Important New Research Alert: What you can do to make sure your student gets what they need

A recent national study of approximately 2500 youth with ADHD ages 4 to 17 revealed some alarming findings about how the needs of students with ADHD are NOT being met. Although the majority of students were receiving one or more interventions, the authors, led by George DuPaul, Ph.D. of Lehigh University found that at least one in three students with ADHD received no school interventions even though they showed significant academic and social difficulties.[1]

This is especially true for kids from non-English speaking and/or lower income families. Other shocking results: One in four students with ADHD had repeated a grade, one in six had been expelled from school. In addition, middle and high school students with ADHD were less likely than elementary school students to receive any school services despite similar if not worse academic and social functioning.[2]

Honestly, I am quite distressed by the results of this study. Given that school is often the hardest area of functioning for kids with ADHD and there’s been so much professional development for educators about ADHD in the past decade, I guess I had naively believed that things were better than this. While this study sheds a glaring light on the lack of educational support and interventions for ALL kids with ADHD, those youngsters from non-English speaking families or those with fewer means have educational needs that are particularly neglected. Such disparities in who or who doesn’t get help means that education—a fundamental American value as the path for people to overcome racial and/or socioeconomic obstacles to find success on their own terms—is actually thwarting kids with ADHD. This is completely unacceptable.

School-based interventions improve classroom behavior, academic performance and social relationships. For middle and high school with ADHD this current is particularly critical: they already run a higher risk for underachievement and dropping out. This current study also implies that services kids receive in elementary school are discontinued as they mature. It’s a sad irony I’ve seen too many times: when kids with ADHD have useful scaffolding and are doing better, the services are later withdrawn because of their success. Instead, these interventions need to remain in place to help with the increasing executive functioning demands for independence in middle and high school.

What can you do to make sure your son or daughter is getting the services they need?

  1. If your child was given a diagnosis of ADHD by a primary care or mental health provider and has not received an IEP or 504 evaluation, call the school and set up a meeting right away. Since your son or daughter already has a diagnosis and meets criteria for one of these interventions, you are entitled to have a meeting. Don’t be afraid to be persistent.
  2. If your son or daughter already has an Individualized Educational Program, a 504 accommodation plan or a Functional Behavioral Assessment Plan, you can request an informal gathering of administrators, teachers and counselors to discuss the support services that are already in place. You many also ask for a formal team meeting to re-evaluate the existing IEP and make changes to it.
  3. I recommend at least one informal meeting of the people at school who know and/or teach your child or teen per year so that you discuss academic and social goals and set up a method of communication that works for everyone. It’s great if the student can participate in part of this meeting as well so their perspective is both heard and integrated into the plan.
  4. If you are unsure about the level of the services that your child is supposed to receive or unclear if the services are indeed being provided, then consider one of these options: A) Asking for someone (of your choice or the school’s) to observe your child in a few different environments at school and share those findings with you and the team; B) Consulting with someone outside of the school such as a learning specialist, ADHD coach or psychotherapist to review what’s in place for your student and make helpful suggestions; C) Speaking with an educational advocate to help you assess your situation and look at possible options.           

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