School Advocacy

Why Are We (Still) Failing Students with ADHD?

Greater understanding of ADHD today has not translated to enlightened classrooms across America.

Young students walking down hallway of school
Young students walking down hallway of school

We’ve come a long way in our understanding and treatment of ADHD. Decades of well-executed studies have yielded a vast collection of articles that resulted in greater understanding of the developmental course of ADHD and the contemporary perception of ADHD as a lifespan condition.

Today, we understand the importance of studying the functional impact of ADHD, including the impediments it may represent, the strengths inherent in an ADHD profile, and the impact of the condition on daily living, social interactions, and academic or professional performance. Yet I am convinced that many of the gains made over the past 25 year have not found their way into the classroom.

Issues in Education: Bearing Witness to Parents’ Frustration

I am a clinician, teacher, consultant to schools, and writer. My most recent, and perhaps most rewarding, role has been that of expert on ADHD and dyslexia for an app called Wunder, created by I write weekly posts on topics related to living with and caring for children and young adults with learning and thinking differences. I respond daily to the questions that come in from an ever-increasing audience of now more than 8,500 members. Here’s a brief but representative sample:

[Read: Only 4 in 10 Educators Receive ADHD Training]

“My child is in seventh grade. Despite a longstanding diagnosis of ADHD, his teachers refuse to believe he has this condition. They complain about his uncooperative behavior, implying that it’s due to poor parenting.”

“I have so many kids in my class with ADHD and IEPs or 504 Plans. I’ve had several in-service trainings on ADHD, but I’m not a special educator. I just don’t know what’s expected of me. And if I’m being really truthful, these kids aren’t learning much and I feel guilty every night.”

“Our son has a poor memory, has the attention span of a butterfly, and is falling behind every year. He has a very poor self-concept and says he’s not doing well because he’s stupid.”

“I think my child has ADHD (I think I have it too), but the school says it’s a medical condition and they can’t diagnose it. I don’t know where to turn.”

[Read: Inadequate Teacher Training Stifles Students with ADHD]

And there are more like these every single day.

Issues in Education: Bridging the ADHD Divide

Despite the impressive gains we’ve made the past quarter of a century, too many kids are still not living up to their full potential. Too many dedicated teachers are struggling to make a positive difference in these kids’ lives, without the knowledge, the skill, or the resources to achieve that goal. Parents and families continue to suffer as they watch their kids fall further behind, become more anxious and depressed, and try to escape the stress and stigma that they face each day.

Unless and until teachers in training and in the classroom learn about the growing body of research about ADHD, and how that research can translate into strategies and procedures that can be integrated into daily classroom practice, countless kids will continue to fall behind. In the coming years, this disconnect between research, teacher training, and parent education must be addressed by thought leaders in medicine, education, and mental health.

Issues in Education: Next Steps

 Jerome Schultz, Ph.D., is a clinical neuropsychologist on the faculty at Harvard Medical School. This article is part of our “25 Years of ADDitude” collection, which reflects on the past, present, and future of ADHD and ADDitude since the publication’s founding in 1998.

Since 1998, ADDitude has worked to provide ADHD education and guidance through webinars, newsletters, community engagement, and its groundbreaking magazine. To support ADDitude’s mission, please consider subscribing. Your readership and support help make our content and outreach possible. Thank you.