School Strategies for Students with ADHD

Empower your child to be their own best advocate in the classroom.
Shutterstock 739770778
Photo by Eviart/Shutterstock

Many of the students with whom I work have been diagnosed with ADHD. A person with ADHD has differences in brain development and brain activity that affect attention, the ability to sit still, and self-control. ADHD is diagnosed as one of two types and can also be a combined diagnosis.

Symptoms of inattentive type include:

  • Trouble focusing and paying attention to details
  • Does not follow through on instructions or forgets daily tasks
  • Often avoids activities that require sustained mental effort

Symptoms of hyperactive/impulsive type include:

  • Fidgeting and moving around in situations where it is inappropriate
  • Unable to engage in activities quietly or has difficulty waiting their turn
  • Often blurts out answers before a question has been completed

Whether you have been diagnosed with ADHD or not, I guarantee you have experienced many of these symptoms. Consider that day you skipped a meal, had a poor night’s sleep or got into a fight with a loved one, these symptoms really know how to come out and play then! Now, imagine waking up every morning and having to navigate your day with not just one but many of these symptoms. It’s sure to result in a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

Being a child or teen with ADHD can be most challenging when in a classroom setting. There are rules to follow, daily routines, time limits, materials to keep track of and transitions from one subject to the next. There are also many other distractions in the room, otherwise known as students. If not armed with a toolkit of practical strategies, the classroom community can be a recipe for physical, mental and emotional distress.

Today, I am sharing strategies for children and teens who experience symptoms that fall under the category of ADHD Inattentive Type. The next article will focus on strategies for children and teens who experience symptoms that fall under the category of ADHD Hyperactive/Impulsive Type.

 

Trouble focusing and paying attention to details:

  • Privately ask the teacher if you can sit closer to the whiteboard and farther away from the people that distract you.
  • Ask your teacher if you can quietly chew gum to help maintain focus.
  • Put a post-it on your desk that reminds you of keywords to listen out for such as: Homework, Directions, Due Date and Important.
  • When you start to lose focus, ask your teacher if you can help with a classroom task such as sharpening pencils or erasing the whiteboard so that you can have a short physical break. If not, stretch your arms and legs while seated at your desk.
  • Pre-Write prompts in your notebook to remind your brain what to listen for such as: What is the main idea of the lesson? What are three details that support the main idea? What is one question I want to ask the teacher? What is tonight’s homework?

 

Trouble following through on instructions or forgetting daily tasks:

  • If you missed a verbal instruction, raise your hand and ask your teacher: Would you please repeat the directions? Would you mind writing down the steps to the assignment? May I have a little more time to think about that?
  • For written directions, underline the verbs such as: Read, Circle or Answer so that you can clearly see what actions to do for the assignment.
  • Write the directions in your own words so it’s in a language you understand.
  • For multiple directions, turn the sentences into a checklist so you can see what to complete first, second and so on.  Then check the items off the list as you complete them.
  • Keep a post-it on your desk that has a list of your end-of-day routine so that remember details like packing your backpack or writing down your homework.

 

Avoiding activities that require sustained mental effort:

  • When you get to a challenging part of the activity think to yourself: What other strategies can I try? I just don’t understand this yet.
  • Think of ways you can reward yourself at the end of the day if you follow through with the challenging task.
  • Begin with the part of the activity that you understand so you can build your confidence before tackling the challenging part of the activity.
  • Check off the tasks as you complete them so you can visually see all the steps you are accomplishing.
  • Keep a post-it reminder on your desk with a list of the top three things you can do when you get stuck before asking the teacher for help.

 

There are accommodations teachers can provide that will make a positive difference in the classroom, and I encourage parents to advocate for receiving such support. However, student responsibility is equally important. When a child is aware of their symptom and has concrete actions that they know will help them, then they become more empowered, confident, and independent. The earlier they engage in the process of learning which strategies work best for their learning style, the more they can advocate for themselves in future learning environments in college and in their professional careers where accommodations may not always be provided.

Every child is unique so there is no one right formula. What is effective for one child may not work for another. So, experiment! Start by choosing just one of the actions above to try every day for the week. As an incentive, parents can provide a small reward or point for each day your child or teen completes the strategy. Then schedule a check-in each day to discuss how it went and what you can do to support them the next day. At the end of the week, if your child notices small, positive differences, then keep repeating the strategy! If not, they can choose a different strategy. With each try, your child will learn how to be their own best advocate in the classroom and beyond.