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Developing an IEP for students with ADHD


What is an IEP?


  • An Individualised Education Plan (IEP) is an individualised, collaborative and solution-focussed process, which includes four stages: (1) planning, (2) writing, (3) implementing and (4) review.

  • Inclusion requires an individualised and student-centred approach to assessing and meeting the learning needs of all students. Supporting students with special or additional learning needs requires a systemic and collaborative approach. The IEP process provides the structure to realise this ideal in practice.



Why do students with ADHD need an IEP?


  • An IEP is recommended under the EPSEN Act (2004), and the NCSE (2006) and NEPS (2007) have published guidelines which are available to download from their websites.



  • The ADHD label provides very important information, such as, what behaviours to expect and potentially effective teaching strategies and interventions. However, to fully understand a problem you need to consider the whole system. This includes the student and the different contexts in whch they interact. Thus, you must consider many different internal (e.g., strengths and weaknesses) and external (e.g., demands and resources) factors which contribute to the problem.

  • As the teacher you can get to know the students behind the label, and understand them as young people in an environment that will create opportunities for them to succeed, and also challenges for them to overcome.



  • The IEP process is often avoided because it is time consuming. However, this pales in comparison with when you consider how the student, you as their teacher and the whole school can benefitform having an IEP in place. For example, consider how much time and energy it takes to deal with smaller incidents (e.g., forgetting homework or disrupting class) over the course of an entire year.

  • Time spent now can reduce on-going time spent addressing increasingly more complex difficulties later.



  • The golden rule when it comes to students with ADHD is to provide as much structure as possible - this is what an IEP does. IEPs provide structure and support communication.

  • IEPs are more challenging in secondary school; however, they may also be more necessary. In secondary school students with ADHD often experience a lot of problems organising their time, materials and behaviour to meet the demands of several teachers and settings. So, teachers need to communicate, to ensure that there is a continuum of support, and provide the structure the students need to achieve their potential.


Student Engagement and Self-esteem

  • Students with ADHD often have experienced repeated failure, rejection and exclusion. This leads to low self-esteem and disengagement. It is important to remember that the beliefs a student has about themselves and their abilities are perhaps the best predictors of success and failure in education and beyond.

  • When students are included in the IEP process from the beginning, it promotes a sense of ownership and engagement, and motivates them to achieve the goals in their IEP. As students experience success, their self-esteem also improves.




  • The IEP co-ordinator begins by gathering as much information as possible to identify (a) the student’s strengths and needs, and (b)the environmental demands and resources. So, it is important to consider the student across multiple settings and consult with multiple persons and sources.


  • Important persons to be consulted:

    • Class teacher or teachers.

    • Resource teacher.

    • Other school staff (e.g., SNA).

    • Parents and students are vital.

    • Allied professionals (e.g., psychologist).

    • Special Educational Needs Organiser (SENO).

  • Student's factors:

    • Strengths.

    • Functional difficulties (e.g., organisational skills)

    • Co-morbid (or co-existing) problems.

    • Feelings and beliefs.


  • Social and environmental factors are critical. These can contribute to (even cause) the problem, whereas others could be under used resources.

    • Curricular (what) and instructional (how) variables.

    • Resources and supports.

    • Expectations and structure.

    • Settings (e.g., noise).

    • Home and community factors.

    • Peers and other important relationships.

    • Day of week or time of day.


Writing and Implementing


  • State the student’s strengths, needs and resources

  • Identify 2-4 learning priorities:

    • Similar to long-term goals, these may need to be broken down into short-term (more manageable) goals.

    • Learning is not only academic; students may have needs which are social, emotional and/or behavioural.

    • The Special Educational Support Services recommend the S.M.A.R.T (Specific Measurable Achievable Realistic Timeline) model for setting goals.

    • The goals need to be agreed by everyone – especially the student.

  • Identify the specific strategies, supports and resources which will help to achieve goals.

  • Write the plan and circulate to everyone involved.



Case Example


Long-term goal (learning priority):


  • Student will complete and hand in homework on time.


Short-term goals (learning targets):


  • Student will remember to write down her homework assignments, complete them during study period, and ask her resource teacher for help when she has difficulty with an assignment.


Strategies and resource:


  • Resource teacher will provide and check student has filled in an assignment checklist.

  • Classroom teacher will write assignments on the board, provide time for students to copy down, and sign checklist when homework is due.

  • Parent will sign checklist.

  • Everyone will provide praise and encouragement.







  • An IEP should have a maximum shelf life of one year, and reviews should be carried out periodically during that time, e.g., on a term by term basis.  The annual review date should be clearly stated in the IEP.