ADHD for Educators

This resource was developed in collaboration with health care professionals and educators to provide critical information and resources for school personnel working with children who have, or who are suspected as having, ADHD.

Identification of ADHD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a chronic neurobehavioral disorder that affects all aspects of a child’s life, including school, home, social relations, and extra-curricular activities. A child can be diagnosed with ADHD with hyperactive subtype, inattentive subtype, or combined-type (both hyperactive and inattentive). What many people refer to as attention-deficit disorder (ADD) is actually just the inattentive subtype of ADHD; ADD is an outdated term and was formally changed to ADHD in 1994.
ADHD is one of the most common chronic disorders of childhood. In a classroom of 30 children, it would not be unreasonable to expect 3 kids to have ADHD. [U.S.: 2014] Boys are more than twice as likely as girls to receive this diagnosis. [Visser: 2014] Prevalence of ADHD is rising in the United States; it is unclear if a greater number of children have the condition, or if there is better recognition of it - or both.
Behavior that School Personnel May See

ADHD for Educators
Christopher Futcher/Istock Photo
Teachers are often the first to see behaviors that may be suggestive of ADHD:
  • Problems waiting for his or her turn, interrupting other kids, acts without thinking
  • Cannot hold still, fidgety, can’t stay in seat, runs around, may show aggression, cannot play quietly, talks excessively
  • Distracted easily, daydreams, doesn’t finish tasks, forgetful, makes careless mistakes, doesn’t seem to listen
In addition to the challenging behavior, teachers may see positive traits:
  • Creativity, brings new ideas to the classroom, artistic talent
  • Ability to identify what others do not see, has a fresh perspective
  • Enthusiasm and spontaneity
  • Mental flexibility, intelligence
Working with Parents and Physicians: Before a Diagnosis
School personnel should never say, in any way, “I think your child has ADHD,” or recommend that a child should see a pediatrician. Instead, when a student is suspected of having ADHD, it is wise to have regular discussions with the family about the child’s observed strengths and challenging behaviors in the school setting:
  • Ask parents if there are similar challenges at home or in other settings, but do not assume that the child acts the same way outside of school.
  • Share with the family any testing and interventions that the school team has already implemented to support the child, and the child’s response to those interventions. Encourage families to share your documentation with the child’s primary healthcare provider.
  • It can be helpful to explain that you are concerned that ADHD or another untreated medical condition may be keeping the child from achieving his or her full potential, but it is not appropriate for a teacher to tell a parent that their child has ADHD. (This is making a diagnosis.)
If it is difficult finding the right words to communicate your concerns with families, consider statements such as: “We/I’ve noticed that Johnny sometimes demonstrates __________(the following behaviors) in class. Have you had similar concerns at home? Have you ever talked about these behaviors/concerns with your pediatrician?”
It can take time for a family to agree that their child should get a medical evaluation, and it is the parents' choice on whether to follow up with medical help or not. In the meantime, school staff should work as a team to support the child, the other students, and the teachers who interact with the child.

Diagnosis of ADHD

The child’s medical home clinician often is the person who makes the diagnosis of ADHD; however, supporting information from the parents and educators plays an integral role. School staff should provide the family with relevant behavioral observations, test results, and supporting documentation. Specific screening forms, such as the NICHQ Vanderbilt Parent & Teacher Assessment Scales (PDF Document 1.1 MB), can be shared with the family, who then may discuss the ratings with their child’s clinician. Talking directly with the clinician can be helpful, too; if there is a mental health specialist familiar with the child, this person should also be consulted. Discussing a student with subspecialists external to the educational system requires written consent from the parent on school forms. See Communicating with the Medical Provider, below.
Barriers to Diagnosis and Treatment
  • It can take time to make a diagnosis of ADHD because the diagnosis requires impaired function in 2 or more of the child’s regular settings (home and school being the most common).
  • Teachers may have multiple students with ADHD or other behavioral, developmental, medical, or learning problems.
  • Recognition of students with the inattentive subtype can be relatively slow because these students may present with quiet school failure or not achieving their potential, but are not necessarily disruptive to others.
  • Parents often lack the perspective to know that their child has a medical problem, and can feel embarrassed or angry that their child is struggling in school.
  • Parents may perceive a poor fit between the student and teacher, and may wait to see if the issues resolve with next year’s teacher.
  • Children with ADHD and high cognitive function may not struggle with academics until the material becomes increasingly complex.
  • The school may have limited access to a psychologist who can help in this process.
  • The child may not have a primary care provider (a medical home) or may lack insurance to cover medical visits or medications.
  • Parents also may have symptoms of ADHD, and this can make it difficult for them to follow through on medical and school appointments.
  • Many people worry about using medications to treat ADHD in children.
  • Minorities and uninsured children are less likely to get a diagnosis (and therefore treatment) of ADHD.
Working with Parents and Clinicians: After a Diagnosis
  • When children are trialing medications, frequent feedback helps ensure appropriate therapy; let the family know about improvements or side effects that you may observe.
  • When a child divides time between different households, taking medication regularly can be challenging; families can arrange for medication to be given at school if needed.
  • Continue working on behavioral and academic supports in the school setting. Medication can be very helpful in managing symptoms, but it does not cure ADHD. Teach children how to structure and organize their learning environment so that they can learn to manage ADHD on their own, with or without medications.

