Ask the Experts

Q: What High School Accommodations Make the Biggest Impact?

ADHD symptoms shift throughout adolescence, which means the school accommodations that helped your child in elementary or middle school probably need adjustment in the teen years. Here are 6 accommodations effective for addressing executive function deficits in high school.

Q: “I’m working on getting an IEP for my junior in high school. Do you recommend any specific accommodations for helping a student with ADHD and poor executive functioning skills? He already sits in the front of class, gets extra time on tests, and gets guided notes (through a 504 plan). These aren’t helping.” – ADHDMomma

Hi ADHDMomma:

This is a great question and one I get very often — because it’s hard to know what accommodations to ask for without some initial trial and error. That said, here are a few of my “must-haves.”

1. Check for understanding. In my estimation, this should be our primary focus. I see it all day long in my coaching practice. Does your student REALLY understand what is being asked of him? In most cases, the answer is no.

The information or instructions are too big or too vague. Or your student did understand at the time they were given, but when it was time to actually sit down to read or work on the assignment, he realized that what he needed to know wasn’t super glued to his brain! So your son’s teachers need to check in to ensure he understands directions and new material as needed.

2. Homework clarified. Your son should have ONE way to write down and keep track of homework assignments. And, in my opinion, online doesn’t cut it. There is seldom consistency in how and when teachers post assignments. So please have your son’s teachers check to ensure that he has the correct homework recorded — ideally in a planner book — AND understands (see above) the directions and expectations of the assignments given.

[Self-Test: Could Your Child Have an Executive Function Deficit?]

3. Breaking down large assignments into steps. For long-term or multi-step assignments, your son will benefit from having the project broken down into tasks with benchmarks. Gathering resources for his paper on Mesopotamia is a lot easier for his brain to manage than “continue writing your paper.” And a tip within a tip: Ask for “Are you on track days?” My students love this. We add days to the calendar where there is no specific work to do. These days are to assess if the student is caught up and on track. Huge stress reliever!

4. Pairing oral instructions with written instructions. Yes, please! Hands down THE most helpful accommodation for my son for when he was in high school — and even now in college. His IEP stipulates that ANY instructions, even if just a date change for a test or assignment, MUST be given orally and in written form. We know that our ADHD students with executive dysfunction have a hard time sustaining effort all through class time. This accommodation truly helps my son have a backup plan in place in case he doesn’t “hear” everything.

5. Double desks. If your son needs to fidget to focus, this accommodation might really help. Instead of asking active students sit still in their chairs — or, worse, leave the classroom and miss important lecture time — ask the school to designate another spot in the classroom where your son can go when he feels the urge to move. It can be an empty table in the back of the class, a stool at a counter, or even an empty desk. Many of my students have this accommodation. Not only does it allow them to move around and work in a comfortable position, but it also keeps them focused by moving them away from possible distractions.

6. Listening to music while test taking. This is another must for my son and my students. I have students who are confident and prepared going into exams but then let their test anxiety get the better of them during the actual exam. Listening to music while test taking has helped to activate and soothe their brains while keeping the anxiety at bay. If you son suffers from this, ask the school if it will allow him to listen to music. Tip within a tip: Some of my students create different playlists for different subjects!

Good luck!

[Free Checklist: Common Executive Function Challenges — and Solutions]

Organization guru Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, answers questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

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2 Comments & Reviews

  1. As a Special Educator, some of the ideas above are not really accommodations, they are teaching strategies; such as, checking for clarification and pairing oral instruction with written instruction. Also, you need to think forward to college. The senior year IEP is what most colleges use for the Freshman year, so have on that last IEP of high school everything you want for college.
    My recommendation:
    For ADHD: extended time for tests including standardize testing (works for ACT and SAT), distraction limited environment (most colleges have a testing center even if the high school does not so you want that on the IEP), preferential seating for high school (does not apply to college – students pick their seats).

    If there is a reading or writing disorder: extended time for written assignments (applies to college too), use of assistive technology (do NOT have the psychologist include a list – new technology comes out all the time so you want this statement vague), do not penalize for spelling (used quite often in math and science classes), copy of classroom notes (usually your child has to get these through a peer so that it is accurate as to what was said in class).

    My rules that I tell my kids about peer notes: 1) do not pick a friend, (2) pick the ‘A’ student – ‘A’ notes mean ‘A’ test grades, (3) treat this as a business transaction, not friendship, (4) show gratitude through gifts throughout the year (nice gift card at Christmas and little other thoughtful gifts at other times like Valentines, Holloween, Easter).

  2. I know my comment is 2 years too late, but I wanted to add something.

    I agree with westj. All of the accommodations they recommend are ones that work very well in the upper grades of high school and into college.

    When selecting accommodations, keep in mind the feasibility for the student’s teachers and update them yearly, pulling out accommodations that are no longer age appropriate. As a general education teacher in high school, I see IEPs that are miles long because there are redundant accommodations and accommodations that are not feasible at a high school level.

    One I see most often that is just not feasible at the high school level is checking a student has written their homework in a planner. That is great for elementary school when the teacher has <30 students in one day. But unless all students in the high school are required to use planners, the teacher will not remember. The first and last 5 minutes of class are a jumble of different students needing different things. We can say that they are legally required according to the IEP all that we want, but with 32-35 kids in each class period and 5+ class periods a day, the possibility of all the student's teachers remembering 1 student that needs them to check their planner is small.

    A better alternative, especially since technology keeps improving, is to have the student take a picture of the assignment if the teacher posts it on the board (such as a set of assigned practice problems for math class) or the due date for an English essay where it is posted in the classroom. The student sets a reminder on their phone for the beginning of each class period to remind them to take the photo. Setting backup reminders is helpful too. This empowers the student because they feel on top of things on their own. I've even had one family take it a step further; the student would take a picture of the homework/due date and then text it to his parents as a another measure of accountability. If the school does not allow cell phones, having this specific type of accommodation written into the IEP will permit the student to do so.

    I have struggled with ADHD myself my entire life. I understand my students' struggles very well. A lot of teachers don't. Most don't understand the struggle of wanting to do "the thing", needing to do "the thing", knowing how to do "the thing", and yet not being able to do "the thing". A lot of parents who are neuro-typical don't understand either. Getting teachers to understand that a child with ADHD is not just a "lazy" or "willful" child, and that it is actually a neurological condition for which there is no "cure" is half the battle.

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