High School: Busy Days Ahead

With more choices and greater challenges, high school requires all the skills you can muster.

ADHD in High School: Busy Days Ahead ADDitude Magazine

Exhilarating and unnerving, demanding and rewarding. High school is a time of exploring new interests, trying new activities, meeting new people. Each year, teachers will push you farther. You'll be handed bigger challenges and more responsibility for meeting them.

With the simpler demands of middle school behind you, you'll need study skills, time-management tools, and organization strategies more than ever.

During these years, you'll begin to think more abstractly, try on new identities, and question what your place in the world should be. At the same time, making friends and fitting in are top priorities; you'll need to recognize social nuance and cope with peer pressure. This is a time to truly understand the challenges of ADHD - where it can trip you up, and how you can compensate.

This is also the time to become your own advocate. With your parents' support, you can be an active participant in getting the help you need. Start by meeting with each of your teachers to explain how you learn best and how they can help you stay focused and organized. When you're ready, take an active role in your special-ed team meetings to get the accommodations that will allow you to succeed. By the time you leave high school, you should be able to determine when and where you need help, and how to get it.

Academics: Keeping Up, Pulling Ahead

Many high school teachers begin the school year with a lesson on responsibilities - keeping up with classwork, handing in assignments on time, asking for help when needed. The message for students with ADHD or learning disabilities? It's up to you to engage the strategies that help you learn, focus, and manage your time.

Some of these require the teacher's approval - sitting up front, away from distractions, for instance. Others involve accommodations outlined in your IEP. For the most part, though, you're in charge.

  • Bring order (and color!) to your notes. Take class notes in outline fashion, using graph paper and colored pens or highlighters to help the main points jump off the page. Use the same technique for reading assignments, so you won't have to read material twice.
  • Review early and often. Immediately after a difficult class, review your notes. Then read them again in the evening. Reviewing notes on the day you take them can double the amount of information you retain. Multi-task (quietly). Do your homework or read in class, if it helps you to focus. (Consider sitting in the back, so as not to distract others.)
  • Break down complex assignments. Complicated, long-term projects can be your undoing unless you break them into manageable chunks. In the research stage, use color-coded sticky notes in books and articles to designate each subtopic; cut and paste online materials into a word-processing document. Decide on a deadline for each section, and set alarms in your electronic timer to remind you when it's due. Some students promise to show sections to their teachers along the way to keep themselves accountable.
  • Follow your interests. Look for ways to weave your passions into papers and projects - you'll be much more likely to focus. If you're a runner and you have to write about ancient Greece, for example, research the history of the marathon.
  • Master test-taking. Check with your teacher about what material will be covered and the format of the test - you'll study differently for an essay test than for a multiple choice. Break the material down and review it over several days. Tutor other students, or have a study buddy quiz you. Find a memorization strategy that works for you. You might create new lyrics to a popular song, or use flashcards or mnemonics. Students who learn visually may benefit from drawing or building a physical representation of concepts.
  • When in doubt, seek help. In high school, as in earlier grades, teachers are your allies. But now they want to see what you're doing to help yourself. If you don't understand something, bring in notes or an outline to show which parts you get and which you don't. If you're struggling with a paper, show what you've done so far.


During these pivotal four years, expect your teen to be less receptive to your involvement in his schoolwork. This is normal, and you'll avoid many struggles by accepting it. Right now, it's more important to keep your relationship strong and the lines of communication open - even if the math make-up doesn't get handed in. Consider yourself less of a coach and more of a partner, working with your child to achieve school success.

Each year, pull back a bit more. By senior year, your child should be taking the reins - figuring out what she needs, setting priorities, and arranging for the right kind of help.

  • Start each year with a plan. Sit down with your child to discuss the upcoming school year. What challenges are in store, and what kinds of support might she need? Together, determine who will talk to teachers and school officials, and how and when to approach them. Make sure you both attend team meetings to revisit IEP and 504 accommodations.
  • Get outside help. If your child is confused by calculus or daunted by English composition, bring in a tutor. If he struggles to keep track of assignments or deadlines, consider hiring a coach. At this age, he's more likely to accept help from others than from you.
  • Plug in. If possible, provide a computer with high-speed Internet access at home to be used for research or for accessing assignments online. Consider an electronic calendar to help your child structure her study time.
  • Provide a challenge. Kids with ADHD sometimes fail when they're not sufficiently engaged. Consider moving your child into an accelerated class, or enroll her in a summer course at a local college. Many kids thrive in tough environments when doing something they love.
  • Offer rewards. Even at this age, rewards are a great motivator. Try verbal encouragement, greater privileges, an increase in allowance, or a special trip. Frequent rewards - on a daily or weekly basis - usually work best.

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TAGS: ADHD in High School, ADHD Kids Making Friends, Organization Tips for ADHD Kids, Homework and Test Help, ADHD Time Management

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