Ask Sandra

The following questions and answers are posted with the permission of the people who submitted the question. Their real names and identifying information have been removed.

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My son is in 7th Grade and has ADHD. School has been a battle since 1st Grade, but this is his worst year ever.  He is in a very fragile mental state, and I’m very concerned about him.  I would appreciate your advice.       Alicia

Dear Alicia,

If you are concerned that your son is in a fragile mental state, he needs the help of mental health professionals right away.  It is very possible that in addition to ADHD your son may have depression, anxiety, or some other mental health disorder needing treatment and attention ASAP. It is very common for kids with ADHD to have other co-existing conditions such as depression ( 10% to 47% ) and anxiety disorder (25%-35%).   You will want to get the help of a clinician who has experience and expertise diagnosing and treating children and teens with ADHD and coexisting conditions.  I also recommend that you let the school counselor, teachers, and other school professionals (e.g., nurse, administrator) know immediately of your concerns, as well.

Good luck to you. I wish you all the best.



What do you think about homeschooling for ADHD children?   – Pamela

Dear Pamela,

I know that there are a number of families for whom homeschooling has been a lifesaver for their child – especially if the child is feeling so defeated, angry, or depressed that he/she is simply unable to cope (socially, emotionally, academically) within the school environment. There are families with students who have AD/HD who are very successful with homeschooling, and it is an option you may definitely wish to consider.

However, homeschooling is obviously a huge commitment that would not be possible for many families to follow through with consistently or successfully.  If interested in pursuing, I recommend you carefully do your homework – exploring the various homeschooling options which vary from state to state, and locally (district to district).  In some school districts, for example, homeschooled children have access to district resources and materials – and participate in extracurricular activities, programs, and so forth. Contact your school district and ask if there is an office that coordinates homeschooling, and can provide you with information.  Also, look into the homeschooling organizations which can provide a lot of information, guidance, and supports. Some homeschoolers are part of a cooperative – working together with and participating in educational activities with other homeschooling families.  With all of the online and distance learning opportunities now available, homeschooling options have increased dramatically – particularly for teens/adolescents.  Here are just a couple resources on homeschooling you may find helpful:   

Best regards,



My son, Alex, was diagnosed with ADHD when he was five. Now he is in fifth grade and is in special education.   School just started a few weeks ago and we are off to a bad start.  I am meeting with the school later this week because Alex has not been allowed to go to recess since school started three weeks ago.  This is very upsetting.    I asked the teacher if she could give a different consequence.  I feel kids with ADHD really need recess to let off some steam.  I’ve offered to bring Alex early to school or have him stay after school for punishment.  But, the teacher says he has to follow all the rules as the other fifth graders and have the same consequences.   I feel he is very frustrated this year already and we have come so far to have it all go down the tubes now. Do you think I am over-reacting? Thank you!  Janet

Dear Janet,

You are not over-reacting.  Losing recess for 3 consecutive weeks – especially from day one of the school year is not a reasonable consequence – especially for a child with ADHD.  Several studies have proven the importance of physical activity and how it improves both academic and behavioral functioning.   You have demonstrated your willingness to work with the school and cooperate in the provision of alternative consequences (detention after school or paying back ‘time owed’ before school).  The school should be willing to work together with you in this regard.  If a student on occasion loses his or her recess, that is reasonable at times.  Also, losing a minute or two of recess or perhaps some restrictions of activities/equipment the child has access to during recess at times is also appropriate as a negative consequence.  But, what you are describing is not reasonable.  Children with ADHD have a NEED to get out their energy and have a break from the instructional day.  Denying them recess will likely trigger even more inappropriate behavior in the classroom.   According to Matt Cohen, one of the country’s leading special education attorneys,  “If a student needs recess to help him stay on task or burn some of his excess energy, that should be written into the IEP. The IEP could also suggest finding opportunities for frequent movement or breaks for alternative activities.”

I am assuming that Alex’ special education teacher and hopefully some other support staff/IEP team member(s) will be involved in the meeting. It is important that a proactive positive plan of behavioral support, reasonable accommodations and appropriate consequences be discussed and implemented so that Alex has a successful school year.

I wish you all the best.

–  Sandra


How accountable should a 6 year old boy with ADHD be held for aggressive behavior (not bad things – but being in the personal space of other children, horsing around in less supervised places, play fighting, “rough playing”, kicking sometimes)?  We try to anticipate and avoid situations at home, but at school this is becoming a big problem.  I want him to learn that inappropriate behaviors have consequences before he is old enough to get into any real trouble yet, but I want him to feel good about himself, too.    – Suzanne

Hi Suzanne,

It’s good that you are anticipating situations in which your son will have difficulty and using strategies to prevent problems; and of course, the teacher should be doing the same. There will be school rules that apply to all children – including those with ADHD.   Even though the behaviors are not intentional but part of his impulsivity/hyperactivity, they will result in corrective consequences. I would try to establish a close working relationship with the school and come up(as a team) with a plan to prevent problems that are likely to occur and foster the growth of your son’s self-management and social skills.

For example:  Verbal and nonverbal cues & signals that the teacher and perhaps playground supervisors or other staff uses to warn your child when his behavior is getting out of control, perhaps steering him to certain activities with less chance to get over-stimulated and aggressive, increased supervision outside of the classroom, use of social stories to review expectations before lunch/recess, implemeting incentive/reward systems, etc.  Social stories (such as those written and described by Carol Gray) are helpful to remind your son about appropriate behavior before leaving the classroom to a less structured environment or activity in which he is likely to have trouble. A daily report/home school note (e.g., with stickers, stars or smiley faces on a chart), with a reward provided at home or school for x amount of smiles/stars/stickers earned during the day. This is a highly recommended and research-validated behavioral intervention for kids with ADHD.  There are lots of proactive strategies that can be implemented by parents and teachers to minimize problems. Information about these kinds of behavioral strategies and interventions can be found in my books and lots of other resources. You are absolutely right in trying to teach your child that inappropriate behaviors and breaking school rules do have consequences … while doing all you can to preserve his self-esteem.

I wish you all the best.