Navigating My Child’s ADHD Assessment Options: School vs. Mental Health Professionals
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As parents, we all share a common dream:  to provide our little ones with the best possible start in life.  But what if you’ve noticed your child struggling with inattention, focus, hyperactivity, or impulsivity?  In this article, I will guide you through the maze of getting your child evaluated for ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) so you can help them thrive during the early years.

The Hidden Challenge

 Surprising as it may be, approximately 6 million children in the United States have been diagnosed with ADHD.  In some states, that number reaches a staggering 16 percent of the childhood population aged 3 to 17.  Let that sink in… because ADHD is more common than you might think!

Understanding ADHD

 First off, what exactly is ADHD?  Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that often surfaces during childhood but can persist well into adulthood.  It’s not just about genetics; various risk factors, such as brain injuries, prenatal substance exposure, premature birth, lower birth weight, and environmental influences, like lead exposure, can play a role.

 Now, what are some telltale signs?  Children with ADHD typically struggle to focus, control impulsive behaviors, and often burst with energy.  They might daydream frequently, misplace things, talk excessively, or fail to sit still for long or follow through with tasks at home or in school.  When left unaddressed, these symptoms can evolve into more significant challenges, impacting decision-making and relationships in adulthood.

Navigating ADHD Options

If you suspect your child might be on the ADHD spectrum, fear not, for there is a path to clarity and support!  You have two fundamental options:

Public School Resources

Tap into the power of your child’s school!  Teachers are often the first to notice signs.  They can guide you through tailored interventions and support services.

Mental Health Professionals

Seek guidance from dedicated experts who specialize in ADHD.  Their evaluations provide valuable insights for personalized strategies.  Sometimes, they give a diagnosis that mandates school systems protect your child’s rights under federal and state law.

Whichever path you choose, remember that you’re not alone in this journey.  Our shared mission is your child’s well-being and your family’s harmony!  Rest assured, you have a range of options, each with its pros and cons.    

Option One: Public School Resources

Thankfully, public school resources can help identify potential problems early and begin the conversation to enhance your kiddo’s educational journey.

Teacher Observation and Referrals for ADHD Students:  Possible Advantages

Great teachers observe and document behaviors impacting learning.  If they suspect something is interfering with your kiddo’s academic performance, they may initiate a referral to the school’s Student Study Team (SST).

  • Early Identification: One of the significant advantages of the public school system’s teacher observation and referral process is early identification.  Teachers are often the first to notice signs of ADHD in students.  Their observations can lead to early intervention and support, crucial for your kiddo’s academic success.
  • Specialized Support: When a teacher refers a student for evaluation, it can open doors to specialized support services within the school.  This may include Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), 504 Plans, or access to special education resources tailored to your kiddo’s needs.
  • Targeted Interventions: Teacher observations can help pinpoint specific challenges your kiddo with ADHD faces in the classroom.  This allows for targeted interventions like extra time while taking exams to improve their learning experience and academic performance.
  • Parent-School Collaboration: The referral process often involves communication and collaboration between parents and school staff.  This partnership is essential for creating a supportive environment for your kiddo so you can provide valuable insights and work with teachers to develop strategies to help them thrive.

Teacher Observation and Referrals for ADHD Students:  Possible Disadvantages

  • Subjectivity: Teacher observations can be subjective and influenced by individual teaching styles and biases.  A referral may depend on a teacher’s familiarity with ADHD or ability to recognize the symptoms accurately.
  • Variability: The quality of teacher observation and referral processes can vary significantly between schools and even among teachers within the same school.  Sometimes, a child’s ADHD may go unnoticed due to inconsistent practices.
  • Stigmatization: While schools aim to provide support, a stigma can be associated with being referred for special services.  Your kiddo may feel singled out or self-conscious about their ADHD diagnosis, impacting their self-esteem.
  • Limited Resources: Public schools often have limited resources, including time and personnel, to provide comprehensive support for every child with ADHD.  Doing so can lead to delays in assessment and intervention or inadequate services for your kiddo.
  • Overlooked Cases: In some instances, students with ADHD who exhibit predominantly inattentive symptoms may not attract attention in the classroom.  These cases might go unnoticed, delaying necessary support.

