ADHD Back-to-School Prep: 10 Talks to Have for a Great School Year

The beginning of the school year is a great time to sit down and have conversations with your ADHD child and the other important people in his life to make sure you’re all on the same page when it comes to managing his ADHD symptoms.

As the year moves on, teachers, parents, and really everyone becomes so busy that the importance of having these conversations starts to slip down on the agenda. It may seem like an added back-to-school burden, but having these conversations now will not only bring you peace of mind, but set the tone for a successful school year for your student, his teachers, other parents, and everyone else who surrounds him.

Not sure where to start? Use the following topics as your guide for who to call, and what to discuss:

Check in with Your Child
Accentuate the positive
If your child has attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD), she may have low self-esteem, in addition to symptoms of ADHD. To succeed in school, she must not only adhere to academic and behavioral standards, she must believe in herself.

Educate your child about attention deficit disorder and present the upside of ADHD. For example, ADHD in children often correlates with traits including creativity. As she meets new faces and new challenges at school, help your child remember that she is a valuable member of her classroom community — in spite of, or because of, her ADHD, dyslexia, or other learning disabilities.

Ask your child about his friends
A child with ADHD may need your help in identifying classmates with whom he could develop constructive friendships. During the first weeks of school, ask your child to describe his classmates, and listen for clues about personalities that might complement his own.

Children with ADHD tend to form quick alliances with children they find exciting or interesting. Encourage your child to get to know the self-contained and studious kids, who might admire his imagination or boldness and who might also be a calming influence.

Help your child learn to appreciate the teacher
Your child may feel that teachers are the enemy. Help her find something to appreciate about her teacher. All children, and especially children with ADHD or dyslexia, should have a sense of teachers as humans, not merely as authorities. When your child thinks, “She’s strict, but she’s cool,” what she means is, “We can work together.”

Check in with the Teacher
Talk with the teacher
Have a conversation with your child’s teacher during the first week of school. Without coming off as pushy, clarify the specifics of your child’s situation. Make sure she knows about your child’s IEP (Individualized Education Plan) or 504 Plan, if there’s one in place. Any mandated services or accommodations should begin immediately, and the classroom teacher is the one who can make sure that happens.

If you don’t already have an IEP, set up a time to discuss one with the teacher and school representatives. Writing an IEP together at the beginning of the year will help set the tone and goals for your ADHD child’s education.

Have a second conversation with the teacher
About a month into the school year, ask for a second meeting (if the teacher hasn’t called for one sooner). Don’t wait until parent-teacher conferences to get her take on how things are going. The earlier you are aware of the teacher’s perspective, the sooner you and your child with ADHD can avoid scenarios that interfere with learning. Keep parent-teacher communications. Many teachers prefer e-mail as a way to share information.

Check in with the Doctor
Talk with your child’s doctor
If your child is taking ADHD medication, or if you are considering a trial of ADHD medicine, have a conversation with the prescribing doctor in late summer to make a plan for the beginning of school. If this is the first time your child will be taking medication, you may want to start giving him the medicine soon after this appointment, so you’ll be able to fine-tune the medicine’s dose and timing before classes begin. If your child has taken medication before, he can resume shortly before school starts.

Have a second conversation with the doctor
After a few weeks of school, you should have another conversation with your child’s psychiatrist or prescribing doctor. In this conversation, perhaps held over the phone, you and the doctor can review the information you get from your child, his teacher, and your own observations to decide whether the current course of ADHD medication is right.

Talk with Other Parents
Share your child’s ADHD with other parents
The new school year brings new chances to talk with other parents at drop-off and pick-up, playdates, back-to-school night, and other events. How much should you say about your child’s ADHD diagnosis? This is a personal choice, which you might base on your ease in discussing such matters, your child’s wishes, and your sense of how the information might be received.

In general, it’s likely that you’ll find the other parents to be supportive. If you share your struggles, you are inviting other parents of children with dyslexia or ADHD to share with you—and to lean on you, as well. If your child knows that you believe in speaking openly, he is less likely to feel that he is bearing a shameful secret.

Talk with Your Family…and Yourself
Talk with your family
Have conversations with everyone in your family. Such talks can, of course, occur at any point, but the start of the school year is a good time to review certain understandings. ADHD affects the family dynamics. Your child has ADHD, but you, your spouse or one of your relatives may also have it. Share your experiences with each other. Have your child describe what his symptoms of ADHD feel like. Ask him to tell everyone what kind of support is helpful. Have family members talk about what their challenges are and what support they need. If everyone puts their heads together, positive things develop.

Talk with yourself
Alone, or with your spouse, review what you’ve learned about your child with ADHD in the last year. What helped him toward success in the previous grade? What made success difficult? As your child grows, your knowledge of him grows. Maybe an old idea needs revision. Keep a current, holistic, and detailed impression of your child in mind as you move forward. Know that you may face some new challenges this year, but empower yourself as the expert on your child and trust that you’ll make the right decisions.