The move from elementary to middle school can be tough for any child, but for children with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), it can be harder. Luckily, you can make the move easier so your child is happy and does well in school.
“Middle school-aged children face increased complexities in school, going from only one or maybe two teachers in elementary school to multiple teachers and changing classrooms in middle school,” says Mark L. Wolraich, MD, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.
“Their workload also increases considerably as they move from learning to read to reading to learn, and they have to keep track of multiple assignments and activities,” he says. “The social challenges increase with the multiple teachers and a larger number of students they interact with.”
And they’re even tougher for children with ADHD. They often have a hard time staying focused and finishing work, and they make careless mistakes, Wolraich says. They also tend to have weaker social skills, which can cause problems with their more social peers.
To solve some of these problems and help your child get through middle school with ease, Wolraich offers the following tips.
Get a 504 Plan
If your child has ADHD and is in a public school or one that receives federal aid, they can apply for a 504 Plan under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Wolraich says. The goal of the plan is to bring interventions into the classroom so kids aren’t taken out of the classroom.
“Such plans can include preferential seating close to the teacher, reduced assignments if possible, extended time to take tests, and the ability to take tests in less-distracting environments,” Wolraich explains.
And this helps to ease the fears of parents who are worried their kids might be taken away from friends or singled out if they ask for special assistance.
Kelly Schmidt is the author of the blog A Mom’s View of ADHD and the mother of a 13-year-old son with ADHD. He’s in his third year at a public middle school in a suburb of Columbus, OH. Schmidt got a 504 plan when her son was in second grade but had it modified before he went to middle school.
“We met in spring of fifth grade before the transition to middle school to rework his 504 plan so it would carry over to the new school setting with the supports he would need to be successful,” she says.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Before your child starts middle school, make sure you, the principal, and the student's teachers are on the same page. That’s what Schmidt did before her son started sixth grade. “I asked him to compose an email to his teachers and mention a few things that he finds helpful that [they] could do for him. Such as, ‘I find electronics distracting, so please don’t seat me near the computers.’ He also introduced himself to his teachers, and we met each of them before school started when we did the tour of the school. This eased a lot of early jitters.”
Schmidt often emails teachers with questions or concerns. She also makes sure study hall or open periods are built into her son’s schedule, so a teacher can help him use that time to deal with organization, time management, and planning.
Take Advantage of Technology
Because of his ADHD, Schmidt says her son has a hard time keeping track of large amounts of paper, namely homework. She says technology is making it easier.
“In classrooms that use a textbook, we ask to have one at home so he doesn’t have to bring one back and forth. In most schools now, a lot of work is electronic. Teachers have their own classroom portals where they post homework online. If you forget it, you can go to the portal to print it out or look at it. I’ve also started scanning his homework and emailing it to the teacher.”
Work Around Social Issues
When it comes to friends, Schmidt says her son has kept some old ones and made new ones. He’s also been able to avoid a lot of bullying and gossip by not having a smartphone. “I hear from so many other parents about social problems that stem directly from kids using social media and texting,” she says.
Wolraich notes that many of these issues are a challenge for all kids, but even more so for those with ADHD. “Parents need to develop a good relationship with their child so they can detect bullying early and deal with it or have the school deal with it,” he says.
Schmidt agrees. She says parents of kids with ADHD can help them enjoy middle school and get through it with ease. They just have to listen, pay attention, and stay involved.
“The most important thing is to learn everything you can about ADHD and the accommodations that will equalize the playing field for your child, and then communicate with the teachers and the staff of the school. My advice would be don’t be afraid to reach out. Ultimately, you’re the expert on your child.”