Possible Advantages of Student Study Team (SST) Assessment for ADHD Students

  • Collaborative Approach: SSTs involve educators and specialists working collaboratively to understand your kiddo’s needs.  This multi-disciplinary approach can provide a comprehensive view of their challenges and strengths.
  • Customized Support Plans:  The assessment results often lead to the development of individualized support plans, such as 504 Plans or Individualized Education Programs (IEPs).  These plans can include accommodations and modifications tailored to your kiddo’s ADHD-related needs.
  • Regular Monitoring: Your kiddo’s progress is closely monitored following the assessment.  Thankfully, adjustments can be made to the support plan to ensure it effectively addresses your kiddo’s challenges as they develop over time.

Disadvantages of Student Study Team (SST) Assessment for ADHD Students

  • Time-consuming: The SST assessment process can be time-consuming, involving multiple meetings and evaluations.  This may cause delays in providing immediate support to your kiddo.
  • Subjectivity: The assessment team’s findings may vary based on their lack of professional training, individual perspectives, and interpretations.  This subjectivity can impact the recommendations and support provided.
  • Limited Resources: Some schools may have limited resources and personnel to conduct comprehensive SST assessments, which can result in delays or reduced support quality.
  • Stress and Anxiety: The assessment process, with its meetings and evaluations, can be stressful for both the child and the parents.  It may also inadvertently contribute to your kiddo’s anxiety or self-esteem issues.

Response to Intervention (RTI) Process for ADHD Students:

At the cost of oversimplification, RTI is a multi-tiered approach used in schools to identify and support students struggling academically or behaviorally.  It involves several stages:

  • Tier 1: Universal Screening: All students receive high-quality instruction in the general classroom.  Teachers use regular assessments to identify students needing additional help at this stage. 
  • Tier 2: Targeted Intervention: Students who continue to struggle receive targeted interventions, usually in small groups.  These interventions are more specialized and tailored to your kiddo’s needs.
  • Tier 3: Intensive Support:  If your kiddo’s difficulties persist, they move to Tier 3, receiving more intensive support, often with individualized instruction and assessment.

Advantages of Response to Intervention (RTI)

  • Early Intervention: RTI identifies and addresses academic or behavioral issues early, providing timely support if your kiddo has ADHD.
  • Differentiated Support: RTI offers a tiered support system, allowing customized interventions based on your kiddo’s needs.
  • Regular Progress Monitoring: Throughout the process, educators monitor your kiddo’s progress to determine the effectiveness of the interventions.  If progress is made, the support may be reduced or discontinued.
  • Reduced Need for Special Education: Many students benefit from RTI without requiring special education services, which can help reduce stigmatization.

Disadvantages of Response to Intervention (RTI)

  • Resource Intensive: Implementing RTI can be resource-intensive, requiring additional staff and time for assessments and interventions.
  • Subjective Decision-Making: The decision to move a student from one tier to another can vary among educators due to their training and expertise with ADHD.
  • Potential Delay: Given how busy most educators are, the tiered approach of RTI may delay receiving specialized support, which can be challenging for students with severe ADHD-related difficulties.
  • Not Always Effective: RTI may not work for every student, and some students with ADHD may still require more intensive special education services.  As a parent, you should actively engage with the school to ensure your kiddo receives appropriate, timely interventions tailored to their needs.

Special Education Assessment Process for ADHD Students:

The Special Education Assessment Process is designed to determine if a child with ADHD (or other disabilities) qualifies for special education services.  It involves several steps:

  1. Referral:  Parents, teachers, or school staff may initiate the process by referring your kiddo for a special education assessment if they suspect challenges such as ADHD.
  2. Assessment: A team of professionals conducts a comprehensive review to evaluate your kiddo’s academic, behavioral, and developmental needs.  This assessment often includes observations, standardized testing, and interviews.
  3. Eligibility Determination: The assessment team reviews the results to determine if the child qualifies for special education services based on criteria set by federal and state laws.
  4. Individualized Education Program (IEP): An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is created if your kiddo meets federal and state-mandated criteria.  The IEP outlines your kiddo’s specific needs, goals, and the services they will receive to support their education.
Advantages of Special Education Assessment
  • Tailored Support: The assessment process identifies your kiddo’s unique needs, enabling the creation of an individualized support plan through the IEP.
  • Legal Protections: Special education services come with legal protections, ensuring that your kiddo’s rights are upheld, and they receive the appropriate support.
  • Access to Specialists: If your kiddo has ADHD, they have access to specialized services, such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, or counseling, depending on their needs.
  • Parental Involvement: Parents actively participate in the assessment and IEP development, ensuring your kiddo’s needs are met and advocating for their education.
Disadvantages of Special Education Assessment
  • Stigmatization: Some students may feel stigmatized or self-conscious about being identified as needing special education services, impacting their self-esteem or social interactions.
  • Resource Demands: Special education services can be resource-intensive for schools, potentially resulting in limited availability or delays in service provision.
  • Bureaucratic Process: The assessment and IEP development process can be lengthy and bureaucratic, which may cause delays in accessing necessary support.  Unfortunately, you may need to remind school systems you know your rights and are not going away until they support your child in ways mandated by federal and state laws.

