At Focal Points Therapy, we often work with children and teens diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), along with their parents. We hear their frustrations, see their struggles, and work with them to overcome their challenges. One topic that comes up frequently during these interactions is the classroom. There’s something about the educational atmosphere and expectations that contrasts with many of the symptoms of ADHD. In an effort to help teachers, parents, and other students better understand the situation, we’ll discuss this topic a little more in-depth.
Whether you’re 6 or 16, you have certain rules you’re expected to follow as a student. You sit in your assigned seat, raise your hand when you want to contribute to class discussions, and pay attention for several consecutive hours every day. Sounds simple, right? Well, now imagine you’re a child with ADHD. Sitting still for long uninterrupted periods is difficult for you. You have a lot of energy and you don’t quite know what to do with it. You have a hard time focusing on one specific task for an extended amount of time—unless you’re thoroughly interested it in. When your teacher gives you a lengthy list of instructions, or worse too few directions, you have a hard time completing projects. You may struggle with motor skills, which makes it difficult to take detailed notes, and you often forget to write down your assignments. This all leads to low grades, frequent scolding, and an overall unpleasant classroom experience—for all students and teachers involved. But, it doesn’t have to be that way! In fact, there are many things you can do to make the traditional school environment more inclusive for those with ADHD.
By taking into consideration some of the symptoms we just discussed, teachers and other educational professionals can rearrange the setting to avoid a lot of issues before they even come up. Through classroom accommodations, teachers aren’t giving students with ADHD or ADD preferential treatment. They’re simply planning ahead to make the learning environment as successful as possible—for everyone. When assigning seating, place these individuals away from distractions whenever possible. Windows, hallways, and other talkative students can make it more difficult for those with ADHD to learn effectively. So try to arrange their seating accordingly. Creating a quiet space within the classroom is also advisable. This allows students to escape when they need to study or otherwise concentrate during particularly hectic times.
Classroom materials can also be structured in a way that helps all students be successful. Try to deliver instructions clearly and one-at-a-time. Begin with the most difficult material early in the day when the children are better able to focus. Scaffolding (especially when it comes to note-taking) has also proved effective. This creates a model for students, rather than asking them to create an entire outline on their own.
In order to assess students effectively, it might be better to give more frequent, but shorter quizzes as opposed to long tests that require them to sit and concentrate for long periods of time. Group work should also be more structured to allow everyone to participate and understand their expectations upfront. Although you may be hesitant to accept late work or offer extra credit to those struggling, flexibility will benefit the students! It shows them that if they’re willing to do the work, they can improve their grades.
In the age of ever-present technology, teachers are under more pressure than ever to keep students engaged. Bells and whistles aren’t really necessarily. Simply incorporating more visuals aids, like charts, graphs, and posters could help different types of learners. Varying activities is recommended, as well. Try separating sessions of individual work with a bell or timer to signal the start of group work or a competitive game-like assessment. These techniques won’t just benefit those with ADHD, but the entire class! Students who are more engaged in the lesson retain more information long after the school day is over.
In order to minimize disruptions, teachers could also work with students to create a specific warning system. Those with ADHD may have their own signals, such as a colored sticky notes or appropriate hand gestures, that let them know they need to stay on task. This eliminates the need to chastise them in front of the entire class and/or take away time from the lesson at hand. If you’re struggling to cope with these accommodations as a teacher, student, or parent, reach out to the resources on your side! The entire staff at Focal Points Therapy has knowledge and experience concerning ADHD. Tap into it! We’re happy to work with individuals or speak to groups, such as PTAs, school assemblies, or other community organizations. Remember, we all want the same thing! For students in our area to be as successful as possible—including those with mental health issues like attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Let’s work together to make this happen.