How to Teach Students With ADHD

Four Parts:Organizing Your ClassroomConducting LessonsCoordinating With the Student’s ParentsMaintaining Order Through Consistent Expectations

Teaching a student with ADHD can be challenging and frustrating. When you learn about the nature of the student’s ADHD, you can develop effectively develop strategies for teaching the student. Try management strategies such as coordinating with the parents, organizing your classroom, and engaging the student when delivering lessons.

Part 1
Organizing Your Classroom

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    Choose a good seating location for the student. Choose a location in your classroom that will encourage maximum focus for the student. Minimize the number of distractions that the student might notice. [1]
    • A student with ADHD shouldn’t sit near windows or doors, which can serve as distractions to the student.
    • Seat the student right in front of you, so they can look at you easily, without being distracted by other students.
    • Organize your classroom in rows. Students facing the front of the classroom are encouraged to pay close attention to the teacher. Seating around tables with other students can be a distracting configuration for students with ADHD.
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    Establish storage systems. Children with ADHD are constantly trying to make sense of their environment. Teachers can help by organizing the classroom. Establish a storage system that separates items into categories and reduces the crowding that leads to overloading. Consider color-coded storage cubes and wall hooks as well as open shelves. Use picture or word labels to remind them what goes where.[2][3]
    • Label storage tubs with corresponding pictures. Have separate storage tubs for books, pencils, paper and other supplies. [4][5]
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    Post visual cues as reminders. Use calendars, written schedules and poster boards to remind the student of classroom rules, schedules, assignments, and so on.[6]

Part 2
Conducting Lessons

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    Get the student’s attention when you start. As you begin the lesson, mark it with an aural cue, such as an egg timer or another noise. Make sure to look directly at the student as you give instructions, and give the instructions in simple pieces.
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    Be clear on the lesson’s objectives. Make a list on the board that includes the objectives of the lesson and what the student will learn. Also list the activities for the student to read. Go over these activities.[7]
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    Vary the activities. Try different activities that move at different paces. Vary the momentum of the class so that your student stays interested.[8]
    • Give frequent breaks help your student refocus his attention.
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    Break up tasks into small pieces. Children with ADHD need tasks to be broken into steps—chunking—that are given either one at a time or in written form. Give positive feedback as the child completes each step. [9][10]
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    Ask the student to repeat the lesson’s main points. At the end of the lesson, summarize what you talked about and what the students learned. Ask the student to repeat the main points so that it will stick in their mind better.[11]
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    Find ways for your student to fidget non-disruptively. Students with ADHD generally don't do well sitting still, and should find ways to fidget that don't disrupt the class.[12] Encourage your student to fidget calmly using a stress ball, tangle toy, or other fidget toy.[13]
    • Wiggly students may benefit from a sensory seat cushion, or an exercise ball used as a chair.
    • Remove distracting objects from the classroom, such as rubber bands, toys and other objects.[14]

