According to the CDC, 11% (6.4 million) of children ages 4-17 have been diagnosed with ADHD as of 2011. If you've ever had a child with ADHD or a similar diagnosis in one of your classes, then you know how difficult it can be for children with behavioral disorders to learn and succeed in the classroom. Our goal at Kaplan Early Learning Company is to provide you with the quality resources and materials you need to help children overcome the effects of ADHD and become a successful student. Understanding what you can do to help is a great way to start. Please browse our tips, resources, and related materials for more information on how you can help students with ADHD succeed in school.
What You Can Do
To help children with ADHD, you first need to learn the definition of ADHD and understand its common characteristics. Once you have an understanding of what ADHD is and how it affects children, you can then incorporate a variety of methods in your instructional strategy to help children with ADHD keep focused on the task at hand.
Understanding ADHD and Its Characteristics
On his Help for ADD website, Dr. David Rabiner defines ADHD as "a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity/impulsivity that occurs in academic, occupational, or social settings." Children with ADHD may have difficulty with staying focused, keeping still, and taking turns. ADHD can be difficult to diagnose due to the fact that many children will display some degree of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness as they grow and develop. How extreme and frequent a child's symptoms are will play a major role in whether he or she is diagnosed with ADHD. Some parents may not even be aware their kids have symptoms of ADHD until they start school, however.
As Dr. Rabiner explains, ADHD symptoms are often dependent on the setting and time of day. A child may be able to play or focus on one activity for a long time at home, but he or she may experience difficulty doing assignments at school. "For children with ADHD, this variability in symptoms does not indicate laziness or defiance... it demonstrates that ADHD symptoms are simply more evident in some settings rather than others. Unfortunately, the classroom is one setting where ADHD symptoms are very likely to be prominent, and sometimes this explains the very different views that parents and teachers have of the same child," Dr. Rabiner states on his website.
Helping Children with ADHD in the Classroom
Now that you understand what ADHD is and how it affects children, you can incorporate a variety of methods in the classroom to help children with ADHD become successful students. In Identifying and Treating Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A Resource for School and Home (2008), the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, and Office of Special Education Programs recommend that teachers (1) plan on teaching more difficult concepts early in the day, (2) give directions to only one assignment at a time, and (3) vary the pace and type of activity included in their lesson plans to improve students' attention.
Patti Gould and Joyce Sullivan provide a few other methods you can incorporate into your teaching strategy to help children with ADHD in their book The Inclusive Early Childhood Classroom:
- Give children opportunities to calm their nervous system by asking them to do heavy work such as scrubbing a tabletop, wearing a weighted vest, or carrying a backpack filled with books.
- Provide a quiet area in the classroom for children with ADHD to step away when they need a break from distractions or need to process something.
- Provide alternative seating options for children with ADHD. Chairs or stools that enable kids to move while sitting still (such as K'Motion Stools) can be useful in helping children focus in class.
- Reduce the noise level in the classroom by asking children to participate in a calming activity. Adding carpeting and/or hanging a drop ceiling are also excellent ways to reduce noise in the classroom.
- Minimize visual distractions by reducing wall clutter or using a table-top divider to make seating areas more private.
- Try to restructure your lesson plan if a child with ADHD does better with an activity during a certain time of the day.
- Make sure the activities are not too hard or too easy for children with ADHD. If an activity does not match the developmental level of the child, they will find it even more difficult to focus on the task at hand.
Even though these methods are listed as ways to help children with ADHD in early childhood classrooms, many of them can be successfully implemented in kindergarten and elementary classrooms. For more information about how you can help children with ADHD succeed in school, read The Inclusive Early Childhood Classroom and check out our list of free resources.
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ADD/ADHD in Children (Helpguide)
What is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder? (National Institute of Mental Health)
Identifying and Treating Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A Resource for School and Home
What Is Hyperactivity? (KidsHealth®)
Childhood/Teenage Attention Deficit Disorder (PsychCentral®)
CHADD (Children & Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder)
Help for ADD
CDC – Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
APA – ADHD