10 questions parents of ADHD children should ask their schools

Boy thinking in class
Whether you’ve just found out your child has ADHD, or are checking new schools for your ADHD child, use our list of key questions to get all the information you need.

Each special educational need requires learning extra information to help your child, but it can be difficult to know what it is you need to know! When it comes to ADHD, there are certain things that it’s important to be aware of about your child’s school. Here to help are experts Fin O’Regan, SEN and Behaviour Consultant for the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT), and Sheila Keeling, the founder of ADD+UP, a group for parents of children with ADHD.

“The core symptoms of ADHD are hyperactivity, inattention and impulsivity,” says Fin. “Though each child will display the symptoms in different ways, children with ADHD will require a teaching and learning environment that is structured, flexible and can develop positive rapport, relationships and role models.”

1. What are the classes like?

“It is vital not just to meet the headteacher and to read the school policies, but to visit the school in action. Consider issues such class sizes, how the seating is arranged, and whether the children appear motivated,” Fin says. “Get a sense of the atmosphere of the school – does it feel inclusive or exclusive? Don’t consider it for the location; does the school feel right for your child? Trust your instincts!”

2. Do the teaching staff know about ADHD?

“It is vitally important that you find out in advance that the headteacher, SENCO, and teachers in the school are aware, accept and understand the learning styles of children with ADHD,” explains Fin. “This includes TAs, midday support and any other member of the school who may come into contact with the children,” adds Sheila.

3. How flexible are the teaching and learning arrangements?

“Not only do children with ADHD require flexibility in terms of teaching style and management, but many of them may have specific learning difficulties with handwriting, spelling, etc,” Fin says. “As a result, what arrangements does the school have in place to support these issues?”

4. What are the arrangements for homework?

“Studies report that children with ADHD take up to three times longer than traditional learners to complete the same piece of homework,” Fin explains. “How will the school deal with this issue?”

5. What alternative arrangements are available during unstructured time and times of change?

“Children with ADHD feel most at ease with structure and routine. As a result, it is common for most incidents to occur not during class time but during break and lunchtime periods,” says Fin. “What alternative arrangements are in place during these times that can provide greater structure? For example, are there rooms where specific supervised activities will take place at this time?”

“It’s very important to prepare children for changes – a supply teacher, or even changing a display,” says Sheila. “We know from experience that when a child’s regular teacher is not standing in front of them in the morning, this can throw them out for the day. The big one is the summer break because the children know that when they come back they will have a new classroom and a new teacher. I would ask how the school manages changes – including sudden ones.”

6. How does the school support issues of difference?

“Though it is likely that most children with ADHD will have a range of issues, there are some common traits of fidgeting, disorganisation and sometimes frustration that can occur,” Fin explains. “Be up front about this, and find out how the school would support these issues.”

7. How does the school handle bullying situations?

“Unfortunately, many children with ADHD can have problems with socialisation. Because their ‘social radar’ does not always function correctly, they can annoy and irritate their peers and can therefore be bullied by other children,” says Fin. “Find out in advance what the school would do in these circumstances. Does a peer mentoring arrangement exist? How do they deal with bullying situations? Are there after school clubs or activities that could help develop friendship groups?”

8. Is there someone at the school who could be a mentor?

Sheila says, “It’s important to have a mentor, a regular member of staff that the child can talk to and a place they can go when they need to.”

9. What’s the best way to communicate?

“Determine who will be your regular school contact and how you will communicate with them, whether it’s by phone, text or email,” Finn recommends. “In this way, you can be quickly and regularly informed of any issues regarding your child.”

“Building up that relationship between parent and school is huge,” Shelia emphasises. “A parent needs to feel confident that when they need to discuss their child or issues that there is someone there to deal with things and not allow issues to fester.

“However, a parent needs to be prepared to work with the school to understand the limits of what the school can provide for their child to ensure that relationship works,” she adds.

10. What is the school’s policy about ADHD medication?

“It’s important to understand the school’s attitude with regards to children with ADHD who require medication support,” says Fin. “Are they prepared to administer medication if required and/or communicate with the child’s doctor with regards to monitoring progress or issues such, side effects when necessary?”

For more information, check out the ADHD Partnership Support Pack put together by ADHD-Europe and an expert European ADHD Awareness Taskforce.