Helping children with ADHD readapt to learning and socializing in person

The COVID-19 pandemic has created unique learning challenges for children with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The transition to remote learning has changed the schedules and routines of a group of children who need consistency.1 Now back in school, these children continue to face academic and social challenges.

The challenges these children faced when transitioning to new remote learning have been illustrated in studies such as Attention Disorder Diary and Research on child and adolescent psychopathology which show that at the height of the pandemic, children with ADHD had more sleep problems, difficulty with remote learning, greater COVID-19 rule-breaking actions, family conflicts and were not as prepared for the next school year as their peers.1.2

Another recent study by Child psychiatry and human development found that children with ADHD had greater difficulty learning at home than children without ADHD during the pandemic.3 However, it is important to note that every child with ADHD is different and remote learning experiences vary from child to child.

One factor in learning success was home support, says Fadiyla Dopwell, MD, a developmental and behavioral pediatrician at Pediatrix Developmental Medicine in Dallas, Texas. “I have seen many of our children, not only with ADHD, but with special needs, who have thrived at home because they received one-on-one attention from their parents. They were able to move forward at their own pace. So they weren’t as easily distracted.

Dopwell noted that if children were unable to receive support from their parents, particularly if they had additional developmental disabilities, children were more likely to struggle. “There are a lot of children with ADHD who have learning difficulties. So, if the parent cannot handle the learning differences and the child struggles to learn through virtual support without receiving one-on-one support, the child may find it even more difficult to learn. When learning virtually, children with learning difficulties are expected to learn differently and may not get support from their teacher in the same way as if they were in school.

Similar to how children with ADHD did during the pandemic, the current learning status of these children varied from child to child depending on the support they received and whether they had a learning disability. learning in addition to their ADHD diagnosis, Dopwell added.

As a pediatrician, Dopwell believes the best way to support a child with ADHD in September 2022 is to “ensure the child has support for their diagnosis.” Pediatricians should check with caregivers to ensure academic supports such as a 504 plan, IEP, behavioral strategies, and therapy are being used. Dopwell went on to say that parents should encourage their children to use these supports and communicate with the school to ensure the plan in place is being used and progress is being made.

Dopwell noticed that children with ADHD were not only suffering from the pandemic academically, but also socially. When children were unable to socialize with their peers, they were unable to practice navigating social situations. It was difficult for them to practice avoiding “impulsive commitment” and maintaining “personal space.” Pediatric health care providers should recommend that caregivers provide opportunities for children to practice social situations that prepare them for school in the fall.

Dopwell stressed the importance of behavioral therapy and counseling for any child who has struggled during the pandemic, with or without learning difficulties. The strategies children learn will help them navigate school and social interactions and also control their impulsive behaviors.

When children have difficulty with homeschooling, it can increase anxiety and make ADHD symptoms more apparent. Using behavioral therapy or other strategies may be helpful in managing their ADHD symptoms. Dopwell noted that some of these children need to talk about their anxiety with their health care providers or school professionals. She felt that, if possible, these strategies could be implemented before medication changes are made.

As Dopwell observed, young people with ADHD already faced multiple challenges before the pandemic and this recent study of the Attention Disorder Diary noted that he has not improved with the pandemic. “As such, we also found that children with ADHD were reported by their parents to be significantly less prepared for the upcoming school year in spring 2020 than those reported by parents in the control group. Thus, pandemic disruptions to schooling may have exacerbated existing educational challenges faced by young people with ADHD.1

Dopwell and other experts in the field have seen the impact the pandemic has had on children with ADHD. One of the unifying factors these experts commented on was how parental involvement affected a child’s performance during and after the pandemic. Other factors were school attendance and family conflict. The best thing pediatric health care providers can do to help these patients now that they are back to live learning is to ensure school supports are in place, encourage caregivers to offer opportunities for socialization and to provide behavioral therapy.


1. Rosenthal E, Franklin-Gillette S, Jung HJ, et al. Impact of COVID-19 on young people with ADHD: predictors and moderators of response to pandemic restrictions on daily life. J Attention disorder. 2022;26(9):1223-1234. doi:10.1177/10870547211063641

2. Dvorsky MR, Breaux R, Cusick CN, et al. Coping with COVID-19: longitudinal impact of the pandemic on coping and links to coping for adolescents with and without ADHD. Res Child Adolescent Psychopathol. 2022;50(5):605-619. doi:10.1007/s10802-021-00857-2

3. Jackson A, Melvin GA, Mulraney M, et al. Associations between anxiety and learning difficulties at home in children and adolescents with ADHD during the COVID-19 pandemic. Child psychiatry Hum Dev. 2022:1-13. doi:10.1007/s10578-022-01338-3

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