ADHD and Success at School: A School Psychologist Q & A

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To help you and your child get the school year off to a strong start, HealthCentral lined up a team of ADHD experts to answer your questions.  Here are responses during a recent live discussion with Paula Gardner, a school psychologist with over 20 years of experience assessing students k-12 for all learning disabilities, implementing staff training on ADHD, and working in conjunction with medical doctors in evaluating ADHD.

How is ADHD diagnosed? Is their a specific test like a brain scan?

There is no conclusive medical test for this disorder, and professionals rely on observations they make as well as those from parents and teachers. ADHD behavioral rating forms should be completed by parents and teachers to assess how severe the child's behaviors are and if they are occurring across grades. The professionals and the rating scales follow the diagnostc criteria found in the DSM-5.

What is the difference between your average high energy kid and a child with ADHD?

The hyperactivity you see in ADHD is almost constant.  The child has a hard time stopping and slowing down and needs a lot of stimulation.  A high energy child will have more periods of down time and will not get so overstimulated by their environment.

What is ADHD? Is it the same as executive functioning?

Th essential feature of ADHD is a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity and or impulsivity that has a major impact on a child's ability to function or develop. Executive functioning disorders can be part of ADHD.  Executive functioning affects the part of the brain that acts like your secretary and helps you plan and organize.

What is a 504 plan?

A 504 Plan falls under regular education and is not a special education plan.  It falls under the Federal Americans with Disabilities Act and for children with a medical, mental, or physical impairment that significantly impacts a major life activity - like thinking, communicating, eating etc.  After an evaluation, if the severity of the ADHD needs accommodations then a 504 plan should be developed.

What accommodations can be in a 504 Plan for ADHD?

Some options include: Extended time to finish assignments and tests, frequent movement breaks, extra set of school books to stay at home for children who often misplace their books. Preferential seating perhaps to be closer to the teacher.

Do all children with ADHD qualify for section 504?

No. It depends on the severity of the ADHD and what interventions the child needs.  Some children respond so well to medication that they need few interventions.

How would a school determine if a child qualifies for a Section 504?

Talk to the teacher, school guidance counselor, special education director, and or school psychologist.  Provide a copy of the medical or psychological evaulation that lists the diagnosis of ADHD.  These educational professionals can review the evaluation as well as all relevant educational data to help you determine if your child needs an evaluation for a 504 Plan.

What cannot be provided in a 504 Plan?

Extensive accommodations, specially designed instruction, and replacement instruction.  If your child needs to be taught reading in a room with less children - a lot of repetition, drills and practice; a slower paced curriculum; or alternative curriculum, then your child may need an IEP which is special education.

What is an IEP?

An IEP stands for an Individualized Education Plan and falls under the federal and state guidelines for IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), which is special education.  This is an individualized education plan for a child with such severe impairments that he or she needs replacement instruction to learn.

How does a child qualify for an IEP?

Children with ADHD can meet the criteria for an IEP under the educational exceptionality of Other Health Impairment and when the team determines that the child needs specially designed instruction.  The IEP will have goals to help your child improve in their areas of educational need as well as specially designed accommodations and interventions for your child.

What is Other Health Impairment?

It means having limited strength, vitality, or alertness, including a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli that results in limited alertness with respect to the educational environment that is due to a chronic or acute health problems and adversely affects a child’s educational performance. ADHD is listed as one of the problems due to the difficulty with alertness or heightened alertness.

How do I know if my child needs a 504 Plan or an IEP?

Talk to the teacher, school guidance counselor, special education director, and or school psychologist.  Provide a copy of the medical or psychological evaluation that lists the diagnosis of ADHD.  These educational professionals can review the evaluation as well as all relevant educational data to help you determine if your child needs an evaluation for a 504 Plan or for special education.

How can I make sure my child’s teachers making the accommodations?

Regulary communicate with your child's teachers.  If you believe the teacher in not doing the accommodation speak with the principal.  For 504 Plans and IEPs teachers are required to meet the accommodations. You can also contact your state’s department of education office to voice your concerns. Often schools will try to resolve issues with parents before they are brought to a hearing.

Won't enrolling my child in specialized plans result in bullying?

Talk to the teacher.  Come up with a plan to deal with the bullying.  If that doesn't work, go to the principal.  Every school should have an anti-bullying plan in place. Find out what it is and how it can be tailored for your child.