Dear ADDitude

Dear ADDitude: Can My Daughter Use Hyperfocus on Schoolwork?

“My 10 year old is 2 years behind in math and reading because she just can’t focus to learn and complete her work. But she loves art and can stay focused on drawing for hours. How do I get her to give just a little of that focus to academics without using medication?”

ADDitude Answers

You say you wish she could transfer some of her focus on art to academics. That would be ideal, but not likely due to her ADHD. An ADHD brain is interest-based-it can focus really well (sometimes too well) on what it is interested, but can’t focus on things not interesting to them: Secrets of the ADHD Brain.

I would definitely request a school evaluation since she is behind academically. She could have additional learning disabilities. My son does. Start by reading: Understanding Common Learning Disabilities.

Getting special ed services and accommodations could make a big difference for her at school. Here’s a sample letter to request an eval:Sample Letter to Request Accommodations for ADHD Students.

Consider medication again. It can really help with focus and academic success. The right medication will not make her feel funny. If no one is there to give her a pill in the mornings, the Daytrana patch might be a great solution, as it usually takes 1-2 hours to kick in, but it can also be removed at any time.

Or a non-stimulant that is 24 hour, like Intuniv, might benefit her some.

Posted by Penny
community moderator, author on ADHD parenting, mom to teen boy with ADHD, LDs, and autism

A Reader Answers

I’m wondering if she has had a full IEP evaluation. There are modifications and accommodations that could help engage her longer, plus extra tutoring/special instruction to help her catch up. We’ve also found a great therapist who helped our daughter with confidence, feeling she has some control, and that her skills will continue to improve with age and practice. The therapist was very helpful in explaining how medications can be useful when used correctly and how it may take some trial and error to find the right medication/dose. Best wishes.

Posted by A-Mom

A Reader Answers

We had my son stay behind a year in school when he was younger and didn’t keep up with subject learning, and in hindsight, it was really a great decision. His executive function delays continue to be a challenge as school work has gotten progressively more difficult, and assignments harder to keep track of. So his extra maturity and our additional experience working with the school is helping him stay afloat. The huge benefit is that our socially delayed ADHD child is with peers more aligned to his maturity, so he doesn’t feel singled out.

Posted by momtodom

A Reader Answers

It’s time for you to start advocating for your daughter. You know what is best for her. I have a son who has never met an academic benchmark ever, and I would never hold him back due to the impact it would have on his self-esteem.

Your daughter might need an IEP to get appropriate accommodations and modifications at school that will help her learn. Likely, you will have to fight for services.

Trust your instincts. You and the school need to identify what is going on with her. She may need special education services to keep up, or she may have a learning disability like dyslexia or dyscalculia that is preventing her from learning reading or math.

Have a full psych/academic evaluation done so you know what you are facing. Good luck!

Posted by Pdxlaura

A Reader Answers

I also tried the natural route. It was good for awhile, but eventually medication was necessary. Don’t be afraid to try it. It can really help with attention in school. It may take several trials with different medications to find the right one.

Hire a tutor. Take your daughter to the library every other week and get books that are at her reading level on subjects she likes, like drawing. The librarian can help find these.

Start to ask math questions about anything in the environment. The more emphasis you place on learning the better she will be. Also ask, in writing, for an educational evaluation. Your daughter may need a 504 plan with accommodations or she may have some learning disabilities and need extra help. Do it earlier rather than later. Your daughter’s educational success depends on you being her advocate.

Posted by Bensonadvocates

A Reader Answers

Try the Ross Greene approach. Sit your daughter down and say, “We have a problem here. It seems you are so into your drawing you are missing your teacher’s instructions to work on reading or math. While I know you enjoy drawing when you are in school you need to comply with the teacher’s requests. Do you have any ideas as to why this might be happening?”

From there you figure out a solution that all are agreeable to and then agree to sit down and modify it if it doesn’t work.

Have a reward plan in place if you can – so for each day she comes home and says it was a good day (she stayed focused on classwork) then she gets extra computer time that night or something like that. Good luck!

Posted by UdderlyCrazy

A Reader Answers

Here are just a few strategies you can use to help with the challenges of ADHD.

Politely request (as a parent) or allow for (as a classroom teacher) the following for a student:

1. Being seated near the teacher or other presenter

2. Printing of worksheets on pastel-colored paper (white-paper background can cause focusing issues for some)

3. Using graph paper while doing any math work to help promote placeholder accuracy

4. Having unit, course, or book content available via audiotape or CD

5. Underlining or highlighting important key words in a set of directions BEFORE beginning an assignment or task

6. Folding a worksheet or list of instructions into sections so that only a small amount of text or information is visible at one time

7. Having access to a copy of a peer or co-worker’s notes, especially after a lecture or other oral presentation

8. Using special reading and learning tools, especially tools that can be customized for the individual reader or learner

For MORE strategies, visit

Posted by Miss Joan

A Reader Answers

I hear your frustrations. I have an ADHD daughter who is 13 and has a learning disability. We started homeschooling about 3 years ago.

I do think about medication for her from time to time. For now her pediatrician says she can drink coffee in the morning to help. But when she goes back to traditional school, I know she’ll have to go on medication.

Mostly it’s been a lot of trial and error to find curriculum that fits her and me. Computer based curriculum tends to work better for us. Making sure she gets enough sleep helps her attitude and work ethic.

Focusing on what she enjoys helps as well. For instance I’m trying to teach her how to write essays. Her history curriculum has lots of writing in it but she does not enjoy it. But she is a big fan of animals and horses. So I suggested she write an essay on horses. She’s all over it!

For math we use Thinkwell. She doesn’t love it but so far it’s been the best program for her ADHD and memory processing issues. There are about three 3-5 minute videos for each lesson. Then there’s a worksheet for practice. And then a 9 question quiz. It’s doesn’t go into multiple ways to reach the same answer. The lessons are very short. They are videos of a person. It is rigorous. All these things keep her going in math.

Our ADHD kids hyperfocus on what they love. Find ways to make school about what she loves. That may help!

Good luck!

Posted by Lilies&Orchids