By Dronile Veronica
School supplies, uniforms, new schedules and routines — the start of the school year can be a whirlwind of shopping, planning and daily organizing. Summer can also be a good time for something else: for parents to consider getting a child assessed for possible ADHD. They should especially consider an assessment for a child who underachieves or procrastinates on schoolwork, has a tough time staying seated in class, or gets distracted while studying.
Parents have a few options to choose from in getting a child assessed for ADHD. You might request an assessment through your child’s school, or get a referral to a doctor who can do the assessment. Or you might consider getting an assessment through an online telehealth service. Whether you like the idea of seeing a psychologist in person or getting answers from an online specialist as soon as possible, here’s what you need to know before getting started.
What Services Are Available For My Child?
Andrew Kahn, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist and senior subject matter expert at Understood.org, advises early intervention and identification for better outcomes. “If we can be part of that messaging to break down those stigma barriers and then get good assessments, get good plans in place, then we can make a significant difference in helping kids thrive and achieve,” he says.
Helping parents understand the services and treatment available for their child is a key aspect of the work Kahn does — as someone who himself is thriving and achieving with ADHD.
Many parents, especially those in low-income and underserved communities, worry about being able to afford these kinds of specialized services for their children. If this is a concern for you and your family, then getting a child assessed through a school psychologist could alleviate a lot of that pressure.
Nekia Wright, a San Francisco-area education specialist who has a master’s degree in special education, says that experience is not unusual for families. She’s worked with students who have emotional concerns, autism, ADHD and dyslexia in her school districts.
“If their child is not successful in the classroom and they see their child is putting in effort but they’re not able to access the curriculum or access the understanding, (then parents) can request for their child to be assessed,” she says. Wright explains that a parent in San Francisco can get an educational advocate to ensure they have someone on their team who understands the school system and can advocate on behalf of their child’s needs.
What happens when a school doesn’t cover the costs of an assessment? In some cases, it could be paid through insurance, covered through a hospital’s clinic or a local clinical program, according to the nonprofit organization, Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.
Online ADHD assessments — which use psychologists with expertise in ADHD — can also provide a more affordable way to get a child assessed before the start of the school year. These assessments can be done from the home and allow for a parent to report signs and symptoms in an online questionnaire and receive answers faster than in traditional testing.
Should My Child Get A 504 Plan Or An Individualized Education Plan?
One thing to note is that diagnostic testing is an extensive process, which is why it’s important to start early. Craig Selinger, a licensed speech-language pathologist offering executive functioning coaching through Themba Tutors in New York, explains that testing for ADHD coincides with testing for other conditions.
“There’s high comorbidity for students that have ADHD,” he says. “The American Speech Hearing Association [says] that 17 to 38 percent of children diagnosed with speech and language disorders also have ADHD.”
What this means is that while you may explore an assessment because your child has difficulty focusing or behaving in school, your doctor may also suggest hearing and vision tests to get a full picture of your child’s challenges. This is appropriate and helpful. You want to find a specialist who gets a full 360-degree view of what is happening.
After testing, your child’s school may provide them with a 504 plan or an Individualized Education Plan. A 504 plan offers classroom modifications for students with learning difficulties whereas an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP, helps children living with a learning disability get the specialized instruction and support services they need. The kind of plan your child gets is ultimately up to your specialist and the school.
But understanding these plans and how they can help your child — along with the documents detailing the plans — will make the process easier for parents. It can also alleviate anxiety.
“These are stigmatizing documents for people and if somebody’s not really aware of what they mean and how we use them, they could be something that people … run from in some cases, just refuse to engage,” says Kahn.
As part of his process, Kahn asks parents about their child’s strengths, the challenges they’re facing and where they’d like to see improvement. All of this results in a plan that is specific to the child.
Many students with ADHD, when taught how to use their strengths and improve upon their weaknesses, begin to thrive and display gifted abilities. In the classroom, Wright advises such strategies as “working in small groups, chunking information on worksheets so it’s not too overwhelming, breaking down tasks” and “teaching social-emotional skills around self-awareness and self-control and time management and making wise decisions.”
These could all be found in a 504 plan that primarily focuses on accommodations schools can make when a student’s learning difficulty doesn’t significantly hinder their learning. An IEP, on the other hand, might have students in a specially designed classroom for certain periods of the day. That might help them with speech therapy or other specialized learning. These documents are created for children who display significant learning issues in the classroom.
Kahn emphasizes that a child who has ADHD may or may not automatically get a 504 plan or IEP in school if they’re “functional enough, getting reasonable grades or not having challenges with behavior.” This is because federal and statewide guidelines exist to determine if a child is eligible for these plans.
What Happens If My Child Is Diagnosed With ADHD?
“ADHD is not a learning disability… It’s in the bucket of mental health. A lot of parents don’t realize that,” Selinger explains.
This means that post-diagnosis treatment can include medication, therapy and executive functioning coaching in addition to an assessment plan if provided. If an education plan is provided, then your child’s school will be responsible for implementing what’s outlined in the document. Since you know your child best, reviewing the plan and assessing if your child is getting the appropriate support over time will be crucial. Wright advises reviewing the plan “with a… child development professional [or] educational advocate” and ensuring that the areas where you especially want to see your child improve are included in the plan. Otherwise, you risk dealing with the same problems even after diagnosis.
Online resources available like CHADD and the websites of ADHD experts Russell Barkley and Ned Hallowell can also help parents explore. Getting your child diagnosed during the summer can ease students into a new transition and provide them with the language they need to better express their difficulties in the school year.
ADDitude Magazine – What Is an IEP? Everything You Need to Know About IDEA, IEPs, and 504 Plans