Interventions in the School Setting

Visual schedules. Post them and stick to them. If children have difficulty following the class schedule, they can have their own visual schedule at their desk.

Consistent behavioral plan. Use it among all school staff (teachers, librarians, therapists, coaches, etc.). When kids know what to expect, they are more successful. See Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (OSEP).

ABC’s of behavior (antecedents, behaviors, and consequences). Be aware of what the child is getting out of the maladaptive behavior. Is there a better way to meet this need? Documenting can help in recognizing behavior patterns and in developing individualized interventions. The ABCs of Behavior provides more details.

Response to Intervention (RTI). Use it to develop meaningful interventions and to determine the need for additional behavioral supports. See RTI Action Network (NCLD).

Brain breaks. Use of short breaks throughout the day for children to move around and have fun improves attention spans. See Brain Breaks (Go Noodle).

Exercise. Encourage kids with ADHD to get exercise before school (e.g., walking or riding a bike to school) and to be active during recess. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain and helps kids improve their academic performance. It is counter-productive to penalize children with ADHD by taking away recess time.

Nutrition. Ensure that the child with ADHD is getting a nutritious breakfast and lunch. Stimulant medications may suppress appetite, and a noisy lunchroom can also be very distracting. Consider recess before lunch, instead of after lunch, so that children are not skipping lunch to play. Avoid caffeine and sports drinks.

Support. Be supportive and patient. Children with ADHD are not there to make your life worse. Many children with ADHD feel bad about being considered disruptive, lazy, or stupid. Messages they get from educators and school staff can help them understand that they are not bad kids. Be sure to reinforce positive behaviors and notice small steps in the right direction.

Be an ally. Kids with ADHD may appreciate special passwords or signals to indicate that they need to get up and move around. Consider asking these kids to pass out papers, sharpen pencils, take things to the office, etc. Children who take medications at school may feel embarrassed if other students know that they are leaving class to take their medicine, so develop a strategy to help protect the student’s privacy.

Team approach. Document responses to interventions and share successful (and unsuccessful) strategies with other school staff who work with the same child.
  • Psychologists can perform testing to understand if the child has learning disabilities or autism spectrum disorders that affect the educational setting. They may also help with evaluating the child and accessing resources such as anger management or social skills groups.
  • Occupational therapists often have tools that can help children with ADHD, such as wiggly seats or balls to sit on, time-on-task buzzers/reminders, headphones, etc.
  • Special educators can assist in behavioral observation and interventions.
  • Nurses can provide additional information about the child’s medical condition and possible side effects of medications.
  • Physical therapists are good resources for children with both coordination disorder and ADHD.
  • Speech therapists are helpful when there is a concurrent language disorder.
  • Administrators can help with coordinating a school-wide (or district-wide) behavioral plan to ensure consistency in all the child’s school settings.
  • Other teachers and aides may have insights and experiences to share as well, and can be an excellent source of support.
  • Parents can be great resources for how best to work with their child, and what to do when things are not going well. If you have useful strategies that work at school for a child, share these with interested parents to promote consistency across settings.

Information about ADHD Treatments

Medication and behavioral supports are the main evidence-based treatments of ADHD.

Stimulant Medications
Stimulants can decrease symptoms of ADHD, including hyperactivity, impulsivity, inattentiveness, and trouble getting along with others. Stimulants are recommended as first-line treatment for children 6 years old and older by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. [Wolraich: 2011] [Pliszka: 2007] Stimulant medications work on certain neuroreceptors in the brain. Approximately 75% of children with ADHD will respond to stimulant treatment if dosing is correct. Stimulant medications fall into two classes: (1) methylphenidates (includes Ritalin, Methylin, Metadate, Concerta, Daytrana, Focalin, Quillivant, Aptensio) and (2) amphetamines (includes Adderall, Dexedrine, ProCentra, Zenzedi, Vyvanse). Both classes have shorter- and longer-acting release formulas to make them effective for 2-12 hours.

