How to Help Kids with ADHD Stay on Track in School (and Improve Their Academic Performance!)
By Dr. Robert Myers
If you're the parent of a child with ADHD, you're probably all too familiar with the numerous organizational difficulties they face. This may include not bringing the right books home and sometimes forgetting to complete homework, while at other times working hard on a school assignment and then forgetting to turn it in. They also have a tendency to work too quickly on projects, which leads to simple mistakes that bring down grades. And older students often have difficulty with time management, such as knowing how to break down a long assignment into smaller steps, or how to approach studying for a test that covers multiple units of instruction.
These difficulties are the result of impairment in what psychologists call "executive functioning." Children with age appropriate skills will be able to master these organization tasks with little or no help from adults. However, these do not come naturally to kids with ADHD. The good news is that they can learn these skills, and with an appropriate reinforcement program, can learn to implement the skills to the point where they become a new habit.
In fact, a recent study found that children who participated in an 8 week program to improve their organization skills were able to improve their academic skill and their GPA. (The study was reported in the School Psychology Quarterly and was conducted by a team at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.)
Parents can help by working closely with their child and his or her teachers. Work out a system for getting feedback from the teacher on assignments that are due and assignments that have been turned in. A simple form that is completed weekly or an exchange of weekly emails may be just fine. The parent can also work with their child in learning how to accurately record their assignments in a student planner. Take a look at the planners at MyStudyLife.com and select the one that works best for you and download it for free.
The next major project for parent and child to work on is to put together an effective homework binder. The study put forth the following criteria for binder organization: (a) a section for each class; (b) a folder in the front for homework to complete and one in the back for homework to turn in; (c) all folders and papers are punched for a three ring binder (no loose papers allowed).
Children will also need help organizing their book bag, which should limit extraneous objects and perhaps include a check sheet to make sure all of the necessary books are in place before leaving campus. If your child has a locker, you may want to go to campus and help him or her learn how to organize it to make it easy to find needed supplies. For more practical help on this topic I suggest getting a copy of the book, The Organized Student: Teaching Children the Skills for Success in School and Beyond.
Remember that teaching skills is important. Most kids with ADHD also benefit from a simple reward program to help them consistently employ the skills they've learned. This can be as simple as earning privileges, such as TV or video game time, each day they complete and turn in all of their assignments. It could also be a special outing on the weekend for a week of improvement. In some cases, you may start out with a requirement lower than 100% of their completed assignments. Even 50% may be much better than 10% or less. As your child shows improvement you can raise the bar. Shaping of behavior often works more effectively with children, especially those with ADHD. When the skills are well established you may throw a celebration and then discontinue the reward system. Remember that continued monitoring and praise for exceptional accomplishment should be ongoing.
Also, in addition to learning skills and improving behavior, children with ADHD benefit greatly from improving how they see themselves and others. This along with help on improving cognitive skills are provided as part of a number of components in the program which I developed as a comprehensive approach to be used by parents and kids working together as a team to achieve success not only at school but in life.
I'm a child psychologist who's worked with children with ADHD for 25 years. I also raised a son with ADHD. My son, Greg, was diagnosed at age 10. I understand how painful it is to watch your child struggle with attention and hyperactivity problems and fall behind in school because it happened to my son. I also know that kids with ADHD are bright, creative and highly talented. And with the right training and support, these children can succeed and excel in school and in life.