Extended Time: Is It Right for Your Child with ADHD?

By Ann McCarthy, Special Education Advocate

Extended time on tests is arguably the most common accommodation given to students with ADHD. As an advocate, I sometimes see 504 Plans for students with ADHD that provide for extended time—and nothing else.

Is extended time alone enough to address the challenges faced by students with ADHD? Or should parents be advocating to address the issue that led to the accommodation in the first place?

Opt for Direct Instruction

There are a number of reasons why children with ADHD require extended time, including behavioral issues, challenges with task initiation or seeing tasks through to completion, test-taking anxiety, poor time-management skills, and the inability to realistically judge how much time it takes to complete academic tasks.

Rather than simply settle for extended time, parents should ask the following question of their child’s team: Is there direct instruction that can take place to address the skill deficits resulting in the need for extended time in the first place?

The answer is likely to be yes. ADHD is a disorder of executive function. And if executive functions can be trained then, in many cases, extended time on tests is merely a band-aid that masks the real need for skill building through direct instruction.

The direct instruction needed can be accomplished through IEP goals and objectives or via tiered supports through Response to Intervention (for the student who may not be eligible for special education).

Simply allowing for extended time, while neither teaching students what to do with the extra time nor addressing the deficits that result in the need for more time, is unlikely to improve the rate of work completion, or the quality of the work—factors that may have led to the request originally.

“Accommodations may be taking the focus away from interventions,” says Benjamin J. Lovett, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Elmira College. “Students are provided with extended time on the basis of data from psychoeducational evaluations. Could these same data suggest effective interventions instead? Consider whether interventions would be helpful, either in conjunction with or in lieu of extended time. Even if extended time is determined to be necessary, what steps will you take to make it less so?”

Ann McCarthy is a special education advocate and the co-founder of Advocacy for Kids in Fairfield, CT.