School & Learning

5 ADHD Roadblocks That Undermine Academic Achievement — and How to Help

Solutions to common ADHD-related school challenges — from getting started and planning ahead to procrastination and disorganization.

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What's in Your Child's Way?

All students intend to do well. For students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), executive function deficits often cause a disconnect between intention and action. The disconnect shows up in many ways, from difficulty getting started on homework and planning out long-term projects to challenges with staying organized.

During the ADDitude webinar, "New Year, New Strategies: Helping Students with ADHD Plan, Persist, and Achieve Their Goals," we asked nearly 1,000 attendees, "When working toward a goal, where does your child need the most support?" Here are the answers they gave:

  • Maintaining motivation: 24.09%
  • Following through: 20.65%
  • Getting started: 18.83%
  • Organizing time and materials: 18.62%
  • Planning ahead: 7.09%
  • Prioritizing work: 5.06%
  • Communicating: 3.64%
  • Incorporating feedback: 2.02%

Read on to learn more about the roadblocks that interfere with ADHD students' school-related goals, and strategies for overcoming each hurdle.

Girl thinking about story of the book she is reading at a table inside a school with blurred shops background. Student looking distracted, bored, not paying attention
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1. Resistance to Seeking and Accepting Help

"My child thinks he can handle everything by himself, but he can't. And he doesn't want his parents' help. Where to start in this battle?"

"Any tips on getting them interested in changing? Convincing them to ask for help?"

"Lack of motivation and negativity are big obstacles for my ADHD son."

"My 10-year-old 2E (ADHD/Gifted) son shuts down when things get difficult and he won't accept help from me or teachers. How do we move past the shut down and the stress of moving forward or even getting started?"

Solutions to End Resistance

  • Avoid asking questions that put your child on the defensive. Lead with questions like the following:
    • Would you mind if I shared my thoughts on this?
    • Would today be a good day to take a look at where you stand on homework?
  • Empathize with your child. Listen, nod, name the feeling, and hear your child out as they talk about their challenges. When children feel heard, they are more likely to be invested and co-own the situation.

ADHD Resistance Problems: Next Steps

Boy drawing on daily schedule dry erase whiteboard calendar
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2. Weak Planning & Organization Skills

"What do you do with a high school student who is burned out on parents trying to help them use a planner?"

"It's like pulling teeth to get [our child] to tell us what he has on his to-do list."

"How do I help an 11-year-old who resists all looking ahead/scheduling/calendars/planning?"

"We hear very little when we sit down for a family planning session. We tend to discover later on that my child has missed assignments or has work due very soon."

Solutions to Improve Planning and Organization Skills

  • Preview the week. Every weekend, review your child's assignment notebook or learning management system, and schedule for the upcoming week. If a full overview is too much, start with previewing one day out of the week (or another starting point acceptable to your child).
  • Set up a launch pad. Designate a place at home where your child can put all their school items, from backpacks and supplies to sports equipment.
  • Get creative. If planners don't work, would your child be open to using a whiteboard? An app?

Planning and Organizing for Kids: Next Steps

female teenager feeling stressed studing at home.E learning.Home schooling
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3. Chronic Procrastination and Overwhelm

"My son has difficulty even getting started. In his head, if he cannot do something perfectly then he doesn't want to do it at all. I have tried to tell him that marks do not matter to me and that I just want him to at least try, but nothing has worked."

"My son will always procrastinate homework/studying. It’s always, 'I'll do it later.'"

"My son is a huge procrastinator for any assignment he doesn't want to do, leading him to wait until the last minute and then panic as he encounters any issues."

"Can you speak to procrastination adrenaline and how to break that habit?"

Solutions for Procrastination

  • Understand procrastination. Avoidance is an issue of emotional regulation, not time management. Have an open conversation with your child about what they find overwhelming about a task. Normalize and validate their feelings.
  • Use the Pomodoro technique. Ask your child to focus on a task for five or ten minutes, followed by a short break, to reduce overwhelm. Repeat two or three more times, and then allow for a longer break.

Procrastination Strategies for Students: Next Steps

3D rendering, Row of alarm clocks, showing different times
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4. Time Estimation Challenges

"What do you suggest if a child consistently underestimates homework time? How would you get across to them that this will take longer and they need to rethink this without getting into an argument?"

"Calendaring makes a lot of sense to me, but what if your child totally blows through the time mapped out for a task? For example, they think a task will take them 30 minutes, but it actually takes them 60 minutes. Or they plan to complete a task during a certain block of time, but they aren't motivated and the task doesn't get done."

Solutions for Time Estimation Challenges

  • Bite, muncher, or gobbler? At minimum, help your child understand if a task is a bite (only takes a few minutes to do), muncher (takes more than an hour), or a gobbler (takes days, like an essay).
  • Use a Time Timer. This visual timer will help your child see the passage of time instead of relying on their internal clock.
  • Ask questions to get your child thinking. It's tempting to want to swoop in with I-told-you-sos when your child underestimates how much time a task takes. Instead, ask your child questions like, "Given how this task went last time, do you think you'll need more time?"

Time Estimation Challenges: Next Steps

A boy distracted on his smartphone while he's supposed to be e-learning
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5. Managing Distractions and Following Through

"How do I get my high schooler to put down the phone during homework time? He has FOMO (fear of missing out) and doesn't want to miss texts from friends."

"What to do when they calendar it, but don’t ever follow through?"

"I have to help my son make a daily to-do list (shared with me on cloud reminders and my calendar) to keep him on track. I have tried encouraging and explaining the motivation behind setting up for work. But nothing works on his own if I don’t drive the actions."

How to Encourage Follow Through

  • Ask about priorities. A question like, "Don't you have homework to do?" will put your child on the defensive and likely cause them to shut down. Instead, ask, "What are your priorities? What's one thing you can do today that will make you feel good?"
  • Get input from your child. Say, "I noticed it's hard to stay on track with your work when you're on your phone. What can we do to limit distractions?"

Increasing Follow Through: Next Steps

Young students with backpacks walking down hallway of elementary school
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Academic Achievement for Students with ADHD: Next Steps

To learn more about how to help students with ADHD in school, listen to the ADDitude Expert Webinar, "New Year, New Strategies: Helping Students with ADHD Plan, Persist, and Achieve Their Goals" with Ann Dolin, M.Ed., which was broadcast live on January 24, 2023.

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