Why You Shouldn’t “Wait and See” When it Comes to Kids with ADHD

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

When parents have concerns about their child’s behavior or academic performance, they are often told by friends, family, teachers, and doctors that they should “wait and see” if things improve before seeking professional help. After all, maybe what is concerning the parents is “just a phase” or a developmental stage that will pass on its own.

Since kids – and the expectations placed on them – are constantly changing, there are times when a wait-and-see approach makes sense. For example, this can be a good method for when a child is initially adjusting to a new teacher or when there are major changes at home, like the addition of a new sibling.

In contrast, when there are persistent behavior challenges at home or at school, like difficulty following basic rules, difficulty getting along with classmates or teachers, oppositional behavior, or difficulties with focus or completing schoolwork, then a wait-and-see approach is not helpful and could even be harmful for kids who may have ADHD.

With the start of a new school year, parents are especially attuned to their child’s behavior and academic performance. So, it’s not surprising that this is the time when new or heightened concerns are often raised. It’s also a major adjustment period for kids, which means teachers and professionals may be more likely than ever to hand out wait-and-see advice.

The problem is that when kids or teens have ADHD, or suspected ADHD, waiting too long can lead to missed opportunities for social, cognitive, and academic development. The longer kids go without help, the more likely they are to experience excessive criticism, miss gaining important academic knowledge or skills, and miss opportunities to foster new friendships.

So, how long should you wait to seek professional help or an assessment for a possible ADHD diagnosis when your child or teen is struggling at the start of the school year? And what are the signs that professional help is needed? While there are no hard and fast rules to follow, here are some basic guidelines that can be helpful:

  • If you are considering having your child or teen assessed for ADHD after the start of a new school year, then it is important to give a teacher 4-8 weeks to observe your child in a new classroom. This is generally enough time for your teacher to develop an understanding of how your child or teen’s behavior and academic skills compare to age- and grade-level expectations. However, it is not necessary or helpful to wait longer than two months (at most) if your child is struggling. Keep in mind that waitlists for assessments can be long, so get on a list right away and expect that it will likely be at least two months before an assessment slot becomes available.
  • If homework time is a battle at the start of the school year, and nothing you do seems to improve the situation, then get additional help as soon as possible. Homework demands will only increase as the school year goes on, and it’s highly unlikely that things will get better if you take a wait-and-see approach. Talk to your child’s teacher, a school counselor, a psychologist, or a learning center, like Huntington Learning Center, about what you can do to take the stress out of homework time. 
  • If you and your child are struggling to get out of the house on time in the morning, either because of behavior challenges, school refusal problems, or because your child cannot stay focused long enough to complete a basic morning routine, then get help as soon as possible. It’s much easier to establish a morning routine that works early in the school year than it is to change a routine later after bad habits have become entrenched.
  • If your child is struggling socially and is having difficulty making new friends, then it may make sense to wait about a month to see if they settle into their new classroom or school. However, if your child has a long history of social difficulties, and their current social challenges are part of an ongoing pattern, then seek help as soon as possible. There may be things that you, a therapist, their teacher, or a school counselor can do early to set your child up for social success this school year.

Finding help for a child who is struggling with behavioral, social, or academic challenges can be difficult. If you suspect your child may have ADHD, then your pediatrician can be a good place to start. School counselors can also be a great resource, especially when it comes to social difficulties. Teachers and learning centers, like Huntington, can help with academic problems in the classroom and during homework time. Lastly, psychologists and therapists in your area who specialize in ADHD or behavior challenges can be very helpful.

If the first professional you talk to dismisses your concerns or tells you to wait and see if things improve, then be persistent and find someone who can provide your child with the help they need now before too much time passes by.



Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.


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