K-12 districts should expand ADHD supports

Despite districts' best efforts, at least one in five students with ADHD do not receive school services, according to a recent study.
By: | March 15, 2019

At least one in five students with ADHD do not receive school services despite experiencing significant academic and social impairment, according to a recent study.

Middle and high school students with ADHD generally receive fewer support services (other than Section 504 educational support plans) than do elementary school students. Students from non-English speaking families and low socioeconomic backgrounds struggle to get any support services at all, the study also reveals.

A study in the Journal of Attention Disorders examines parent-reported data from the National Survey of the Diagnosis and Treatment of ADHD and Tourette Syndrome, which included 2,495 children with ADHD, ages 4 to 17.

ADHD can affect anywhere between 6 to 10 percent of the school population, according to George DuPaul, professor of school psychology and associate dean for research in the College of Education at Lehigh University, and one of the report’s authors.

“It’s important for school administrators to be aware of this gap in mental health support for students,” DuPaul said in a phone interview. “Superintendents and principals can play a big part in advocating for greater attention from policymakers to help provide the necessary resources to address the gap.”

In addition, district personnel should work to increase ADHD awareness among educators in middle and high schools, and take steps to support those students, both in their education and mental health functioning, said DuPaul.

Educators should realize that students receive greater support when their families aggressively advocate  for services. Families from non-English speaking backgrounds or with lower incomes tend to be less engaged with school administrators. Educators must make an extra effort to communicate what services are available to these families.

Districts can learn more about students with ADHD by working more closely with the health care professionals who diagnose the condition, said DuPaul.

“The greatest message from this study is that it’s one more piece of evidence that the mental health supports for youth in our country are really hurting,” said DuPaul. “With ADHD, we’re talking about one of the most common health disorders in kids. People are aware of it and it’s a fairly obvious condition, so if we’re not meeting these kids’ needs, what does that mean about the child who is depressed or suffers from another anxiety disorder that’s not as overt? How are we meeting their needs? My guess is that it’s a much bigger gap.”

Key findings from “Predictors of Receipt of School Services in a National Sample of Youth With ADHD”:

  • The majority (69.3%) of students with ADHD currently receive one or more school services.
  • Educational support (62.3%) was nearly twice as prevalent as classroom behavior management (32.0%).
  • More than three times as many students with ADHD had an individualized education program (IEP; 42.9%) as a Section 504 plan (13.6%).