3 things to know starting children in school with ADHD

Parents who are thinking of sending their children in school with ADHD before they have turned five years, need to consider if they are ‘emotionally and socially’ ready for the education process.

The effects of being too young for school can be devastating and lifelong. The first few years of a child’s school life will determine that child’s attitude to learning for the rest of their days. There is far too much stress on these younger children far too early. Why? Why do they have to be started as early as possible?

Many of our kindergarten children are only four and a half years at the beginning of the school year. The schools, keeping their numbers up, take these little people before Easter when they are 4 and 9 months, just as half the kids in the class are about to turn 6 years. At that stage of their development, the young ones are a good 15 months behind their classmates. “Immediately the little boys are disadvantaged,” says Prof. Simon Clarke, Pediatrician.

“What do kindergarten children get rewarded for most? Sitting still.”

“Who does that best? Little girls who are five and a half years.”

“Who does this worst? Little boys of four and three-quarter years, whose motor development is not yet up to keeping them still for longer than a few minutes”.

“So Susan gets a star and Simon is out in the corridor again.”

Too many young children are suffering physically, emotionally and academically from having started school before their bodies, their minds or both were read.

Additionally, ADHD and learning disabilities are highly genetic. And more than half of all children in school with ADHD have problems with learning. It is tough at school when you can’t concentrate or stick to a task, but even tougher if there are unrecognized learning problems

All parents whose children have mid-year birthdays should consider holding them back until the following year. The same applies to parents who feel their five-year-old is not socially or emotionally ready for school. The law does not require compulsory school attendance until a child is six years.

Confirm with the School or State Education Department.

Policies may vary or change therefore we recommend that parents wishing to find out what the policy and guidelines are should contact the child’s school and contact the relevant State Education Departments as there can be variations.

Development is not related to age.

Parents, teachers, and education authorities – need to realize that development is not related to age.

“Boys develop more slowly than girls. The worst affected children are the little boys with mid-year birthdays,” said Dr Clarke.

July is the cut-off point for NSW school enrolments. “By the time they get to high school the youngest boys are actually two years behind girls in the same class.

The girls are experiencing puberty and the boys are still children.” This, he believes, is going to drastically affect their work and their attitudes to theoretical study.

All parents whose children have mid-year birthdays should consider holding them back until the following year. The same applies to parents who feel their five-year-old is not socially or emotionally ready for school. The law does not require compulsory school attendance until a child is six years. An extra year at home or at preschool can do no harm, whereas spending that year at school before they’re ready, can do irredeemable damage.

Mothers don’t need to teach. All they have to do is turn off the TV and other devices, and let the kids be kids.

Let them use their imagination– especially outdoors, invite other kids to visit, and take them to Playgroup, the park, the beach, for bush walks. Make shopping a learning experience, and importantly, read with your child.

Transitioning into the School Environment with ADHD

Remember – even if the children in school with ADHD are managing reasonably well with their school work, then there will be even greater expectations for the child to manage in a busy classroom.

A major problem occurs when the parents realize their child is not coping and the school is reporting ‘behavioural issues’, often threatening suspension. The child may simply not be ready for the education process.

Parents and teachers need to consider a situation where the child may be ‘socially immature’ – poor concentration, can’t sit still, won’t co-operate, share, or join in group games.

Or ‘emotionally undeveloped’ – school upsets or frightens him, he cannot make decisions, nightmares, cramps, and bedwetting. “Schools are loathed to repeat children who are bright,” said Prof. Clarke, “however in this situation repeating is a simple and frequently effective solution”.

Parents must consider too that while a child may appear to be coping well academically, despite any other issues, he is probably not operating at his full potential. A younger child who is making average progress could possibly be brilliant if he had not been put into a class for which he is too young.

If your instincts tell you, hold them back.

Parents know their children better than anyone else. Use your own superior knowledge of your child’s development in deciding whether your boy or girl is truly ready for school. Has your pre-schooler been slow with his developmental stages, or does he seem ‘different’ to other children of the same age?

If unsure, ask your child’s preschool or child care centre, Paediatrician, or your GP. But whatever you do when considering your children’s needs, make rational, intelligent decisions, and make them early.

Before starting ‘big school’, children in school with ADHD need to be able to:

  • Recognise their own name
  • Dress themselves
  • Put their own shoes on (Velco straps will help)
  • Have a good pencil grip
  • Copy individual letters and numbers
  • Know the primary colours (red, blue, green and yellow)


  • To have their sight & hearing checked.
  • Every child develops at a different pace. However, if you are already concerned, start your search before they start school. Don’t be put off by being told “you are just a worrier” or “they will grow out of it.”
  • So often the pre-schooler who is “different” or “slow in developing” can be caught and helped before going to school. Not all of these younger children will develop learning difficulties. Some of them seem to get by. However, it is not worth the risk to wait and see “if they will grow out of it”.

Sourced from an article of the same name by Prof. Simon Clark, and publications “Help Your Child to Learn” by Barbara Pheloung, and Understanding ADHD by Dr Christopher Green.

Find more information on school readiness below: