Ask the Experts

What to Tell the School About Your Child’s Medical Needs

Prevent the 11:30 meltdown by following these steps to talk about ADHD medication with your child’s school.

A doctor explains ADHD symptoms and solutions to avoiding homework stress to a family.
A doctor explains ADHD symptoms and solutions to avoiding homework stress to a family.

Each September parents of kids with attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD) go through the same drill. You may wish to say nothing, but you absolutely must inform the school nurse, the classroom teacher, and other educational staff about your child’s condition.

If you’re lucky, there will be an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or a 504 Plan in place, both of which identify and mandate the services and accommodations your child needs. If not, it’s up to you to make sure that everyone involved understands how to best help your child.

The classroom teacher

Frequently, teachers don’t inform parents about classroom problems until the first teacher-parent conference, often in late fall. Parents of ADHD kids can’t wait that long. Tell the teacher that you need to know from day one how your son or daughter is doing.

Tell the teacher what medication your child takes, which behaviors the medication is supposed to target, and what the side effects might be. If you’re in the process of adjusting your child’s dosage, the classroom teacher is your key contact to help you determine whether the medication is working for target behaviors such as hyperactivity, distractibility, or poor impulse control. Ask the teacher to inform you immediately of any side effects.

Remind the teacher to be sensitive. No calling out in class, “Billy, did you take your medication today?” or “Mary, isn’t it time to go to the nurse for your medication?” Such statements are humiliating to kids and could turn them off to taking the medication they need to function normally.

Many students with ADHD also have learning disabilities, so ask the classroom teacher to monitor for academic problems that might suggest problems with reading, auditory processing or motor skills. If there appears to be an issue, have your child tested so that you can identify the problem and get the appropriate help.

The school nurse

If your son or daughter takes medication to manage ADHD, the nurse has to know. Even if your child takes an all-day medication (so the nurse doesn’t have to provide a midday dose), the nurse must know which medication is in use. Side effects may develop, or an emergency may occur that requires medications that could interact with the one your child takes.

If doses are to be given during the school day, your physician must complete forms with instructions for providing the medication. Again, if your child takes an all-day formulation, ask your physician for literature to share with the nurse.
Develop a back-up plan should you forget to give your child the morning dose. With advance planning, the school nurse can be given permission to provide the morning dose if you call in to request it.

When starting or switching medication, the school nurse can be your greatest ally. Dosages of ADHD medication can vary widely with each child. The prescribing physician might start at a low dose and slowly increase it until the optimum dose is found.
During this time, the school nurse can help monitor the dose and gather information from the classroom teacher on the functional impact of each dosage increase.

Other educational staff

The gym teacher, art teacher, music teacher, recess monitor, lunch room monitor, school bus driver and others who interact with your child outside the classroom need to be aware of the need for increased structure, supervision, or special models of teaching.

ADHD students are most likely to run into problems during unstructured activities and transitions. Each adult must know the contents of your child’s IEP and/or 504 Plan. Each must also know whether increased structure or specific modifications are needed.

Even though it’s going to be a busy September, covering all your bases now will make for an easier year. Your child has a medical condition that requires careful monitoring and supervision. Working closely and cooperatively with the school staff will assure that your child achieves maximum academic and social success.