Writer Camilla Chafer edits an informative website for parents and schools called The School Run (www.theschoolrun.com) Camilla and I have written books for publisher Need2Know Books and she asked me some questions about ADHD for a pack on the subject that you can obtain by logging on to their site and pressing the 'Subscribers' button. The article is reproduced below.

Working with schools when your child has ADHD

Many schools struggle to understand the complexities of ADHD which leaves parents feeling unsupported.

TheSchoolRun spoke to expert Diane Paul, author of ADHD - The Essential Guide for her advice on how to help parents work with their school to help their child.

Diane explained that ADHD is complex and where strategies might work for one child, they won't for another. "ADHD isn't the sort of thing that will go away, although symptoms can improve as they grow older. These children can cause huge disruption in a classroom and disturb teachers and other children; that is why, in extreme cases, drugs are used to calm them down.

These are all available strategies but there is no guarantee that they work for everyone, as there are so many variations of ADHD which can be combined with other issues. Teachers aren't always sympathetic so there is no guarantee a parent can work with them or that the strategies mentioned will work. Some parents find moving to other areas to find sympathetic schools, or where LEAs who don't have financial restraints for special needs, can help

For parents, who need support too, the best suggestion is to join a local support group group. There they will find other parents of ADHD children, can network, compare notes, join in activities and learn how to cope."                                                                                                                                                   

 How should parents approach their school about concerns that their child has ADHD?

Most young children go through a stage of being boisterous and energetic and with classes of up to 30, teachers may not be aware that some of them may be showing signs of ADHD. Other children may stare out of the window and daydream a lot and, although it can be a symptom of ADD, there's no reason for teachers to suppose they are any different from any other child. So parents need to impress upon teachers that, if they suspect or know their child has ADHD, it is because this negative behaviour is ongoing, consistent and repetitive, whereas the other children will mature and grow out of it.

About half of ADHD children may also have specific learning difficulties, like dyslexia, dyspraxia coupled with other conditions like Asperger's Syndrome, anxiety or depression and these need to be addressed separately. It's important to talk to the teacher, head teacher or SENCO about it, so that teachers can keep an eye on the child and work out a strategy for helping them. ADHD children are likely to display the same types of behaviour at home, at school and in social settings.

Parents need to work with the school, wherever possible but neither parents nor teachers are qualified to diagnose ADHD. That needs to be done by a team of medical professionals.

 What can parents do to ensure schools support their ADHD child?

Some schools, teachers and doctors don't always recognise ADHD and put the behaviours down to the 'terrible twos' or poor parenting. ADHD is a universally recognised condition and diagnostic guidelines are available from the World Health Organisation.

 Parents need to be assertive with authority figures like teachers and doctors and to find out as much as they can about ADHD so they can discuss it knowledgeably. Some internet sites contain useful information, like NHS Direct or ADHD support groups, whose information packs would be useful for schools and parents.

Any meetings or phone conversations with the school need to be minuted as it's important to keep records of what is said and copies of all correspondence and keep a diary to record incidents, meetings and action taken. Schools have to recognise the situation and the SENCO can make a referral for a statutory assessment. They will visit parents and submit forms to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) and the teacher will form part of the diagnostic team.

 What can schools do to support ADHD children?

Medical and behavioural treatments work alongside support at school and home. Drugs work in the short-term but are only prescribed in extreme cases. This may mean taking them at school as they help to calm down the child; so teachers need to be aware that they have to take them, though many are on slow release tablets these days.

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommend behavioural interventions at school among other strategies and it's useful for schools to be familiar with their guidelines.

Educational psychologists should deal with any behavioural issues or educational difficulties like reading, writing, spelling, language disorders and specific learning difficulties. Behavioural therapists can show teachers how to plan activities and give praise when the child succeeds. Teachers should be aware of the many strategies to help control poor behaviour.

 What sort of help is accessible by schools to support ADHD children?

 Schools are legally obliged to identify pupils with educational or behavioural difficulties and can make a referral to CAMHS for special needs assessment. They will give their opinions, answer questionnaires and comment on your child's behaviour.

If the school disagrees that there should be a referral for assessment to obtain a Statement of SEN for special support, you can apply for one yourself by contacting your local LEA's SEN section. Authorities vary and many teachers lack training to deal with ADHD and don't employ appropriate strategies, or financial constraints could hold them back.

The school's SENCO should help if your child isn't progressing or developing skills, if they display poor behaviour, find it hard to communicate with friends and teachers or have speech or language issues. 

 Are there strategies parents can use to ensure their child keeps on top of homework?

  • Teachers could give them homework task charts to ensure that they're organised and they know what they need to do.
  •  Ask your child to say out loud what they need to do, then let them repeat it silently to themselves.
  •  Being organised is important, so they need clear rules.
  • If punishments are used, they need to be given right away.
  • When tackling big tasks, do them a bit at a time so they won't be too daunting.                          

 How far does criticism affect ADHD children and their education?

 It's hard to say. Every ADHD child is different and has different degrees of the condition with a variety of co-morbid symptoms.

 They can have poor self esteem generally and need building up, not putting down but this is true for everyone.

 Do teachers need to consider the language they use when talking to an ADHD child and whether it is positive or negative?

 Positive feedback for ADHD children, who tend to suffer from low self-esteem, is essential. Punishment is less effective. Teachers could make them monitors or give them special tasks so that other pupils will view them positively too.

 They could be encouraged to approach the board and write words on it.

 How can teachers and parents help their child get organised and not become distracted in class?

ADD children who gaze out of the window should be placed away from them and nearer to the teacher at the front of the class. Ensure classroom rules are clear and easy to understand. Directions should be specific.

 A checklist for each subject is useful. Vary activities so that the child doesn't get bored doing the same thing for too long; alternate sitting down and physical activities. They will respond better to specific tasks with goals and rewards.

 Try to use books with large fonts but illustrations need to be tied up to the content on the page so they relate to them. Pages shouldn't contain too many activities.

 What are your top tips for ensuring ADHD children get a good experience from school?

 Be lavish with praise and ensure others can hear when you mention their achievements. Keep calm so you don't reflect any negative reactions to the child. Make eye contact when addressing them. Give instructions in one sentence. Structure projects so they use lists and charts.

 A useful book for parents is 1-2-3 Magic to help control poor behaviour, encouraging good behaviour and strengthening relationships. There is a teachers' version called 1-2-3 Magic for Teachers. The latter explains effective classroom disciplines and means of productive communication with parents