How to Find the Right School for Children with ADHD

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How to Find the Right School for Children with ADHD

Before starting his school journey, my oldest son was always on the move. If he wasn’t running, he was slamming his body into the wall, floor, or furniture and was often taking things apart simply to put them back together again. He thought every screw was interchangeable!

When it came time to choose a school to send him to for Kindergarten, all of our options were traditional so we went with the only one that didn’t use behavior charts. Punishments and rewards only exacerbated his behaviors. He needed an environment that focused on positive discipline, which we thought we had found. 

The first year was rocky, and it was hard for him to pay attention, but he survived with only a few trips to the principal’s office. During his first grade year, his teacher recommended he take a test to see if he qualified for the gifted program. Since he struggled to learn things like the alphabet song or his colors, I was surprised to find out he scored in the 99th percentile. Those things weren’t important to him, so he learned them when he needed them, not when the adults around him told him he needed to. Shortly after, he was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, also known as ADHD. Later, I discovered that since he was gifted and had ADHD, this is called 2e or twice exceptional

Each subsequent year, his unwanted behaviors increased, causing the consequences to follow depending on the teacher’s frustration tolerance with a boy with a busy body and mind. It didn’t seem to matter that he had ADHD or was gifted. All the teachers saw was his “bad” behavior. 

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By the time he reached fourth grade, the teacher had 34 students in her class and was overwhelmed. Many of the students had ADHD and were literally bouncing off the walls in a small classroom stuffed with rows of desks and chairs. 

My child with ADHD added to the chaos. Even after he completed an OT evaluation where the therapist told the teacher how brilliant his mind was and that moving his body was essential to learning, she could only see his behavior as something she needed to stop.

My husband and I didn’t know we had another school choice for our son, so we weren’t searching for something else. 

Until one day, my friend told me about microschools. I didn’t quite understand what it was, but I didn’t have the desire to look into it further. That is, until my son’s teacher could no longer tolerate his behavior and, sadly, could no longer tolerate him as a person. He began to shut down, moving into a nervous system state called the dorsal vagal, which is where depression, lack of motivation, and self-preservation live. Our indicator was his inability to look us in the eyes or communicate his feelings, which he never had issues with before. 

We knew we needed to do something, so I submitted a contact form on Prenda’s website, quickly got connected with a few guides in my area, and, before I knew it, was touring the microschools where we saw a lot of students with ADHD and other learning differences. 

We observed their school day, and my two sons instantly knew they wanted to go there! We didn’t know it at the time, but my other son is also neurodivergent, so the traditional classroom was not the best fit for him either. 

My boys finally felt at home with hands-on learning projects, a curriculum that allowed them to go at their own advanced pace, and, most importantly, an environment with fewer kids and with an adult who had the tools to connect instead of only using correction and consequences. After the first week, I could already see them both climbing back up the autonomic ladder to a connected state, meaning their brains were finally safe again. 

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A little African American boy jumping over blocks

What are signs at school that my child might have ADHD? 

If you're noticing certain patterns of behavior from your child during a typical school day, it could potentially indicate ADHD. Being aware of the common signs can help determine if an evaluation is recommended. There are some key symptoms of ADHD and things to look for, which include: 


  • Struggling to pay attention, follow instructions, and/or stay on task
  • Making careless mistakes despite trying hard
  • Appearing not to listen when spoken to directly
  • Frequently avoiding tasks requiring sustained mental effort
  • Losing or forgetting important items like homework
  • Frequent daydreaming


  • Fidgeting, squirming, tapping, or seeming restless
  • Leaving their seat when expected to remain seated
  • Running or climbing at inappropriate times
  • Having trouble engaging in quiet activities


  • Interrupting
  • Taking risks without thinking about the consequences
  • An inability to wait for their turn in activities
  • Blurting out answers before questions are completed

Other Potential Signs Connected to Executive Functioning

  • Difficulty with organization skills like managing assignments
  • Avoiding tasks that require focused mental effort
  • Excessive distractibility from external stimuli
  • Emotional dysregulation or outbursts
  • Social challenges with peers

It's important to note that some of these behaviors are normal, especially at younger ages, particularly with boys. The behaviors become more problematic in ADHD when they are excessive, pervasive across situations, and negatively impact schoolwork or relationships over time.

If your child's teacher reports these issues regularly during a school day, it may be worth discussing symptoms of ADHD and requesting an evaluation. Ruling out other potential causes like learning disabilities, anxiety, or instructional mismatches is also important.

Open communication between parents and educators familiar with your child's typical behavior patterns can help identify when professional support may be needed.

A boy who is very excited about chickens in his classroom

What schools are best for kids with ADHD? 

When it comes to finding the right school for a child with deficit hyperactivity disorder and ADHD, parents have several options to consider. Specialized schools that cater specifically to students with ADHD and other learning differences can provide a tailored educational environment. Small class sizes allow for more individualized attention. 