Individualized Education Plan (IEP) Meeting for ADHD Students

An Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting is a collaborative gathering involving parents, teachers, and educational professionals to develop and review a personalized education plan for your kiddo with ADHD or other disabilities.  The IEP outlines specific goals, accommodations, and support services to address their particular needs.

Advantages of Individualized Education Plan (IEP)
  • Legal Protections: The IEP is a legally binding document that ensures your kiddo’s rights are protected and they receive the support they need to access education on an equal basis with their peers.
  • Parental Involvement: As a parent or legal guardian, you play a significant role in the IEP process, advocating for your kiddo and actively participating in decisions about their educational journey.
  • Progress Monitoring: IEPs include regular progress monitoring, allowing adjustments to be made as needed to ensure your kiddo’s success.
Disadvantages of Individualized Education Plan (IEP)
  • Stigmatization: Some students may feel stigmatized or self-conscious about having an IEP, potentially impacting their self-esteem and social interactions.
  • Resource Demands: Implementing the IEP can be resource-intensive and require additional staff, which can strain school budgets and result in limited availability for services.
  • Bureaucratic Process: The IEP development and review process can be lengthy and bureaucratic, potentially causing delays in providing timely support.
  • Goodness of Fit:  While IEPs are designed to be individualized, they may not always perfectly align with your kiddos evolving needs, requiring ongoing adjustments.

Option 2:  Mental Health Resources For ADHD

Each professional in the list below brings unique strengths, but your ultimate choice may depend on your kiddo’s specific needs, budget, and available services in your area.  Collaboration among these experts can provide holistic support for your ADHD kiddo’s academic success.

Most importantly, these mental health professionals can diagnose ADHD, which clarifies the root cause of challenging behavior and mandates public schools to protect your child’s rights under federal and state law.

Pediatrician or family doctor

Pros: They know your kiddo’s medical history and biopsychosocial development.  They can provide an initial assessment and may offer guidance on ADHD management.

Cons: Limited expertise in behavioral and educational aspects may require costly referrals to specialists for in-depth evaluation.

Pediatric neuropsychologists or psychologists:

 Pros: Conducts comprehensive assessments, provides detailed insights, and specializes in understanding cognitive and emotional functioning. 

Cons: It may be expensive, appointment wait times can be long, and the assessment process can be time-consuming. 

Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrician:

Pros: Specializes in developmental and behavioral concerns, conducts assessments, and recommends targeted interventions.

Cons: May have limited availability, and wait times for appointments may be longer compared to general pediatricians. 

Private Therapists or Psychiatrists:

Pros: Mental health professionals offer tailored therapy, counseling, or medication management.  They provide ongoing support and intervention for your kiddo and the entire family.

Cons: Costs associated with private therapy or psychiatry can be high, and finding the right therapist or psychiatrist may require some trial and error. 

Educational Consultants:

 Pros: Offer guidance on educational options, accommodations, and strategies for school support.

Cons: These mental health providers may not be covered by insurance, and services can be costly.  Effectiveness can vary depending on the consultant’s training and expertise.


Parents, getting your kiddo evaluated for ADHD is a step in the right direction.  If your child is diagnosed with ADHD, it’s a powerful key that unlocks a world of customized education and support.  It’s a promise that they won’t face these challenges alone.  With tailored assistance, accommodations, and interventions, they’ll find the right path to succeed academically and shine brightly in their unique way.  Once your child is evaluated for ADHD, you can be sure about “what is causing what.” In the end, clarity, hope, and a world of possibilities are waiting to help your kiddo thrive.

Contact us Today!

In Touch Counseling offers individual, couples, and family counseling services. This includes support for children with ADHD or other behavioral issues. Contact us today for more information about how to help your child or to schedule a session.

About the Author

Picture of Steve Cuffari

Steve Cuffari

For over 20 years, Steve Cuffari has been an ordained minister, assistant college professor of psychology at vanguard university, and a therapist committed to helping individuals, couples, and educators learn how to put an end to destructive conversations so they can build secure and lasting relationships... More about Steve →


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