For Teens with ADHD: Strategies to Help at School

Health Writer

In a previous post we talked about how ADHD impacts a teen's life at home and provided some strategies for them to use to help reduce some of the friction at home. This week, we will focus on tips for teens to use at school.

As a teen with ADHD, your high school years may be difficult. You are expected to take on more responsibility for yourself and rely less on parents and teachers to keep you up to date with schoolwork. You are expected to start taking control of your ADHD and prepare yourself for the years after school. But symptoms of ADHD are still there. You still forget to bring home the right book, finish your homework or hand it in. Your inattention still causes you to miss important points when your teacher is talking and your hyperactivity makes it hard to sit through long and boring classes. But there are ways you can make high school a little easier.

The following are some tips that have worked for other teens with ADHD. You may find some don't work for you and others do. Use the suggestions that you can implement on an everyday basis to help you feel more successful and more confident.

Schedule classes that hold your interest. In high school you usually have more options for your classes. Look through the class choices and try to find subjects you are interested in. While you will need to take basic classes in order to graduate, if you have several classes each day that you look forward to, your day will be more focused overall.

Look for ADHD friendly teachers. This is harder during your freshman year of high school because you aren't familiar with the teachers. Ask around to older friends or siblings to find out which teachers are more interesting, flexible and more attuned to students with ADHD. Steer your course selections, especially classes you aren't interested in, to those teachers.

Talk to your parents about filing for 504 status. If you haven't received an IEP or Section 504 in elementary school, you can still request an evaluation to determine if you are eligible and then work with the school to implement accommodations to help you succeed. This can include extra time to take tests, taking tests in a quiet environment or other accommodations that are specific to your needs.

Use a day-planner or organizer to keep track of assignments, tests and projects. In high school you probably have a lot of different things going on. You might be on sports teams, in clubs or have a job besides having to go to school and do your homework. With all these activities, it is easy to lose track of what needs to be done, and when. Keeping yourself organized by writing down assignments, practice times and your work schedule helps.

Have a regular bedtime. Teens are notorious for getting to bed late and being tired all day. But sleep deprivation can increase symptoms of ADHD. Stick to a regular bedtime and give yourself about an hour before going to bed to start unwinding and relaxing so you can get to sleep.

Use organization strategies that work for you. Some teens with ADHD use a different color notebook for each class or keep extra supplies, such as pencils, pens, calculator, in their locker. Find what works for you to keep you organized during the day.

Think about your study habits. Each day, write down what you did to study, for example:

  • Where did you study?
  • Was it quiet?
  • What time of day did you study?
  • How did you study?

Keeping track of how you study and what works and what doesn't helps you determine what works best for you. If you are planning on heading off to college after high school, this information will help you for years to come.

Do your homework at the same time and place every day. Try to create a daily schedule so you are completing your homework at the same time and place. This helps to keep you focused and gives you a place to keep homework supplies so they aren't always disappearing.

Learn how to take notes. Taking good notes during class can be the difference between passing and failing a class. If you have a hard time understanding note taking, talk with your teachers or guidance counselor and ask for extra assistance before or after school to learn how to take notes.

Monitor your own behaviors. Your parents helped you to make positive changes in your behavior when you are younger but as you become a young adult, it will be your responsibility to monitor and change your own behavior. Choose one behavior, such as being late to school, at a time and write down steps you can take to change this behavior. Keep track each day of how you are doing. Once you have successfully changed one behavior, move on to another behavior that is interfering with your success.

This information is based on strategies implemented in my own home and from talking with teens and parents throughout the past 10 years. If you have other tips and suggestions, please comment and let us know how you manage your symptoms of ADHD.