Tips for Talking to Teachers about ADHD

During the academic year, school-age kids spend at least six hours a day at school. Add in extracurricular activities beyond the regular school day, and those six hours can easily become eight or 10.  This means that kids spend 25% or more of their time with adults other than their parents—mostly teachers.

As every parent and teacher knows, however, the symptoms of ADHD don’t disappear once your child walks out the front door and gets on the bus. In fact, the classroom setting can present teachers with unique behavior management challenges when trying to teach children with ADHD or related conditions. Communicating effectively with teachers is one of the most important things you as a parent can do to ensure that your child receives the supports and structures needed for success.

Here are five tips to help foster better communication and cooperation with teachers.

  1. Understand the teacher’s mindset. Terry Illes, PhD, a school psychologist, explains that there are two main schools of thought regarding ADHD and behavioral disorders in general. The first is the “Behavioral” model; the second is the “Academic” model.Under the Behavioral Model, teachers will ascribe undesirable behavior to motivation, and thus see it as voluntary and willful. This leads to a cycle where the teacher will work to “stamp out” the behavior instead of teaching the child new skills to adapt to the classroom environment. Under the Academic Model, a teacher will recognize the behavior as involuntary and will work to teach new skills over time to help the student maximize potential.Finding out which mindset a teacher has can go a long way towards figuring out how to approach that teacher and how to work with him or her to better understand your child’s needs and provide for them.
  2. Work with, not against, the teacher. Approach your child’s teacher as an ally rather than as an adversary and acknowledge your responsibility as part of your child’s education team. If they are unfamiliar with ADHD, provide the teacher with the basic information, the science behind it and the common treatments. Solicit feedback. Make the teacher part of the solution so that he or she has a stake in the process. Be open about past difficulties and current challenges.
  3. Start before the school year begins. Don’t wait until the child is already in school and making an impression that can be hard to shake. Be proactive and write a letter or send an email to open communication with the teacher and prepare him or her for your child’s behaviors and requirements. Use the message to make the teacher aware of your child’s ADHD and of any learning programs, such as a 504 Planor an Individualized Education Plan. You might also express a desire to meet in person either before the school year or shortly thereafter.
  4. Establish a system for meeting the child’s needs and keeping in contact. Treat the teacher as a partner in your child’s education team. Let your child’s teachers know if there are some major changes going on in your family since your child’s behavior can be affected. Invite the teachers to contact you with any issues or concerns before they become a problem as well as regular progress reports. Find out what accommodations can be offered or developed to meet your child’s needs. Arrange for regular meetings to monitor your child’s progress and make adjustments if needed to the accommodations. Having open lines of communication between you and the teacher will help your child.
  5. Don’t go it alone! Raising a child with ADHD can be, at times, frustrating and demanding. But there are many other parents facing similar situations. Check out local CHADD support groups, message boards, and other resources where you can turn for advice and community.

It is crucial to keep an open line of communication with teachers to allow plans and systems to be adjusted as needed and to ensure that your child is making progress. By taking steps ahead of time to prepare teachers for children with ADHD, parents can save a good deal of stress and heartache up front. Like any good relationship, the key to an effective parent-teacher partnership is open, honest, two-way communication.

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