Placing a High Achiever with ADHD


My son is 10, and just starting 5th grade. Hes been diagnosed with ADHD and Mood Regulation Disorder. Medication has helped him focus, but he still struggles with self-regulation, organization, and disruptive behavior in class. He has always tested into high-ability placement, and this year is no exception. My question is this: Do we take advantage of the opportunity to place him in the high-achiever REACH program to ensure that he is challenged? Or, should we place him into the general education setting where the expectations will be less demanding? 

 Amy P.  Indianapolis, IN

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Susan Baum, Ph.D

Dr. Baum is the Director of the 2e Center for Research and Professional Development at the Bridges Academy in California.

You’re faced with an important decision. You are right to be concerned about the nature of the placement and the challenges it brings. I have three important issues for you to consider as you make your decision: Your son’s academic abilities (especially with regard to production); the level of support the school provides him; and his preference for placement in terms of both academic and social fit.

Your son seems to have the cognitive ability to benefit from placement in the REACH program. Intellectual challenge does stimulate attention and the ability to sustain it over time. He will be with other bright students who are his age and older. Under similar conditions many gifted students with attention issues find an easier time fitting in. I am assuming he reads above grade level and his written production is no problem if tasks are structured for him. Placement in this program will still enable him to get the support he needs in self-regulation and organization according to the law. Removing those accommodations is considered discriminatory.

Programs that work well for bright students with attention issues are those that are strength-based and talent focused.

It will be important to make sure that his strengths, interests, and talent areas are identified specifically and that the teacher of the REACH program uses this information when dealing with students in class. When the curriculum offers choice that relates to students’ interests and talent areas, students find a way to be successful and overcome problematic weaknesses, especially in production. In other words, allowing your son to explore areas of interest in ways that align to his strengths will improve his ability to complete assignments, particularly when all students are offered the same differentiated choices.

Have you asked your son his opinion about being in the program? Who are his friends and where will they be placed? Forming relationships with like-minded peers can make his placement in the REACH program a fine fit.

To conclude, I would encourage you to try placement in the REACH program as his former experience in general education has not met his needs. That said, you need to be clear about the coaching he will receive to support him in developing self-regulation strategies and structuring assignments so that he meets with success. Most important, you need to find out to what degree the REACH program is strength-based and provides students with opportunities to express their understanding in ways that align with their interests and talents.

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