Common side effects can include mild bellyaches and headaches, depressed appetite and weight loss, difficulty sleeping, increased blood pressure and heart rate, irritability, and anxiety. Risks for stimulant misuse include sharing or selling to other students or having medications stolen.

Non-stimulant Medications
Non-stimulants can be considered when side effects, lack of effect, or other concerns interfere with the use of stimulant medications. These medications take longer to reach full effect, so it can take a while to see if they work.
  • Atomoxetine (Strattera) regulates norepinephrine in the brain. Side effects include upset stomach, decreased appetite, dizziness, mood swings, and fatigue.
  • Guanfacine (Intuniv, Tenex) and clonidine (KAPVAY, Catapres) lower blood pressure and can help with attention. Side effects include dry mouth, sleepiness, mood changes, stomach discomfort, constipation, low blood pressure, and dizziness.
  • Some antidepressants can be used to help with ADHD; however, little data for use in children exists, and they can have significant side effects.
Natural Treatments
Mind-Body Approaches to help with attention and self-regulation
  • Yoga
  • Exercise (such as martial arts)
  • EEG neurofeedback (Although there is some support for use of neurofeedback for ADHD, this therapy is often not covered by insurance and has significant out of pocket expenses for the family. Effects are not maintained once treatment has been discontinued.)
Dietary Approaches
  • Omegas. Although treatment with stimulants was shown as more effective, some evidence supports use of high dose Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids for treatment of ADHD.
  • Diet. A healthy diet with whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean protein sources, and maintaining even blood sugar and insulin levels by eating frequent, smaller meals, are reasonable approaches to aiding in the management of ADHD. Not a lot of evidence supports a particular diet; however, analysis of the 2011 Impact of Nutrition on Children with ADHD (INCA) study suggests that a medically supervised food elimination trial may be an approach to consider. [Pelsser: 2011] In contrast, European guidelines indicate no evidence for elimination diets unless there are GI symptoms. There is lack of evidence for exclusively organic diets to help ADHD symptoms.
  • Food dyes. There is some evidence for avoiding food dyes to reduce some ADHD symptoms in some children.
  • Further information. For a more in-depth review of dietary approaches to managing ADHD, see The Diet Factor in ADHD (AAP) and Complementary Medicine and ADHD (Medscape), which is available with a free account.
Other Approaches
Popular alternative practices for managing ADHD symptoms also include herbal supplements, homeopathic treatments, vision therapy, chiropractic adjustments, yeast infection treatments, anti–motion-sickness medication, metronome training, auditory stimulation, and applied kinesiology (realigning bones in the skull). Many of these approaches are not proven effective, or are detrimental to the child's health.

Overdiagnosis or Misdiagnosis

Many people worry that normal childhood “disruptive” behaviors are misdiagnosed as ADHD, particularly among active little boys. While making the diagnosis can facilitate helpful interventions, labelling and medicating active children without ADHD can be harmful. This is why the diagnosis should be made cautiously and with input from people who are familiar with the child in different settings.
Look-alike conditions
Several other conditions can result in inattentive or hyperactive symptoms that may be mistaken for ADHD, but do not respond to traditional ADHD treatments:
• Substance abuse • Sleep problems
• Hunger or poor nutrition • Anxiety
• Depression and bipolar disorder • Autism spectrum disorder
• Traumatic stress through home or
community violence, homelessness or
displacement, loss or imprisonment
of a parent, etc.
• Learning problems caused by other factors (e.g., moving and changing schools often, frequent absences, learning English as a second language)
Related Conditions
Children with ADHD can have other conditions, complicating diagnosis and treatment: (Conditions that have a link lead to Portal diagnosis and management information.)

Communicating with the Medical Provider

Contacting the prescribing clinician can be helpful if you have specific questions or concerns about the child’s medical treatment. The family’s permission is necessary for you to have direct communication with the medical provider.
To secure permission, written consent is needed from the parent or guardian to authorize transfer of records, verbal and/or e-mail communications, etc., as appropriate. For more information about privacy rights see the Portal's section about Education & Schools. Sample forms to enhance communication between medical provider and schools can be found at Forms for Education.
Faxes, phone calls, e-mails, and (less frequently) in-person meetings are all methods to communicate with the medical provider; however, like educators, clinicians are often difficult to reach directly while they are working. If direct communication is challenging, see if the physician has a care manager who can help facilitate the process. This is typically a person such as a nurse, medical assistant, or social worker in the clinic who is familiar with more complex patients in the practice, but is not a prescriber.


