According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD as it is more commonly called, is “a health condition involving biologically active substances in the brain. Studies show that ADHD may affect certain areas of the brain that allow us to solve problems, plan ahead, understand others’ actions, and control our impulses.” The Academy website goes on to say that, in a class of around 25-30 children, it is probable that at least one child will have ADHD. As a result, it is vital that all teachers of school-age children understand what ADHD is and how best to help such a student.
Common symptoms of ADHD
No two children with ADHD will exhibit exactly the same symptoms. However, the most common symptoms are hyperactivity, inattention and impulsive behaviour. This can make a child difficult to manage, particularly for several hours in one go. Even worse, the behaviour of a child with ADHD can have a knock-on effect on the other children in the class, who will, at the very least, be distracted from what they should be doing.
Fortunately, there are a number of teaching strategies that can allow teachers to give students with ADHD the best possible education, while managing their behaviour at the same time. Of course, each student is different and any guidelines must be modified to suit, but the following strategies should be of value:
Break instructions into chunks – Most children find it difficult to follow instructions at one time or another, but for a student with ADHD, it may be difficult to follow any kind of instructions. Rather than standing at the front of the class and reeling off a list of tasks, break the tasks down into manageable chunks and write them down in clear language on the whiteboard, or on a piece of paper to give to the student, so that he can digest it in his own time. Tick the tasks off as they have been achieved
Placement in the classroom – Placement of a student with ADHD in the classroom can be critical. If he is sitting next to the window or door, he is bound to be distracted by what is going on outside of the classroom. Instead, it is advisable to seat him near the front of the class so that you can communicate easily and keep his attention. If the class is split up into groups for activities, try to keep his group relatively small; if there are too many other students, the distractions could be too much.
Develop sign language for unacceptable behaviour – Of course, you need to ensure that the classroom is a pleasant environment for all the children, so you will need to deal with unacceptable behaviour from any of them, whether a child with ADHD or not. However, constantly scolding a child with ADHD will not do his self-esteem any good. Instead, develop sign language so that the student understands when his behaviour is out of control and is able to regulate it. Don’t forget to praise positive behaviour too.
Give them a break – There are bound to be times during the day when sitting still just becomes too much for a child with ADHD. You will learn to recognise the signs when he fidgets constantly. As far as possible, try to organise activities so that he has plenty of variation in his daily tasks. However, if you think that it would help, ask him to run an errand so that he has the opportunity to change position in the classroom, or even go outside for a while just to burn off some excess energy.
Communicate with parents and support workers
You should always remember that your student’s parents will be anxious to hear about any progress, or particularly bad behaviour. Try to meet up with them on a regular basis to share ideas and strategies for coping with any problems. Your student may have a mentor or support worker who works with him on a regular basis too, so again, ensure that you communicate well. If you start as you mean to go on at the beginning of the year, it should eventually become second nature to do so.
Teaching a child with ADHD can be a challenge, but it shouldn’t be one that you can’t overcome. If you do begin to feel overwhelmed, ask other teachers for their recommended teaching strategies. Finding the right ones may take a while to develop, but you will get there.