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IEP. It's an ADHD game-changer: Part I

Updated: Jun 7, 2023

Is school a struggle for your child? An IEP can help.

What is an IEP? Why do you want it? And what makes it such an ADHD game-changer?

What's for homework?" you prompt, only to be met by a blank stare. "Again you got yelled at for poking the kid in front of you? Why is it so hard to keep your hands to yourself?" you ask. You're called in for a school meeting. Your child is falling behind and the teacher thinks they need a tutor or they won't pass this year.

Any of these sound familiar?

If they are, we know the difficulty. It's real, and we've been there. Struggling with ADHD in a classroom environment can be highly challenging. But the good news is, as of 1999, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the US officially recognizes ADHD as a disability. Which means your child may qualify for state-subsidized help, i.e. an IEP.

What is an IEP?

An IEP, or Individualized Education Program (IEP), is like a custom gift basket of tools to help your child succeed at school. It lays out the specific social and academic difficulties your child struggles with and provides a map of support, instruction, and educational services your child qualifies for. It is also 100% paid for by the state. Read: It's free!

Every IEP is different, as the document is highly specified to meet the individual child's needs. Still, there are some essential elements you'll want to look out for.

IEP Elements: What's inside

  1. Present Level of Performance - Commonly abbreviated as PLP, PLOP, or PLAAFP, present level of performance should display an accurate evaluation of your child. How they're currently performing at school, their social capabilities, etc. It is the agreed-upon baseline from which the school should be helping them grow.

  2. Goals - The IEP should include individualized short-term (monthly) and long-term (annual) milestones and goals for the current academic year. These goals should be achievable for your child with added help and measurable as to whether they were successful.

  3. Milestones - By laying out individual milestones in your child's IEP, you and the school can help ensure your child properly progresses with the additional resources. Milestones are included in areas such as reading, math, social integration, etc.

  4. Least Restrictive Environment - Whenever possible, the goal is to keep your child's 'placement' in the mainstream classroom, modifying their environment as needed. This can mean modified assignments, in-class help, or weekly tutorial sessions. Lack of funding should never be a reason for the school to pull your child out of class.

  5. Special Education Services - Perhaps the most integral part of your child's IEP is the state-provided services they qualify for. These may be academic, behavioral, or emotional and should be specified in time, frequency, and amount.

So what might these look like?

Special Education Services: Your IEP goodies

The school has many resources to help your child grow and thrive. Here are some of the most common IEP accommodations provided for children with ADHD.

1. Classroom accommodations

  • Untimed testing

  • Frequent classroom breaks

  • Extra set of textbooks

  • Calculator usage

If your child has difficulty keeping track of their stuff, having two sets of textbooks - one at school and one at home- means one less thing to worry about. If multiplication tables have become your child's downfall, eliminating that hurdle with a calculator may be just the academic boost they need to help them focus on learning new mathematical skills.

2. Teaching accommodations

  • Extra reading classes

  • Oral examinations (instead of written ones)

  • A modified curriculum

  • Lenient grading

  • Shorter worksheets

  • Reduced long-answer questions

If your child has trouble sitting still, a shorter worksheet may make all the difference in their ability to complete the assignment. Illegible handwriting? Not uncommon for children with ADHD. A multiple-choice test allows them to show off their knowledge without the added difficulty of penmanship. Difficulty reading? A few additional weekly reading sessions can bolster your child's reading skills and keep them on track with the rest of their class.

And did we mention that with an IEP, it's free?!

3. Clinical services

  • Occupational therapy

  • Physical therapy

  • Speech therapy

  • Counseling

Occupational therapy can help boost your child's independence by teaching them skills to improve organization skills and stay 'on-task.' Physical therapy is proven to strengthen fine motor skills and, for example, improve handwriting. Emotional therapy can help your child regulate emotional outbursts and improve self-esteem issues that often arise in children with ADHD.

IEP Eligibility

Have we convinced you yet why IEPs are so valuable? We hope so! We promise it really does make a huge practical difference in your child’s ability to succeed at school. Now that we’ve covered the ‘why,’ what’s left to discuss is the ‘how.’

Like many government offered services, there is a bit of bureaucracy attached to the IEP eligibility process. That’s why we broke it down for you here, in part II Cracking the IEP Process.


  1. Children with ADHD qualify to receive in-school services and accommodations paid for by the state.

  2. The customized plan to help your child, outlining their current challenges and the services they’ll receive, is referred to as an IEP, or Individualized Education Program.

  3. An IEP can help your child overcome ADHD-related difficulties, enabling them to flourish in the classroom.

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