Information & Support


Teaching Children with ADHD (DOE)
Instructional strategies and practices for academic instruction, behavioral interventions, and classroom accommodations for children with ADHD; U.S. Department of Education.

National Resource Center on ADHD: Educational Issues (CDC)
Clearinghouse of evidence-based information on ADHD. Includes links to books, classroom management and intervention strategies, pertinent videos, teacher training opportunities, and Attention Magazine articles; funded by the Centers for Disease Control and National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.

10 Common Challenges and Best Practices for Teaching Students with ADHD (Scholastic)
Very readable resource about successful strategies to teach students with ADHD.

Have We Taken the Wrong Approach to Treating Kids with ADHD? (Huffington Post)
Article about the importance of physical movement in the academic environment for kids with ADHD.

Teacher to Teacher Workshop: Classroom Interventions for the Student with ADHD (CHADD)
Day-long workshops to identify common ADHD-related learning problems and to go over proven classroom techniques, interventions, and current research to enhance school success for students with ADHD; sponsored by Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.

ADD/ADHD Wheel (Mentoring Minds)
Classroom tool for purchase to help learners with ADHD have better participation, interactions, and self-esteem.

Tough Kid Tool Box (2009) and The Tough Kid Book 2nd ed. (2009) by William R. Jenson, Ginger Rhode, H. Kenton Reavis
Books with practical classroom management strategies for teachers to deal more effectively with aggression, arguing, tantrums, and lack of following directions. Tool Box contains ready-to-use reproducible materials for use in the classroom.

Lost at School: Why Our Kids with Behavioral Challenges are Falling through the Cracks and How We Can Help Them (2014) by Ross Greene, PhD
Book that helps educators and parents work together to support and manage behaviorally challenging students.

Practical Ideas That Really Work for Students with ADHD (2005) by Kathleen McConnell and Gail Reyser
Workbooks with activities that can be used to improve students' attending and organizational skills and to decrease their problem behaviors stemming from impulsivity and hyperactivity. Three versions cover grades K-12.

How to Reach and Teach Children with ADD/ADHD: Practical Techniques, Strategies, and Interventions Paperback (2005) by Sandra Rief
Book for classroom management and interventions, plus case studies, for teachers of students with ADHD.

General Student Engagement and Classroom Management Tools

Student Engagement (
Top 10 list of strategies and tools to keep students engaged (not just for students with ADHD).

Brain Breaks (Go Noodle)
Ideas for brain breaks in the classrooms to help get the wiggles out; free sign up.

Response to Intervention – RTI Resources (Intervention Central)
Includes academic and behavior planners, accommodations database, motivators, how-to videos, and tests for classroom use to assess and support struggling learners.

LD Online (WETA)
On-line resources for teaching students with learning disabilities and ADHD. Includes many useful articles as well as a link to an on-line learning store; WETA, an educational service of public television station in Washington, D.C.

Think through Math
A state-based, adaptive math, paid-subscription program for grades 3 and above.

PK-12 Education (APA)
Educational topics including behavior and learning issues; American Psychological Association.

Behavior Doctor
Online resource for seminars and downloadable materials to help with behavior management, including classroom modifications.

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (OSEP)
Emphasis is given to the impact of implementing PBIS on the social, emotional and academic outcomes for students with disabilities; U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs.

RTI Action Network (NCLD)
Discusses how to maximize student learning and the impact of effective interventions by preventing the development, and lessening the intensity, of problem behaviors; National Center for Learning Disabilities.

Getting More Information (for School Personnel, Families, and Students)

Children and Adults with ADHD (CHADD)
A national non-profit organization, with numerous local chapters, that provides education, advocacy, and support for individuals with ADHD; Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.

Understood for Learning & Attention Issues
A collaboration among 15 non-profit agencies to provide resources to parents of children with learning and attention disorders.

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) Practice Parameters
Clinical practice guidelines reviewed and periodically updated. These are designed to encourage best practices in child mental health. Includes a variety of topics such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, use of psychotropic medications, and gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth issues.

National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI)
Organization with local branches providing support, advocacy, and information about mental health care.

Healthy Children (AAP)
Offers information and advice about child development, health, and parenting; American Academy of Pediatrics.

Child Development Institute
Information, products, and services related to child development, psychology, health, parenting, media, entertainment, and family activities. Helps families to connect with other parents, professionals, and organizations.

