8 Tips to Pick a School for Your Child With ADHD

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on May 25, 2015
4 min read

From kindergarten through grade 12, the average American student spends 2,340 days in school. That's a lot of time! No wonder you want to pick a positive place for your child to learn.

School can also be a major factor in the long-term success of a child with ADHD. Whether you’re looking for the right school or want to make the best of where they go now, take a closer look at these eight things.

One of the first things you should do is to talk the school’s leaders and educators -- the principal, vice-principal, and the teachers -- to better understand how they approach the learning process.

"Get an idea of who they are and what their learning philosophy is," says Terry Dickson, MD, director of the Behavioral Medicine Clinic of NW Michigan, and an ADHD coach.

Specifically, find out how they approach kids with ADHD.

"What do they offer?" Dickson says. "How do they position these kids for success and help them thrive? Is there flexibility in the learning program to adjust to a student's needs? How do they model good behavior? These are some of the questions you should be asking."

When it comes to some kids with ADHD, structure in school is a good thing, notes Patricia Collins, PhD, director of the Psychoeducational Clinic at North Carolina State University.

Schools that are suited to a child with ADHD focus on structure and consistency as core foundations for learning, with clear timelines, processes, and expectations, and they take a step-by-step approach to learning and homework. If your child's school doesn’t make these a part of what they do, ask about how you can help.

Of course, all kids with ADHD aren’t alike. If structure doesn’t work well for your child, perhaps a less structured approach, such as Montessori, may be a better fit.

Teachers can be excellent role models for all kids, but this is especially true for kids with ADHD, notes Dickson, who is a parent to two children with ADHD.

A teacher who is impatient and judgmental will make most kids resist learning, but those children might get by. For a child with ADHD, it could derail his entire school year.

A school that encourages a values-based learning process and prides itself on teachers who are excellent role models will most likely be a better fit. You'll want your child to be taught by people who are firm but offer integrity and who create a safe and comfortable learning environment.

Children with ADHD do much better using a hands-on approach to learning, Collins says.

To ask a child with ADHD to sit and listen for hours will probably not work. So instead, look for a school in which kids are actively engaged in learning by experience.

Find a school that offers excellent educators and also has a strong support network of guidance counselors, school psychologists, and special education teachers, Collins suggests.

A well-rounded team of experts will help ensure your child with ADHD is getting all the support he needs to be successful in the learning environment.

The school-student dynamic is critical to a child's success, but so is the school-parent interaction, Dickson says.

The best schools for kids with ADHD are ones that encourage and maintain an open dialogue between parents, teachers, and administrators, so everyone is on the same page as to what's working well and where there are opportunities for improvement.

The average student-to-teacher ratio in the U.S. public school system is about 16 students to each full-time teacher.

When you're looking for a school for your child, ideally, you want this ratio to be better than average, Collins says.

The smaller the ratio, the more hands-on learning and attention your child will get. That extra time will hopefully translate into a better education.

For many parents, picking the perfect school isn't an option. Regardless of whether you have the opportunity to choose, both Collins and Dickson agree that the best thing you can do for your child is to be his advocate.

Make an effort to meet the teachers and administrators. Check in frequently to be sure that you are have the same goal. Work together, stay productive, maintain an open dialogue, and use all of the school's resources to help your child have a positive educational experience.