ADDitude Survey: Nearly Two-Third of Students with ADHD End Up Changing Schools
In a recent ADDitude survey of 940 caregivers, 100% of caregivers said they had considered changing schools for their child with ADHD — and 62.6% had already executed a school change due to inflexible curriculum, behavior challenges, anxiety, or another of the many nuanced factors weighed by families examining education options.
If your child has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD), there’s almost zero chance you haven’t considered changing his or her school due to attentional, behavioral, or learning differences. This is the finding from a 2018-2019 ADDitude survey of 940 caregivers.
Among the 493 caregivers of students with ADHD, 100% said they had considered changing their child’s school — and nearly two-thirds of those had already executed a school change. This staggering statistic dwarfs even the high rate of school change among the broader audience of caregivers — whose students have anxiety, learning disabilities, and autism spectrum disorder, among other diagnoses — detailed below.
All Caregivers: Have you changed or considered changing one of your children’s schools because of his/her attentional, behavioral, or learning differences?
|Yes- considered and changed schools||52.1%|
|Yes- have considered changing but have yet to do so||32.6%|
|No- did not consider or change schools||15.3%%|
Among the 84.7% of caregivers who said they had considered a school change, the most common inflection point was third grade (15.7%), the most common time for executing a school change was after fifth grade (12.1%), and the most common reasons cited were as follows:
- Inflexible curriculum that doesn’t fit the child’s learning style: 45.17%
- Anxiety on part of child: 41.35%
- Behavior challenges: 40.62%
- Social challenges/seeking a “fresh start:” 38.07%
- Teachers won’t work with parents/communicate: 37.7%
- Classroom size: 30.97%
- No (or problematic) implementation of IEP or 504 Plan: 29.14%
- Interested in services/resources current school can’t provide: 28.78%
- Refusal to consider/recommend special accommodations: 24.95%
Among those caregivers who said they had not considered a school change, the most common reasons were successful implementation of their child’s IEP or 504 Plan, adequate accommodations, and strong support from the school administration. Still, many parents said they had to persistently advocate for their child.
“My wife and I were RELENTLESS in following up with every teacher every year,” said one parent of a child who did not change schools through elementary, middle, or high school. “We asked for weekly reports on her progress and if there were any issues, we were at the school that day. My wife and I were never aggressive or unreasonable but we demanded the school follow each and every detail in my daughters IEP.”
The majority of respondents were caregivers for boys (71.1 %) and the students’ diagnosed conditions are detailed below; the percentages total more than 100% because most children were diagnosed with more than one condition:
|Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD or ADD)||44.1%|
|Learning Disability (LD)||21.1%|
|Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)||17.5 %|
|Sensory Processing Disorder||16.0 %|
|Autism Spectrum Disorder||14.7 %|
|Auditory Processing Disorder||5.5 %|
|Bipolar Disorder||2.4 %|
|Nonverbal Learning Disorder||1.7 %|
|Tourette Syndrome||0.9 %|
Changing a child’s school is a big, potentially disruptive decision, particularly for a student who reacts badly to change. Still, many parents felt the potential reward outnumbered the risks: “The meltdowns continued to escalate and he became very withdrawn and unhappy,” said one parent, referring to her child’s original school situation. “He refused to talk about school or how school went each day. His emotional outbursts were epic and took a serious toll on the family.”
Caregivers gravitated toward school alternatives nearby with which they were already familiar (47.8%). Recommendations from fellow parents were also helpful (45.0%), as was searching for schools online (42.5%). More than half of respondents considered public schools, though 34% of caregivers researched private specialized schools and nearly 30% thought about homeschooling. Also popular with public charter schools, private schools without a special focus, and religious or parochial private schools.
Caregivers cited a wide range of criteria considered when evaluating schools, including “low student-to-teacher ratios,” strong parent-teacher cooperation and communication, and “a very strong anti-bullying policy.” In evaluating these and other criteria, caregivers said they spoke with the head of the school (49.4%), toured the school with their child (41.9%), and spoke with teachers and parents of current students (37.5%).
Among families who switched their child to a new school, the vast majority saw improvement either “immediately” or “after a rocky start.” Caregivers used the words “relieved,” “happier,” “less anxious,” and “confident” to describe their children most commonly. Only two respondents said they regretted making the change, and a handful more reported a downhill slide after an initial improvement in the new environment. Most parents said their only regret was waiting too long to make the change; they wished they’d acted more quickly.
“My son went from spending Sunday nights crying by 4 pm and having to be physically dragged out of bed in the morning to wanting to get to school half an hour early to play on the playground,” said one satisfied caregiver. “While he still doesn’t LOVE school and he thinks it’s super boring, there are very few fights and no more tears. The change was immediate. My high-anxiety son, while obviously nervous about changing schools, went to the new school quite happily, which really showed us how bad things were before.”
Transitions do matter, the parents reported. And being very deliberate about how and when you execute the school change makes a big difference.
“We had a representative from the new school attend the old school’s IEP meeting to ensure that they could meet his needs,” one parent said. “We had our child shadow a student at the new school for a day prior to accepting enrollment. We worked with his therapists to promote buy-in and a smooth transition.”
Of the 940 survey respondents, 376 offered advice including the following to other parents considering a school change and for those who are working to mend a broken relationship with the current school:
“Talk to parents of the school you are considering. Especially those with children on IEPs or 504s. Ask about staff turnover. Have your child shadow! That really helped my child to take the unknown out of the change. Have a frank conversation with the SPED team to see if they can support your child — some schools flat out told us no. It was hard to hear but better to know upfront then to find out the hard way!”
“I would spend a lot more time discussing with the school administration and counselors the nature of my child’s situation and demand more emphatically for the assistance that the child needs, even if the grades are good.”
“If your child needs a change for whatever reason, and your family can accommodate that change, please do it. Do not keep him at the current school in hopes that things will improve there.”
“Don’t let any school official intimidate you into doing something that goes against your gut feelings. Educate yourself with your rights and responsibilities as a parent, and look for as much support as you can to help you with your decisions.”
“The grass sometimes is greener on the other side. But the challenging behavior issues will still follow the majority of the time, no matter what setting you end up in. Be ready to deal with the many same struggles you’ve dealt with in the past.”
“Try and get very specific help with a 504 or IEP from the school. They need to know that your child needs help. They also need to see and experience that ADHD and its co-existing conditions looks different in each child.”
“Take time for yourself throughout the process because you are the most important advocate for your child and you have to be strong to give them strength.”
“I recommend interviewing the principal and school counselors to find out whether they understand the latest science on ADHD. There are a lot of educators who have archaic ideas about ADHD.”
“Get informed, advocate for your child, use documentation of interactions with the school to support your position and make sure you know the laws governing education and disability laws where you are. Avoid ‘wait-and-see’ scenarios if your child’s well-being is the priority and remember that schools have a limited budget so they are not interested in focusing more funds than absolutely necessary on any individual student. Get an advocate or education lawyer if necessary and minimize the negative impact on your child. Keep the best interest of your child as the priority.”
“Keep the lines of communication open! Meet with school staff before making the change. Bring your child’s current plan and review, line by line, with new school to see how they would implement services.”
Updated on April 28, 2021