The Diet Factor in ADHD (AAP)
A comprehensive overview of the role of dietary methods for treatment of children with ADHD when pharmacotherapy has proven unsatisfactory or unacceptable; American Academy of Pediatrics.

Complementary Medicine and ADHD (Medscape)
Discusses the latest scientific evidence of the effectiveness and safety of popular alternative treatments for ADHD; free account required to view article.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (Medical Home Portal)
Diagnosis and management information, tools, and resources to guide clinicians in caring for children with ADHD.

FAQS: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (Medical Home Portal)
Answers to some of the common questions that parents have about ADHD, along with links to other relevant websites.

The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children (2014) by Ross Greene PhD
Book that details a collaborative, empowering, problem-solving approach for parents to use with children who are hard to manage using traditional parenting approaches.

ADHD: What Every Parent Needs to Know (2011) edited by Michael I. Reiff, MD, FAAP
Book published by the American Academy of Pediatrics for families of children with ADHD.

Boys Adrift (2009) by Leonard Sax, MD
Book about 5 factors that are driving the growing epidemic of unmotivated boys and underachieving young men.

For Professionals

National Resource Center on ADHD: Educational Issues (CDC)
Clearinghouse of evidence-based information on ADHD. Includes links to books, classroom management and intervention strategies, pertinent videos, teacher training opportunities, and Attention Magazine articles; funded by the Centers for Disease Control and National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.


ADHD Rating Scale—IV (for Children and Adolescents) (ADHD-RS)
Containing 18 items, the scale is linked directly to DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for ADHD. Available for a fee.

Conners 3rd Edition ADHD Assessment (Pearson)
Administered to parents and teachers of children and adolescents 6–18 years old; Self-report, 8–18 years old. Available for a fee.

Information Release Form (Utah Schools) (PDF Document 51 KB)
Sample form for schools that authorizes the exchange of information between the student’s health care provider and school professionals as it relates to the diagnosis/condition listed.

Medical Home to School Summary Form (PDF Document 40 KB)
Sample form to facilitate communication between health care providers and school professionals relating to health concerns that impact a student's education.

NICHQ Vanderbilt Follow-Up Parent Assessment Scale (Spanish) (PDF Document 3.6 MB)
Spanish (with English translation) follow-up forms for assessing and quantifying the impact of attention problems at home. Includes scoring instructions, no fee required.

NICHQ Vanderbilt Initial Parent Assessment Scale (Spanish) (PDF Document 3.9 MB)
Spanish (with English translation) forms for assessing and quantifying the impact of attention problems at home. Includes scoring instructions, no fee required.

NICHQ Vanderbilt Parent & Teacher Assessment Scales (PDF Document 1.1 MB)
Forms for initial and follow-up assessments for teacher and parent informants. Includes scoring instructions, no fee required.

School Health Care Plans - Fact Sheet (Utah Family Voices) (PDF Document 48 KB)
Information, tips, and resources.

Screening Tools and Family Educational Handouts for ADHD (DB Peds)
Information and checklists for ADHD screening in the schools, as well as for other developmental and behavioral disorders; University of Washington Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics.


Reviewing Authors: Laura Miller - 10/2015
Judi Yaworsky, RN - 10/2015
Megan Wanzek, PhD - 10/2015
Tom Luthy - 10/2015
Content Last Updated: 10/2015


Funding and support for this project was provided in part by the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on School Health, the University of Utah, and the Salt Lake City School District.

Page Bibliography

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Effects of a restricted elimination diet on the behaviour of children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (INCA study): a randomised controlled trial.
Lancet. 2011;377(9764):494-503. PubMed abstract

Pliszka S.
Practice parameter for the assessment and treatment of children and adolescents with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2007;46(7):894-921. PubMed abstract
Historical ADHD guideline from 2007.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Key Findings: Trends in the Parent-Report of Health Care Provider-Diagnosis and Medication Treatment for ADHD: United States, 2003—2011.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; (2014) Accessed on July 2015.
Study findings.

Visser SN, Danielson ML, Bitsko RH, Holbrook JR, Kogan MD, Ghandour RM, Perou R, Blumberg SJ.
Trends in the parent-report of health care provider-diagnosed and medicated attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: United States, 2003-2011.
J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2014;53(1):34-46.e2. PubMed abstract

Wolraich M, Brown L, Brown RT, DuPaul G, Earls M, Feldman HM, Ganiats TG, Kaplanek B, Meyer B, Perrin J, Pierce K, Reiff M, Stein MT, Visser S.
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