How to Do Well in School with Attention Deficit Disorder

Two Methods:Structuring Your MaterialsWorking with the School System

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), now called Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) is a behavioral condition that affects attention span, concentration, and focus. Having ADHD can complicated many aspects of your life. Since ADHD is generally diagnosed at a young age, performance at school is one of the biggest concerns that children and parents alike deal with on a daily basis. Although it can take some work, there are many ways to help you succeed in school with ADHD.

Method 1
Structuring Your Materials

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    Establish homework folders. One major problem that children with ADHD run into when going to school is a lack of focus on work that needs to be done. In order to help with this, make yourself two homework folders. One should be a "To Do" folder and the other should be a "Completed" folder. In order to keep yourself more organized, take any handout that relates to your homework and place it in the folder. Keep a few sheets for loose paper in the folder as well to keep track of any book work or written assignment that does not have an accompanying handout. Once you have completed the assignment, move it over to the "Completed" folder or mark it off the list.
    • Make sure you check this folder every day. Keep it with you at school and make sure you put all of your assignments in there.
    • If you have some assignments that you have weeks to work on, think about making a separate folder labeled "In Process" to house the assignments that are works in progress, such as research papers or projects. This will help you keep them separate from the day to day assignments that are due.[1]
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    Organize your class materials. One of the best ways to help your focus is to have everything laid out for you in a particular place. In addition to the homework folders, you need to have all of your school materials in a specific place. This will help you find things and keep track of everything you need for school.
    • Have a different folder and notebook for each subject. Clearly label the front of each with the name of the subject, the name of the teacher, and what time a day you are in that class. Not only will this help you stay organized, it will also help you remember all the other important details about your class.
    • If you think you might lose the folders and notebooks if you keep them separate, try using large three ring binders instead. You can keep all of you notes and handouts in the same binder and keep the classes separated with dividers. In this case, label each divider to keep track of where each class is.[2]
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    Reward good work. Small tasks can not feel like achievements at all when you do them every day. In order to make yourself stay more on track, find ways to reward yourself in small ways. If you focused enough to study hard for an exam and made a good grade, give yourself a small treat, such as watching your favorite TV show, going to the movies, or some of your favorite candy. If you see that your good work is rewarded, you will be more likely to work hard and focus on your assignments.
    • Don't give yourself rewards if you fail to do your tasks. You only want to encourage good behavior.[3]
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    Schedule your day. Children with ADHD need consistent structure to follow. If you have a hard time staying on task, try scheduling your weeks before they begin. Over the weekend, make a calendar of the week to come. Put in the hours you are at school, any time dedicated to after school activities, enough time for homework every night, as well as leisure activities. Don't forget to ADHD extra time in for studying when you have a test coming up or time to work on a paper when you have one due in the near future. This will help you stay focused each day and stay on track with your studies and extra curricular activities.
    • If you have a job, make sure to write down your schedule each time you get it from your supervisor and ADHD it to your weekly schedule. This will cut down on any problems with timing and will help you stay in your boss's good graces.[4]
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    Work on assignments every day. When you have a large assignment coming up, remember to work on it every day. If you put it off to the last minute, it will likely not get done. When you make your schedule, put down some time to work on a paper or project that may not be due for a few months. This will help you stay on top of assignments that are longer and more involved.
    • Treating them like homework every night will help you stay focused on them and get them done.
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    Use a fidget. A fidget is an object, such as a stress ball, that can be used to help you concentrate. If throughout the day at school you find yourself antsy or distracted, take out the stress ball or other object that will not interrupt class and squeeze it. Use it to release some of your pent up energy and use it as an anchor to help you focus. Visualize your focus getting clearer with each squeeze of the ball.
    • Keep this object handy so you can grab it at a moment's notice. If you think it might cause a problem with your teacher, talk to him and tell him why you have it. He should understand and let you keep it as long as you don't misuse it.[5]
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    Limit distractions. In class, distractions can make you lose focus, which can cause you to miss important information, learn less, miss assignments, and fall behind in class. In order to prevent this, limit your distractions in class. Don't have anything on your desk except what you need to have out. Try to sit away from friends or people who may distract you. Also avoid sitting near a window or the door to the hall. This will help you focus and stay on track.
    • If you have assigned seating, ask your teacher to move you to a more appropriate location that will help you stay focused.[6]
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    Get enough sleep. Lack of sleep can increase the symptoms of ADHD. Being tired can affect your attention span, memory, and problem solving skills. In order to cut down on the symptoms you have at school, get a good night's sleep every night.
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    Make studying manageable. For most people with ADHD, sitting for long periods of time is not possible. In order to make studying more manageable for you, break it up into smaller pieces. Study in 30 minute chunks and then give yourself a five to 10 minute break. Spend the break doing something that will help let off some of your excess energy or a span issues, such as a level on a video game or a quick job around the block. Then once back to studying for another 30 minutes. Repeat until you get your studying done.
    • Set an alarm for each segment of your activities. This way, you will actually study for the necessary period of time and then only break for the amount of time as well.
    • If you think you can study longer, try going longer between breaks. If 30 minutes is too much at once, go down to 20 minutes. No matter how long you study, try to work up to a longer session of studying if you can. This will help you increase your concentration skills and make you a more effective studier.[7][8]
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    Practice. All of these methods may not come easy to you at first. ADHD can make it hard to put some of these things into action, but know that once you do, they can help you become a better learner and do better in school.
    • Instead of trying to implement them all at once, try one at a time.
    • Get someone to help you start these methods. Ask a family member, close friend, or teacher to help you incorporate these changes into your school and home life.
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    Talk to your teachers. If you are having issues with your school work, ask your teacher or teachers for help. Each has likely dealt with a student with ADHD before and will understand your need for Additional assistance. If you are having trouble concentrating, ask them if there is a way for you to change your seat. If you have issues when you take exams, ask your teachers if you can take your test in another room, if you can wear headphones, or sit away from other students to avoid distractions.
    • Your teachers may also be able to structure your assignments more rigidly to help you do them in smaller chunks.
    • Don't be embarrassed to ask and make sure you are respectful. Your teachers are there to help and they all want you to succeed.[9]

