ADHD is often associated with problems in school because of difficulties paying attention or forgetfulness. It is sometimes hard to know whether your child needs more targeted treatment for ADHD or if he is struggling academically. Your children probably aren’t forthcoming in their answers. If you ask how their day was, the answer might be, “Fine.” If you ask specifics, such as, “What did you do in math today?” the answer could very well be, “I don’t remember.” Some children with ADHD might hold back information because they are embarrassed that they don’t understand the work or are receiving poor grades. They might worry that you will be disappointed in them if they aren’t doing well in school. It is up to parents to interpret their child’s answers and view their work to determine if extra help in school is needed.
What makes this difficult in children with ADHD is some of the warning signs of academic troubles are behaviors closely associated with ADHD. It’s helpful to have a baseline for comparison. For example, you might want to think about what grades your child usually gets in school. This might vary according to the subject but generally parents have a good idea of what grades to expect based on past performance. Parents also have an idea of what to expect as far as attitude and behaviors. When these deviate from your norms, it might be time to talk to the teacher.
The following are potential signs of academic difficulty and how each relates to ADHD:
ADHD can cause inconsistency in grades. Your child might get all their schoolwork done one day and barely get to the second or third problem the next. Fluctuating grades can be a sign that your child’s ADHD treatment needs to be reevaluated or it could mean that your child doesn’t understand the work. Look for patterns in your child’s inconsistency. For example, your child might struggle on days when the work involves fractions, or maybe your child is having trouble with reading retention. Keep track to see if there are certain academic triggers to your child’s inconsistencies.
Procrastination and avoidance
When children don’t understand the work, they tend to avoid it. But procrastination is also a typical behavior in people with ADHD. It can also be a sign that your child is overwhelmed and doesn’t know where to start or what to do. Some children with ADHD might cry, shout or refuse to complete homework. Work on setting a structured schedule for after school, designating a specific homework time. Monitor your child to make sure the work is completed. If you still notice problems with avoidance, talk to the teacher to find out if your child is exhibiting the same behavior in school or if your child is falling behind in the work.
Anxiety and stress
Anxiety is a common coexisting condition with ADHD. It can show up as physical symptoms, such as more frequent headaches and stomach aches. It can appear as school avoidance, a change in sleep patterns or more frequent behavior problems. Anxiety is sometimes the result of not understanding the work; feeling like they are falling behind; a fear of failure; or social problems, such as a lack of friends or bullying. If your child is showing signs of anxiety, it is best to talk with the teacher to find out what is going on at school, both academically and socially. If the anxiety continues for more than a few months, talk with your child’s doctor.
When children struggle in school, their attitude often changes. They might be irritable, get angry when you ask about school or be more prone to tears. Spending the day in school with ADHD can be exhausting. Paying attention and sitting still for long periods when you have ADHD can take a toll on emotional wellbeing. If your child’s attitude has changed, it might be time to talk to the doctor about reassessing treatment or contact the school to review accommodations.
Spending hours on homework each night
Children with ADHD notoriously spend longer completing their homework than their non-ADHD counterparts. It could be because they can’t focus, there are more (and more interesting) distractions such as the TV or computer games. While each teacher is different, a general rule is that a child should spend 10 minutes per grade on homework each night; a child in 3rd grade should spend about 30 minutes and a childin 9th should spend about 90 minutes. If your child is spending longer, try to discover whether it is distractions or if your child is struggling to understand the work. Talk with your child’s teacher about your concerns.
If you notice some or all of these warning signs in your child, reach out for help. KidsHealth.org suggests you should contact two people: your child’s pediatrician and the school principal. Your pediatrician can look for physical problems, such as vision and hearing problems, and developmental problems. Contacting the principal is the first step in having an educational evaluation completed, which will assess strengths and weaknesses as well as evaluate for learning disabilities.
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Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.