Here is a great list of what a school needs to support kids with ADHD: 

  • Teachers trained in learning differences, brain development, attachment, and diverse teaching methods
  • Resource rooms/learning centers
  • Has access to assistive technology like recordings, audiobooks, speech-to-text software
  • Allows accommodations like extra time on tests, quieter testing environments, fidget tools, or doesn’t have traditional testing or memorization requirements
  • Has built-in break times so children with ADHD can move around during class time 
  • Visual schedules and organizational support
  • Strengths-based and connective discipline strategies instead of traditional behavior management
  • Learning environment that doesn’t require students to pay attention for long periods of time
  • Counseling/coaching for developing life skills and self-advocacy
  • Hands-on, multi-sensory learning activities
  • Project-based curriculum to allow movement and build on interests
  • Support for social-emotional development, not just academics
  • Collaboration between teachers, staff, and parents
  • Flexibility in curriculum pacing and teaching styles
  • Inclusive, understanding environment for all learners

The ideal ADHD-friendly school works to play to the strengths of students with ADHD, provides necessary support and accommodations, and embraces an individualized approach to helping every child succeed.

We found a lot of this with Prenda when my boys made the switch. I remember sitting down to transfer my son’s 504 plan to realize that his accommodations were no longer necessary because the environment already provided what he needed; mostly what is in the list above. 

In addition to microschools, many mainstream public and private schools offer strong special education services and can provide accommodations through an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 plan. 

Schools with robust special ed resources, trained staff, and experience supporting a student with ADHD can be excellent options. Or schools that push the traditional educational boundaries like Mountain View High School in Arizona, Landmark School in Massachusetts, and Marin Academy in California. 

After a few years of microschooling, my son with ADHD is preparing for high school so we found a public charter middle/high school that follows a hybrid model of education. Like his Prenda microschool, this school supports his needs. 

When evaluating schools, parents should look at student-teacher ratios, availability of resource rooms/learning centers, teacher training in ADHD, use of technology/assistive tools, counseling services, and the overall philosophy toward diverse learners. The right fit will depend on the child's specific needs and learning style.

Is it possible for children with ADHD to succeed in school? 

With the proper support and interventions in place, children with ADHD absolutely can thrive academically and succeed in school. While ADHD can present challenges with focus, organization, impulse control, and other areas that impact learning due to the lack of executive function skills, the right accommodations and strategies can help these students overcome obstacles and reach their full potential.

Structure and support are critical for students with ADHD. 

Having a predictable routine, clear expectations, and positive reinforcement can provide the consistency these students need to manage their own behaviors. Teachers who understand how to implement accommodations like instruction and assignments tailored to the child’s interests, quiet workspaces, extra time to move, limited distractions, and assistive technology can make a huge difference.  

Early intervention is also key. The sooner an ADHD diagnosis is made and a plan is put in place, the better. Appropriate classroom accommodations, homework support, organizational skills training, and counseling can get students with ADHD on the path to success from an early age.

With collaboration between parents, teachers, counselors, and school staff, students with ADHD can learn strategies for active listening, chunking assignments, prioritizing tasks, and self-monitoring. Building self-advocacy skills empowers them to understand their needs and seek out support.

While no two cases of ADHD are exactly alike, ensuring the right therapies, medications (if recommended), and school interventions are implemented can allow kids with ADHD to make progress, feel engaged, and experience academic achievement. The keys are early identification, an individualized education plan, patience, and the right resources.

How microschooling can help with ADHD needs

Microschooling involves teaching students in very small groups or individualized settings, making it an excellent option for kids with ADHD. My son went from a place of shutdown to THRIVING once he switched to a microschool. It was the best decision we ever made regarding his education. 

Here are the four benefits of microschooling for kids with ADHD or additional needs: 

  1. Personalized Attention

The intimate environment and small amount of students give kids the personalized support they desperately need. 

With my son, since he was one of seven kids in his microschool, he was no longer seen as the “bad kid” or the kid with behavior problems because he no longer was fighting for the energy or attention of his teacher. He received the connection his brain needed to make better choices. I have seen this with all his classmates who also have a diagnosis of ADHD. 

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  1. Helps with Social Skills 

Because ADHD can impact social skills, the close-knit microschool community provides a safe space for practicing interpersonal abilities. Children get to know their classmates and teachers deeply, forming tight bonds. It’s also much easier to teach social-emotional learning skills to students in this type of environment. 

  1. Flexible Curriculum 

Microschools often offer flexibility in the curriculum, which can adapt to the learning pace and interests of children with ADHD, helping them stay engaged and motivated.  Rather than following a rigid, age-based curriculum, lessons are self-paced to allow students to spend more time on areas they find challenging without feeling rushed or left behind. Mastering core concepts before advancing reduces gaps and frustration.

This self-directed model allows ADHD students time to move through lessons at their own pace without falling behind or getting bored. Subjects can be chunked into manageable pieces. 

