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ADHD Medications in School

Boy taking medicine
If your child is taking medication for ADHD, teachers and other school staff will need to:

  • monitor the effects of medication on classroom behaviour and performance, especially at the start of treatment
  • give medication at school, if necessary
  • become educated about prescription drugs, street drugs, and drugs of abuse

If your child is starting or changing medication, be sure to meet with the teacher to discuss these issues. Your child's school may have specific policies about medication and forms that you need to fill out and sign.

Monitoring the effects of medication at school

There is no way for doctors to predict the best medication and the best dose for a specific person. For this reason, when starting treatment, it is important to monitor a child's response to medication carefully. Teachers play an important role because they can:

  • observe the child during the day, when the medication is active in the brain
  • report the type of effects and how long they last

This is very important for younger children. They may not be able to evaluate, describe, or remember the effects of medication. By using information from you and your child's teacher, the doctor can find the best medication and dose for your child.

Medication trial

When starting a child on medication, many doctors find a medication trial useful. In a medication trial, a child is given either a placebo (sugar pill) or various doses or types of medication. The parents, the teacher, and the child do not know what is being given on any day. This lets them observe the child's behaviour objectively. Knowing that the child is taking medication will not cause bias.

With your consent, the doctor may ask your child's teacher to make a daily or weekly rating of:

  • your child's behaviour
  • your child's academic performance
  • any side effects

The doctor can compare this information to the different medications and doses and decide:

  • whether the medication helped
  • whether there were any side effects
  • what problems are left, even if the medication was helpful

Ongoing monitoring of students with ADHD

Once the doctor has settled on the best medication and dose for your child, it is important that she monitor how your child is doing on a regular basis. Your child's teacher can give important information about:

  • how well your child's behaviour symptoms are being managed
  • how much work your child is completing
  • how well he is completing work
  • your child's relationships with other children and adults at school

This information can help the doctor see how well treatment is working for your child and help ensure your child's success at school.

Giving medication at school

If your child is taking a short-acting medication, he may need to take a dose at school. Many schools and school boards have systematic policies to ensure that medication is handled safely. You will probably need to sign a permission form. You may also need a signed order from your child's doctor.

The school will need to know:

  • the name of the drug your child is taking
  • what time to give the drug
  • how much of the drug to give (the dose, or how many pills)
  • the reason the child is taking the drug
  • the impact of a missed dose
  • emergency contact information
  • the name and phone number of your child's doctor
  • any extra instructions

You will need to know:

  • how to deliver medication to the school (your child should not carry ADHD medication to and from school)
  • who will give your child the medication (your child should not be allowed to self-administer medication without a staff person being present)
  • the backup plan if the regular person is away

The school should also have:

  • a secure, locked place to store medication
  • a way to keep track of medication that is kept at school
  • a log that indicates the date, time, and amount of medication dispensed, along with the initials of the person who dispensed the medication

Prescription drugs and drug abuse at school

Stimulant drugs for ADHD can cause a "high" when they are not used by prescription. School staff must understand the risk for misuse and abuse of prescription medications. This includes teachers, principals, school nurses, and school psychologists.

School personnel can help monitor whether students with ADHD are being approached or threatened to give or sell their medication.

Medication for ADHD, including more information about drug use and abuse, is discussed in detail in the "Treatment" section of this web site.

Tara McAuley, PhD, CPsych

Peter Chaban, MA, MEd

Rosemary Tannock, PhD