Part 3
Coordinating With the Student’s Parents

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    Talk with the student’s parents about the diagnosis. The student will benefit from getting a professional diagnosis of ADHD from a mental health professional. As you observe the student’s level of ADHD, schedule a conference with the parents to suggest visiting a mental health professional for an official diagnosis. Some ADHD signs to look for include:
    • Inattentive ADHD: Has trouble paying attention; doesn’t follow through with homework; is organizationally challenged; avoids tasks requiring sustained focus (like schoolwork); can’t keep track of or often loses keys, glasses, papers, tools, etc.; is easily distracted
    • Hyperactive/impulsive ADHD: [15]: Fidgety, squirmy; taps hands or feet; feels restless; struggles to play quietly/do quiet activities; excessive talking; struggles to wait for his turn.
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    Communicate regularly with the student’s parents. Meet with the student’s parents to discuss a variety of topics, such as effective rewards and consequences and effective homework routines. You should also discuss how you and the parents will communicate on a regular basis about problems and successes. In addition, suggest ways that the parents can mirror what you are doing in the classroom for greater consistency. [16][17]
    • For some students, the student can achieve success pretty easily when you establish consistent schedules, routines, and homework communication methods. Organizational tools are also effective. These include planners, color-coded binders, and checklists.[18]
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    Talk to the parents about the student’s medication schedule. Students with ADHD often take medication to help with distractibility and hyperactivity. Depending on the student, he may need to take a dose of medication during the school day. Talk with the parents to find out if the student needs to visit the school nurse during the day to receive medication.[19]
    • Observe the student’s behavior to monitor if their medication seems like it’s wearing off. This will help the parents determine if the timing of the medication needs to be adjusted.
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    Suggest to the parents that the student take advantage of your school’s special services. Children qualify for free special education services based on one of two basic reasons: they have a qualifying disability or they have fallen far behind their peers academically. Once parents recognize that their child is not succeeding in school and they feel additional help is required, parents may request a special education evaluation. Talk to the parent about making this request in writing. [20]
    • The student may receive minor accommodations (such as extra time for taking tests) or more major interventions, such as self-contained classrooms with teachers and aides who are specially trained to deal with children with disruptive behaviors.[21]
    • Once qualified, a child with ADHD may have access to other school-based services, as well, such as riding home in a smaller bus with extra staff who supervise students more closely than a lone driver is able to do.
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    Remind the parents that ADHD is considered a qualifying disability. Some schools may try to tell parents that ADHD is not a disability that qualifies a student for special services. It is true that ADHD is not listed as one of the 13 disability categories in the language of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). But category 9 is “other health impairment,” which is later defined as “… chronic or acute health problems such as asthma, attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder… which adversely affect a child’s educational performance.” [22]
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    Develop an individualized education plan (IEP) for the student. Once the parents have provided documentation of the student’s ADHD diagnosis, you can complete a special education evaluation, known as an individualized education plan (IEP). This IEP will show that the child’s disability is interfering with his education.
    • An IEP is a formalized document created by school staff and parents that spells out the academic, behavioral, and social goals of special-ed students. It also describes how results will be determined and specific interventions that will be used to achieve the goals. It lists decisions made concerning self-contained classrooms, percentage of time in mainstream classrooms, accommodations, discipline, testing, and more.
    • You will participate in an IEP conference along with the parents.[23]
    • The school is legally bound to follow the guidelines laid down in the IEP. Teachers who fail to follow the IEP can be held responsible.
    • The school is also required to invite parents to regular IEP conferences to evaluate the progress of the child and the effectiveness of the plan. Then adjustments can be made as needed.
    • Once a child has an initial IEP, it becomes easier to establish special education services when the student changes schools or transfers to a new school district.

Part 4
Maintaining Order Through Consistent Expectations

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    Be consistent with your expectations. All children need discipline and they need to learn that bad behavior comes with consequences.[24][25] For discipline to be effective at changing behavior, it must be consistent. The student will know the rules and the consequences for breaking the rules. The consequence happens the same every time the rule is broken. Consistency is vital, and a lack of it can lead to a child developing confusion about the expectations.
    • It’s crucial that all caretakers are on board, maintaining the same expectations and consequences. [26] When there is a weak link amongst the adults in the child’s sphere, that weakness will be exploited every time. He or she may “shop for a better answer” or play the “divide and conquer” game. Talk with the student’s parents about how you can help maintain consistent discipline.
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    Communicate with the student clearly. Be kind but firm. Don’t argue or vacillate. Once you give a specific instruction, it is to be followed without exception. If you allow the student to argue, they see that as an opportunity to win. Thus, you lose.[27][28]
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    Ask why they did what they did. Sometimes kids misbehave because they don't know how else to deal with a problem. Ask about the reasoning behind their actions, then ask them what they think they could do instead. Work together with them to find a better way to handle this problem.
    • Sometimes, misbehavior is a sign of an underlying problem. For example, maybe your student is trying to leave the classroom because peers are bullying her, or because she's often thirsty and would benefit from having water accessible (such as a water bottle).
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    Ask for your students' attention when you address them. Don’t talk until the student is focused on you. Make sure that the student looks at you. If you assign a task, make the instructions brief and have him repeat it back to you. Wait for the job to be completed before distracting him with anything else.[29]
    • Not all students can focus and make eye contact at the same time. If you aren't sure if they're paying attention, ask "Are you listening?" or have them repeat what you said.
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    Use positive input. You can get someone to cooperate better by asking nicely than by demanding or threatening. Those with ADHD are even more sensitive to the threats or demands, as they tend to feel that they’re “always” messing up or in trouble. Regardless of your teaching style or personality, it’s extremely important that you keep the input ratio weighted to the positive side: A child with ADHD needs to feel that he or she is being praised more often than criticized. The positive input must significantly outweigh the negative input to counterbalance all the feelings of failure that is encountered in a typical day.
    • Make sure the praise is immediate, and use different phrases so that you’re not repeating the same phrases over and over.

Sources and Citations

  2. Putting On The Brakes: Young People’s Guide to Understanding Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) by Patricia O. Quinn & Judith M. Stern (1991).
  3. Taking Charge of ADHD: The Complete, Authoritative Guide For Parents by Russell A. Barkley (2005).
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Article Info

Categories: Teaching Students with Special Needs | Attention and Developmental Disorders