ADHD in the Classroom: Simple Strategies & Principles
HAVE YOU EVER WRITTEN OR RECEIVED EMAILS LIKE THESE? It can be difficult for teachers and other educators to know how to best support the kids with ADHD in their classroom. Helping these students to succeed can be particularly challenging, because there is only so much individualized attention that one teacher can give a student. Also, ADHD presents quite differently in each child who has it and can be paired with co-occurring issues (such as anxiety, depression, or stress), further complicating the teacher’s understanding of how to assist the student.
Here are some simple strategies and basic principles that may be helpful in your classroom. Given its different manifestations, though, these tools may not be relevant for every student who has ADHD. Begin with these; you will find that there are many more available in CHADD’s resources for educators and the Attention magazine archives.
- Many tools and interventions you could use with students with ADHD may benefit the class as a whole. Therefore, rather than just doing certain things for one student, if everyone could benefit, why not use these tools for the whole class? It may help others significantly and could make the child with ADHD not feel singled out.
- Incentive and reward systems can often work well for children with ADHD—and all students in general—if the expectations are clear in terms of what is needed to earn something. You can help reinforce student motivation by providing frequent feedback in terms of points earned and giving incentives without long wait times. Making sure that students can earn points in a variety of ways helps to ensure that if a child with ADHD has trouble earning points, especially initially, they would not get discouraged. Many teachers find programs like Class Dojo helpful because points can easily be displayed. Also, parents can access it at home, which saves teachers time in communicating day-to-day issues to parents for more effective problem-solving.
- Most students do better when they do not have to sit for long periods of time. Giving the whole class movement breaks, opportunities to sit in alternative seating (such as on a yoga ball chair or in a rocker), and similar options could benefit all students. Harnessing the use of acceptable forms of fidgeting can in turn improve focus. If you have a student who struggles with sitting still, giving them a way to channel that challenge in a constructive way (a wobble chair or a standing desk, for example) will keep them better engaged, and they will be less likely to be disruptive.
- Be aware that children with ADHD usually do not intentionally act in disruptive ways and may have a strong desire to follow rules and do well in school. Therefore, avoid attributing a student’s trouble with getting work done or misbehaving as implying that they do not care about school.
- Find activities to include students, especially younger ones, in helping out in the classroom. For children with ADHD, being a line leader, helping to pass out papers, and performing other helpful tasks can give them a sense of responsibility—which can boost their self-esteem. This can also be a great way to reduce issues that may otherwise arise during transition times in the school day.
- Just because a student has ADHD does not automatically mean that they should be on medication for it. If a student is being disruptive, it is important to focus on what tools and interventions could be used to help them. While it is often part of a child’s ADHD treatment plan, medication alone does not usually solve all problems related to ADHD in the classroom or in general.
- Find ways to get children interested in what they are learning. Even students with ADHD can focus fairly well if they are sufficiently interested in the class activity. Whether it means tying a lesson to specific hobbies they like or something else, figure out how to get them interested. To help keep kids with ADHD engaged during class—as well as those without it–keep classroom activities as interactive as possible and avoid staying on one task for too long.
- Think outside the box and get creative with ways to liven things up during class. Pull out a puppet, start juggling, or do something else spontaneous if you really need to get a student’s attention or re-engage them.
Carey A. Heller, PsyD, is a licensed psychologist based in Maryland. He specializes in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and executive function issues. Learn more at hellerpsychologygroup.com. The coordinator for the Montgomery County chapter of CHADD, Dr. Heller also serves as co-chair of the editorial advisory board for Attention magazine.