How Teachers can help a Student with ADHD

Pressure to ensure measurable progress on standardized tests has caused teachers great difficulty in recent years. Compounding this difficulty is the trend towards inclusive classrooms, which may include non-native speakers, transient students, and students with disabilities. One of the most commonly diagnosed disabilities is Attention-Deficit Disorder, or ADD. Students with ADD may present several challenges including, as the diagnosis suggests, short attention spans. Other symptoms include difficulty completing tasks, inattentiveness, impulsivity, disorganization, and distractibility. The Center for Disease Control estimates that ADD affects between three and seven percent of school children, meaning in a typical class of 25, between one and two students will have the disorder. Fortunately, with minor modifications and planning, most students with ADD can and do thrive in the regular education classroom. 

Teachers can use the following strategies to encourage the success of students with ADD: clear procedures; planned breaks; minimal distractions; opportunities for movement; and shorter activities.

Clear Procedures

It is vitally important that teachers spend as much time as they can afford teaching clear routines and procedures and give students, particularly those with ADD, plenty of chances to practice them. While impulsivity will remain an issue for students, a heavy investment in teaching routines will help establish firm limits and minimize disruption. Additionally, some teachers find it helpful to use visual cues – hand signals or pictures – to remind students of expectations.

Planned Breaks

Another successful strategy for assisting students with ADD succeed is scheduling planned breaks. Students with ADD can often produce large amounts of work in short, focused bursts. This is best achieved through use of a timer – students spend a set amount of time working on a task, say 5-10 minutes, then have a short 2-5 minute break to stand, stretch, or work on a preferred activity. This strategy is especially helpful in teaching students to be cognizant of their own level of attentiveness. Since students with ADD present a wide spectrum of attention spans, teachers will have to individually tailor the amount of time students spend on assignments and the length of the planned break.

Minimized Distractions

Since a common symptom of ADD is distractibility, teachers are advised to remove as many distractions from the classroom as possible. Seating arrangements should be designed to keep students with ADD away from the door, with their desks oriented away from potential distractions. Oftentimes, seating students with ADD at tables or desk clusters may prove overstimulating. An often overlooked way to help students with ADD is to teach executive functioning skills and, for example, have students create checklists, draw pictures, or develop a system of visual cues in order to remain organized.

Opportunities for Movement

Teachers can increase time on task for students with ADD through additional opportunities for movement. Letting students with ADD stand at their seats while working or sit on large therapy balls allows students to realize their need for movement while minimizing disruptions to the remainder of the class. There are also classroom activities that keep students moving and engaged. Examples include choral response, hand signals, and interactive reading and writing activities. Cooperative Learning activities also often allow for greater freedom of movement than more traditional learning activities.

Shorter Activities

Research shows that attention spans are no more than 20 minutes on average for students aged 6 through 12 and much less for students with ADD. Given this, lengthy assignments may be counterproductive. Teachers should not assign work simply to keep students busy; a focus on mastery may greatly increase the quality of student work while limiting the quality. A good starting point is to determine the minimum of work students must complete to demonstrate competence – if six math problems gets the job done, teachers should just assign six.

In conclusion, students with ADD can enjoy the same academic success as their peers. Through planning and minor modifications to the classroom, teachers can create a learning environment to accommodate students with ADD. The preceding ideas require experimentation to find a good fit between teacher and student. Ultimately, teachers would be well advised to remember that students with disabilities will present challenges, but so will all students – patience and understanding will go a long way to help students, those with ADD and those without.