A flexible curriculum also allows students to learn what they’re interested in, which is important for kids with ADHD. Interest in a topic helps the brain release dopamine, which is the chemical messenger and neurotransmitter responsible for mood, motivation, and attention. 

Research shows that people with ADHD tend to have very low levels or high spikes of dopamine in the brain. This is why it’s often hard to motivate a child with ADHD extrinsically. Instead, they need to be intrinsically motivated. 

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  1. Reduced Distractions

The calm and controlled environment of a microschool can minimize distractions, making it easier for kids with ADHD to focus and participate actively.

Routines, structure, and clear communication are simplified in a microschool. Students with ADHD thrive with predictable schedules and don't get lost in a sea of classroom changes. This was another benefit for my son when he was in a microschool. 

In a microschool, the small size enables customized learning plans, one-on-one attention, and the flexibility to adapt lessons in a way that engages a child with ADHD. Teachers can frequently blend instruction with hands-on activities, allowing wiggle breaks and catering to different learning styles. The distraction-minimized setting cultivates focus.

Why traditional approaches don’t work for ADHD students

What we found with my son was that the traditional school environment did not allow him time to move his body, learn in a safe environment, or go at his own pace. 

Here are three reasons why traditional approaches typically don’t work for kids with ADHD: 

One-Size-Fits-All Curriculum

As I mentioned earlier, in addition to having a diagnosis of ADHD, my son is also gifted, so a one-size-fits-all approach simply doesn’t work. He was bored, and because of that, he got into trouble. A lot. Even when he was pulled for gifted classes, the teacher didn’t know how to harness all of his creative energy, causing her to rely on punishments and consequences that only made his behaviors worse. 

Traditional school curriculums that do not account for the diverse learning styles and paces of students with ADHD can hinder or stifle their academic progress.

Conventional curricula fail to personalize lessons for the unique needs of students. The rigid, grade-level scope and sequence move too quickly or slowly through topics. There's little ability to adapt materials to tap into individual interests and strengths.

Lack of Flexibility

Rigid schedules and inflexible teaching methods can exacerbate the challenges faced by students with ADHD, who may need more breaks and varied engagement strategies.

ADHD students may grasp some concepts quickly but need more time on others. Inflexible schedules rush them through before achieving mastery or leave them bored after getting ahead. There's no adjusting the pace for each child's optimal learning.

We found that the systems my son’s traditional school used were outdated with brain development especially for kids with additional needs or learning differences. The consequence they relied on the most was to take away recess. This is the most ineffective consequence for kids with ADHD, but they refused to listen or attune to my child’s needs. There was no flexibility in how they handled his behavior, which is why we had no other choice but to pull him from that school. 

Overstimulating Environments

Large class sizes make for busy, chaotic classroom environments that overload the senses of those with ADHD. Between 20-40 students, constant movements, noises, and brightly colored posters and decor overwhelm attention. These over-stimulating settings inhibit focus.

There is also a lack of resources to allow kids with ADHD to get the sensory stimuli they need, such as proprioceptive or vestibular input. 

Lecture-Based Instruction 

Teaching styles focused on lectures, rote memorization, and sitting still for long periods simply don't align with how ADHD brains best learn. The lack of movement, passive listening, and tedious drills lead to restlessness, zoning out, and incomplete work. 

This could not be more true for my son. He needs a learning environment where he can collaborate with the teacher and be guided in his learning instead of forced. 

Lack of Immediate Feedback 

In crowded classrooms, ADHD students may get minimal guidance from teachers until assignments are already overdue. Falling behind creates anxiety or apathy that further distracts the student from learning.

The factory-like model prioritizing standardized curriculums over personalized instruction struggles to engage and bring out the gifts of students with ADHD and varied learning needs. A more student-driven, dynamic approach is not only desired but necessary.

How can I find an ADHD school near me? 


Prenda helps caring adults run and operate their own microschools. As mentioned, microschools are great for a kid with ADHD because the learning environment allows the child to succeed in school. You can find one in your area by using the Microschool Finder. If there isn’t one in your area, you can contact Prenda to start your own! 

Special Education Directories

Several national organizations provide online databases and directories for discovering ADHD-friendly schools and programs. Here are a few: 

Local School Districts

Contact your local school district to inquire about schools that offer specialized services for students with ADHD.

Parent Networks

Connecting with local parent groups and ADHD non-profits can provide recommendations and advice about area schools that families have had good experiences with. Examples include:

Parents Have a Choice

What I’ve learned from having a son with ADHD who was struggling in school is that I had a choice. My education journey was very typical, where I went to the public school I was zoned for based on where I lived. Today, there are so many more options, but it takes a little more time and research to find the best fit. 

If you have a child with ADHD who is shutting down or fighting back because of being forced to sit still in a hard chair every day, please know there are other choices. If you want to learn more about microschooling, sign up here to access The Beginner’s Guide to Microschooling. 

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