Some common school accommodations for ADHD include providing more time to take tests, access to a low distraction environment, and extra help breaking down larger projects.
These accommodations are not special privileges but tools that give all students the same chance of succeeding. They are available to students of all ages, including college students, and depending on location, they may be a legal right.
In the United States, schools may provide plans for how they will accommodate a student’s needs. This may be a 504 plan or an individualized education plan (IEP). Some students have both.
Read on to learn more about school accommodations for ADHD, including examples of accommodations that may help with focus, organization, and behavior, as well as the differences between 504 and IEP plans.
Students with ADHD are legally entitled to the least restrictive possible environment. This means that, wherever possible, schools should not remove them from their class.
Beyond this basic requirement, there are additional accommodations schools can make to ensure the class environment is best suited to the student’s needs.
For example, a school may:
- seat the student away from distractions, such as class pets
- provide space or opportunity to move around
- limit screen time
- display clear visual reminders of the class rules, today’s focus, or deadlines
Learn more about ADHD in children.
People with ADHD
It may help to:
- ask students what would be helpful for them
- give clear, specific, and direct instructions
- give frequent reminders, when it is relevant, of what students need to do
- designate one space, either in the classroom or online, where students can find schedules, deadlines, and other important information
- communicate clear class expectations and boundaries
- provide regular feedback and positive reinforcement
- communicate regularly with parents and caregivers
Some of the ways neurotypical people organize themselves may not be useful for neurodivergent students, so it is important to be open-minded and flexible.
Strategies that may encourage students to find approaches that work for them include:
- encouraging the class to keep their own diaries or planners
- color-coding schedules or timetables
- streamlining the paperwork or number of resources students take home with them
- helping students break down a larger project into smaller pieces
- using mini deadlines during a bigger assignment
An IEP might also entitle a student to organizational training or classes.
ADHD can make timed exams and assignments more challenging to prepare for and complete. Depending on the student, educators may need to offer accommodations such as:
- more flexible due dates
- extended test-taking time
- testing in a separate, quiet room
A crucial aspect of behavior management for ADHD is understanding what is and is not an ADHD symptom. Punishing people for ADHD symptoms does not help them. It can be a form of disability discrimination.
Schools and teachers need to learn about the condition and the specific ways it affects their students and then find ways to work with them so they can thrive at school.
This might include:
- setting clear expectations and boundaries around behavior in the classroom
- communicating the consequences of breaking those boundaries and enforcing them consistently
- positive reinforcement of helpful behaviors, such as allowing others to take their turn
- motivating rewards for reaching medium- or long-term goals
- creating a personalized behavior plan
It is also important to note that
Learn more about inattentive ADHD.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which bans disability-based discrimination in schools that receive federal funding, led to the production of 504 plans. These outline the accommodations that elementary or secondary schools will provide to students in a traditional classroom environment.
IEP plans outline students’ access to specialized teaching or other special education services. The stipulations of an IEP typically come from the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, and getting one is a more involved process than getting a 504 plan.
Not all students with ADHD require an IEP. Some may only have 504 plans, while others may have both. If a federally funded school refuses to provide accommodations or a 504 plan, they could be breaking the law.
School accommodations for ADHD can include many measures that make learning easier, such as creating a calm, distraction-free environment, using positive reinforcement to manage behavior, and giving extra help with projects and tests.
The goal of these accommodations is to support students in learning skills they may need to flourish and to put them on equal footing with their peers. In the U.S., the right to accommodations or special education services for those with an ADHD diagnosis is protected by law.
Both children and adults in federally funded educational institutions can ask for 504 plans. Some may also benefit from IEPs. It is important to base any accommodations on what works best for the student, as no two people with ADHD are the same.