptive behavior—and be ready to learn—at home and in the classroom.

1. Clear expectations: With your child, compile a list of house rules (or, for teachers, make class rules with your students). Be explicit about how your child is to behave: Instead of telling her to "be good" on the playground, instruct her to "wait in line for the slide, and don't push."

2. Predictable consequences: In general, discipline should be immediate; a delayed consequence, such as after-school detention or taking away a weekend privilege, doesn't work for kids who have trouble anticipating outcomes. Consider using a daily report card to spark positive behavior in the classroom. Behavior often improves when rule-breaking results in the loss of something a child values.

3. Positive incentives: An effective reward-and-infraction setup at home or in the classroom is the Stoplight System, which uses a stoplight graphic, clothespins, and tokens to charge for infractions and reward good behavior. Remember to acknowledge good behavior with specific praise, such as, "Jon, I appreciate how quickly and quietly you got your backpack ready today."

Back-to-School Tip #8: Sure-fire Organization Tips

4 tips to get students clutter-free and ready to learn, by building organizational systems that keep papers and supplies in their proper place.

1. Bring order to your child's room. Separate ongoing projects, finished work, and school and art supplies into labeled bins, folders, file cabinets, or an under-bed box. Provide a shelf for books and a bulletin board for reminders. Organize her locker in a similar manner.

2. Simplify the flow of papers. Homework, permission slips, and PTA letters are easily lost or crumpled during transitions. Buy three clear, pocket-type folders—labeled "Mail," "Homework to Do," and "Completed Homework"—to keep papers organized.

3. Post a master calendar. It should show all upcoming activities, projects, and deadlines. Keep it in a central place where it will be seen before school. To help with time management, use a timer. Make a game out of predicting how long various activities take.

4. Give your child a pad of sticky notes, and encourage him to post special reminders on mirrors, doors, and elsewhere.

Back-to-School Tip #9: Following Directions

4 tips to build better concentration using focus games, non-verbal signals, and practice.

1. Always establish eye contact. Consider pausing while giving instructions until your child's eyes meet yours. Improve focus by breaking down large jobs with multiple tasks into smaller, single steps. Be specific and brief, and have the child report back to you upon completion of the task.

2. Teach self-monitoring. Help your child become aware of which things distract her. One technique for older kids is mindful awareness. With time and practice, she'll begin to recognize when her attention is drifting.

3. Play attention-boosting games. Use creative ways to reinforce attention and good listening skills, such as classic children's games Simon Says and musical chairs.

4. Use positive reinforcement. If your child agrees to do something, but gets sidetracked by something else, try to "redirect" rather than punish. In class, use non-verbal signals to remind kids to stay focused.

Back-to-School Tip #10: Revving Up Reading

5 ways to creatively reinforce the skills your child learns at school.

1. Ask for predictions. When reading a book with your child, stop occasionally to ask what he thinks might happen next—it doesn't matter if his hunches are correct. Asking for predictions helps you gauge his reading comprehension and encourages him to pay very close attention to what he is reading.

2. Work as you go. Don’t leave the gathering of information until the end of a long reading assignment. As your child reads, have him identify on sticky notes the who, where/when, problem, and solution of each section.

3. Play word games. Dedicate each week to mastering a specific word sound. For instance, find 10 things in your house that contain the “kuh” sound—his coat, backpack, clock, or kitten. Serve carrots, cucumbers, and milk for dinner. Find the kings and jacks in a pack of cards.

4. Translate figures of speech. For kids with language-based learning disorders, reading that a character "took the bull by the horns" can stop them cold. Together, compile a list of expressions and what they mean.

5. Use alternate formats. Allow your child to follow along with books on tape or let her substitute alternate chapters from a novel with CliffsNotes or other abridged material.

Free ADHD Handouts

Printables designed to help children and adults with attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD)

1. Special back-to-school report: 9 Ways to Achieve Success at School

2. A Parent's Guide to School Accommodations

3. Talking with Teachers

4. Letter to the Teacher

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