Updated: Dec 23, 2022
In the UK, it is thought that between 2-5% (1 in 30) of school aged children have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD. ADHD is a behavioural disorder that includes symptoms such as inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. These symptoms are often noticed at an early age and may become more apparent when the child starts school, with most cases being officially diagnosed between the ages of 6-12 years old.
It is important to recognise that not all students with ADHD have all the symptoms, and there are typically 3 presentations of ADHD according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM V).
Short attention span or easily distracted
Appears to be forgetful or often loses things
Makes careless mistakes in schoolwork
Difficulty in sticking to tasks that are time consuming or tedious
Appearing unable to listen or carry out instructions
Hyperactivity and Impulsivity
Unable to sit still, especially in calm or quiet surroundings
Excessive physical movement
Unable to wait their turn
Acting without thinking
Little or no sense of danger
The impact of ADHD goes beyond difficult behaviour in school - students who have ADHD can often struggle to “fit in” at all stages of their development. Students with ADHD can have low self esteem, underachieve at school, be at higher risk of exclusion and also have overlapping learning/behavioural disorders such as Autism, ODD, Anxiety and Depression.
Teaching Students with ADHD
One of the most important stages in teaching pupils with ADHD is understanding how they feel and perceive the world around them.
“I seem to get the blame for everything, it’s so unfair”
“It’s hard making friends with other kids.”
“Adults are always annoyed with you because you’ve forgotten something or been silly. They tell you off and make you feel stupid.”
Here are some simple but effective tips and tricks you can implement in your classroom to make it more ADHD friendly.
Visual Timetables & Organisation
Students with ADHD feel safer and more secure if they know what to expect, and so implementing a regular routine can really help. Using visual timetables can be a great way for students to check what is coming up on that day, but also know when their next break is. You can also use sand timers to countdown time remaining on a particular activity before transitioning to the next.
Supporting Memory & Learning
There are a couple of really simple ways to help children improve their memory skills, which will in turn support them with their learning.
Use mnemonics -- e.g. BIDMAS in mathematics.
Colour code books and homework
Repeat directions and instructions individually to the child
Make reminder lists - for example CUPS (Capital Letter, Understanding, Punctuation, Spelling) when children are asked to check their work.
Allow for regular movement and sensory breaks
Children with ADHD are often described as being like a stretched rubber band when they are asked to sit still quietly - they’re going to snap! Children with excessive motor activity need to burn off the energy somehow, and they can’t always wait for break or lunch time.
Allow them to get up and walk around the class where possible before settling back into task
Make them your ‘Little Helper’ - they can hand out books, write on the whiteboard, take items to the school office etc.
Try to make tasks and activities involve movement
There will be occasions when the student is so disruptive or impulsive that they need to have time away from other students. The idea of taking time out or taking a break is to have a stimuli-free place, perhaps a quiet corner in the classroom where the student goes for a short period of time. This is not a punishment.
Probably one of the more frustrating things for teachers to experience is feeling as if your students aren’t paying attention or engaged with your lesson. True, they may not want to learn about long division but you have spent hours planning a fun and interesting way to teach it and now some are just not paying attention! This may be because some of those pupils have ADHD or ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). So here are a few ways to encourage attention;
Provide students with a brief outline of the lesson before starting - what will you cover, what will you do, what will you learn?
Break things into short chunks
Review design of worksheets -- perhaps have 1 or 2 activities per page rather than a very busy worksheet with lots of questions.
Use ‘attention grabbers’ when speaking -- “Right, here we go!” “Now for the cool part!” “We’re nearly done now”
Where possible have non-vocal music playing in the background
Fidgeting and Sensory Boxes
It can be really hard to stop students with ADHD to stop fiddling and fidgeting, and trying to stop them from doing this can actually increase the more ‘disruptive’ and impulsive behaviour. It has been recommended by other teachers that you do allow students to fidget with a small toy or item such as spinners, squeeze balls or playdough.
It’s also nice to have a Sensory Box full of their favourite items that can stimulate or regulate certain senses. It can also contain flashcards that detail certain emotions which could help the child communicate with the teacher or LSA if they’re feeling particularly stressed or anxious.
Students with ADHD are often isolated as ‘the naughty child’ as teachers can fall into the trap of calling them out individually for their impulsive or disruptive behaviour, which can be quite humiliating! ADHD is an explanation, not an excuse, for challenging behaviour. The emphasis should be firmly placed on recognising where the problems are and finding ways to solve them. This approach should be solution focused and on missed opportunities for effective learning and development.
Keep instructions short and simple - “Pick up your books, please.”
Speak clearly and concisely and try to make eye contact where possible.
Use ‘when’, ‘then’ and ‘either’ - e.g. ‘Ryan, when you have put your books away, then you can play outside.’
Tell them when they are good!
Praise can improve concentration skills in students with ADHD. Rather than giving generic praise, such as “well done”, be specific about what they have done well so that it reinforces that particular behaviour. For example, “Lucy, I really like how you’ve used lots of adjectives in your writing to make it descriptive!”
Students with ADHD often respond well to reward systems, as they are incentives tied to short term, achievable goals. Firstly, set realistic goals or behaviour targets for the student, such as not shouting out or sitting on the carpet for 10 minutes during circle time. Then negotiate a reward with the student;
Stickers or stamps
Additional computer or outside time (or time doing their favourite activity)
Additional free time
These are just a few simple ways to help students with ADHD in your classroom. Not only will these hopefully improve their behaviour but it will also teach them valuable life lessons around how to organise their tasks, thoughts and how to think about behaviour in group settings.