Identifying ADHD in students

Identifying ADHD in School: A Comprehensive Guide

As an experienced educator who has diagnosed ADHD, I speak from experience that identifying ADHD in students isn’t always easy. For some, the signs and evident. For others, they do a good job concealing it. I put myself into the latter category when I was in school.

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects individuals’ ability to focus, control impulses, and manage their attention. In a school setting, recognizing the signs of ADHD is crucial for early intervention and providing appropriate support to students. This article aims to provide educators, parents, and caregivers with insights on how to identify ADHD in school.

Understanding ADHD and the School-Aged Brain

ADHD is a complex condition with three primary subtypes: inattentive, hyperactive-impulsive, and combined presentation. It is essential to recognize that symptoms may vary among individuals, and not all children with ADHD will display the same characteristics. However, there are common signs and behaviors to watch for in a school environment.

  1. Inattentiveness

One of the hallmark signs of ADHD is inattentiveness. Children with this subtype may have difficulty sustaining attention on tasks, often making careless mistakes and failing to complete assignments. They may frequently lose or forget important items like homework or textbooks and have trouble organizing tasks and activities.

In school, look for students who:

  • Frequently daydream or appear to be “off-task.”
  • Struggle to follow instructions or complete multi-step assignments.
  • Appear forgetful and disorganized.
  • Frequently misplace materials or assignments.

Identifying ADHD in students isn't easy

  1. Hyperactivity

The hyperactive-impulsive subtype of ADHD is characterized by excessive physical activity, impulsivity, and difficulty controlling impulses. Children with this subtype may have trouble sitting still, blurting out answers before questions are finished, and interrupting others.

In school, watch for students who:

  • Are fidgety and have difficulty staying seated.
  • Talk excessively or disrupt class discussions.
  • Struggle to wait their turn and often interrupt classmates or the teacher.
  1. Combined Presentation

Some children exhibit symptoms from both the inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive categories, which is known as the combined presentation. These students may struggle with organization and focus while also displaying hyperactive and impulsive behaviors.

Identifying ADHD in School

Recognizing ADHD in a school setting involves a multi-faceted approach, considering input from teachers, parents, and sometimes healthcare professionals. Here are the steps to identify ADHD in school:

  1. Teacher Observations:

Teachers often spend a significant amount of time with students and can provide valuable insights. They should watch for consistent and persistent signs of ADHD, keeping a record of the student’s behaviors, attention span, and any difficulties they observe.

  1. Parental Input:

Parents are crucial in identifying ADHD. They can provide information about the child’s behavior at home, any family history of ADHD, and any previous assessments or diagnoses. Collaboration between parents and teachers is essential for a comprehensive understanding.

  1. School Psychologist or Counselor:

If concerns about ADHD persist, involving a school psychologist or counselor can be beneficial. They can conduct assessments and screenings to determine if further evaluation is necessary. These professionals can also provide support strategies to help the student succeed in the classroom.

  1. Medical Evaluation:

If ADHD is strongly suspected, a medical evaluation by a healthcare professional, such as a pediatrician or child psychiatrist, is often necessary for an official diagnosis. This evaluation may involve interviews, questionnaires, and cognitive testing.

  1. Collaborative Efforts:

Once a diagnosis is confirmed, it’s crucial for parents, educators, and healthcare professionals to work together to develop an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or a 504 Plan to accommodate the student’s needs. These plans can include classroom modifications, behavioral interventions, and, if needed, medication options.


Identifying ADHD in school requires a collaborative effort among teachers, parents, and healthcare professionals. Early recognition and intervention are vital for supporting students with ADHD and helping them succeed academically and socially. By understanding the common signs and following the steps outlined in this article, educators and parents can play a pivotal role in the well-being of children with ADHD, promoting their long-term success in and outside the classroom.