Method 2
Working with the School System

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    Get involved with the teachers. Parents should discuss a variety of topics with your child's teachers, such as effective rewards and consequences, how to establish effective homework routines, how they will communicate on a regular basis about problems and successes, or how parents can mirror what teachers are doing in the classroom for greater consistency. For some students, success will be obtained relatively easily by establishing consistent schedules, routines, and homework communication methods as well as utilizing effective organizational tools such as planners, color-coded binders, and checklists.[10]
    • Unfortunately, even with outstanding cooperation and effort by the adults, many children still will not succeed and will need more intensive services available through the school or district special education department. In some cases, rigid teaching methods by inflexible teachers are the issue. In these cases, parents must seek administrative support or look into changing teachers, changing schools, or exploring special education options.[11]
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    Seek Additional help. In most school systems, children qualify for free special education services based on one of two basic reasons. Either they have a qualifying disability or they have fallen far behind their peers academically. Once parents become aware their child is not succeeding in school and they feel additional help is required, which is an opinion usually made in conjunction with the classroom teacher, parents may request a special education evaluation, a request that should be done in writing.
    • This is the first step to securing assistance that can take various forms, from minor accommodations like extra time to take tests to self-contained classrooms with teachers and aides who are specially trained to deal with children who exhibit behavioral disruptions. [12]
    • Once qualified, a child with ADHD may have access to other school-based services, as well, such as riding home in a smaller bus with extra staff who supervise students more closely than a lone driver is able to do.
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    Look into an individualized education plan (IEP). After providing documentation of your child’s ADHD diagnosis and completion of a special education evaluation that shows the child’s disability is interfering with his education, you will be asked to participate in an IEP conference. An IEP is a formalized document created by school staff and parents that spells out the academic, behavioral, and social goals of special-ed students. It also outlines how results will be determined, specific interventions that will be used to achieve the goals, and any other issues that deal directly with your child's educational needs.
    • It also lists decisions made concerning self-contained classrooms, percentage of time in mainstream classrooms, accommodations, discipline, testing, and any other special accommodations.
    • The school is legally bound to follow the guidelines laid down in the IEP, so teachers failing to follow the IEP open themselves and the school up to liability. The school also is required to invite parents to regular IEP conferences to evaluate the progress of the child and the effectiveness of the plan then make adjustments as needed. Once a child has an initial IEP, it becomes easier to establish special education services when changing schools or transferring to a new school district.
    • Never sign a prefabricated IEP. Each IEP should be personalized for your child's particular situation. Never sign anything until you have gone over the fine points with the teachers and principles.[13]
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    Obtain help from IEP Transitional Services. When children on IEPs hit age 16, the focus of the paperwork changes toward transition services. Up to that point, goals have focused on achieving academic, social, and behavioral success in the school setting, but when any child turns 16, the focus changes to needs that relate to what your child will do as she moves beyond the secondary school setting. The IEP Transitional Services will work with your child to help achieve this.
    • All students with ADHD will benefit from career guidance, which includes familiarity with job applications, resumes, and interviews. Many will need special college preparation, which encompasses searching for the right institution that will support specific needs, obtaining accommodations for testing, and deciding how to address special needs during the application process.
    • High school students with ADHD may be behind their peers in life skills areas, which is also addressed at this point in time.
    • Experts also recommend talking directly to teens with ADHD to rein in their natural anxieties and reassure them they will not be kicked out of the nest when they hit a magical age. You need to help assure your child that parents, school staff, and possibly therapists will work together with them to insure she has the skills she needs to survive and thrive as she transitions into adulthood.[14]


  • If your child is too young to do some of these things on her own, help her out. Work with her to get organized, be the one responsible for the rewards when she does well, and make sure she uses the homework folders. As she gets older, teach her how to use these methods herself in order to make them useful when she is older and works more independently.

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Categories: Attention and Developmental Disorders | Surviving School