Strategies and Tips for Teaching Kids With ADHD

Strategies and Tips for Teaching Kids With ADHD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) — one of the most common childhood neurodevelopmental disorders — is typically identified in children after they begin attending school. Today, an estimated 6.1 million U.S. children have an ADHD diagnosis.

While an official ADHD diagnosis comes from a medical professional, teachers play a role in helping students with ADHD learn to adapt and overcome the limitations this disorder presents. Whether you’re a special education teacher or a teacher with a student with ADHD in a general education classroom, the challenges of effectively teaching a student with ADHD can be significant. From issues with classroom management to a lack of support from administrators or parents, there are many reasons teachers may struggle to provide adequate help for their students.

The good news is that even with those challenges, it is possible for students with ADHD — and their teachers — to thrive every day. Teachers play a big role in a child’s educational success, especially for students with ADHD. Teachers can make small, impactful changes to classroom activities and overall attitudes and integrate teaching strategies to support all students.

A teacher has the opportunity to positively impact their students with ADHD for many years to come by providing them with a structured classroom setup that encourages learning, enforces discipline and improves their self-esteem. Students with ADHD can learn they are capable and gain confidence in their schoolwork.

The Challenges of Teaching Students With ADHD

ADHD can magnify the typical challenges students face in a general education classroom, especially in school districts lacking funding or qualified teachers. In these cases, teachers tend to be overworked or overwhelmed because they are working with students they may feel unqualified to teach.

The following are specific areas where teachers may experience difficulty when teaching students with ADHD in the classroom:

1. Paperwork

Teachers of students with ADHD may devote a lot of time to developing and maintaining an up-to-date Individualized Education Plan (IEP) to track a student’s progress and identify potential problems. Keeping track of a student’s progress is essential to their success in school because this paperwork is often how problems are addressed. But the amount of time and paperwork IEPs require can weigh down even the most experienced teachers.

In some cases, a special education teacher may oversee IEPs for students in several general education classes, checking in with their teachers for updates on academic progress and seeing students a few times a week for additional help. In other cases, students with ADHD may have other disabilities that require them to spend their school days in special education classrooms. In both cases, teachers must maintain accurate and up-to-date paperwork to define goals and track progress.

For special education teachers who don’t see each student with ADHD daily, the paperwork can be especially challenging because they may have the added step of collecting information from one or more teachers to compile it into one file for each student.

2. Lack of Support

Some teachers lack support from the parents of students with ADHD. When there is a lack of expectations and consistency at home, learning strategies and routines a teacher tries to implement in the classroom may not be effective. Parents who are unable or unwilling to maintain regular communication and support a teacher’s classroom expectations can also make it more difficult for teachers to make progress with their students.

In other cases, the lack of support may come from the school’s administration or the school district. Many schools are tight on money, and administrators are pressured to achieve more results with less funding. In some districts, special education programs may not have the funding to hire an adequate number of teachers or purchase the equipment they need. Teachers may be expected to keep up with a large number of students without having the time or money they need to be successful.

3. Scheduling

Finding the time to maintain communication with parents, complete paperwork, grade papers and teach can be difficult for teachers. Meetings must be scheduled during planning time or after school, cutting into a teacher’s time to update lesson plans or spend time with their family. Added to that are the challenges of scheduling IEP meetings that take parental and administration schedules into account, which can sometimes feel impossible.

4. Behavior Management

Behavior management is a big part of teaching a child with ADHD. For example, they may easily become frustrated with school, and their teacher may often get the brunt of their frustration. Managing these emotions in a classroom setting can sometimes take time away from instruction or other daily activities. On a larger level, teaching a child with ADHD requires a lot of time and effort spent identifying their triggers and emotions and then teaching them how to control those emotions.

Teachers may also spend extra time figuring out how to present the material so these students can learn effectively. They may need to devote time to help students stay organized, maintain planners or homework calendars and create an organizational system that keeps their students on track and focused each day. Often, they need to maintain communication with parents, sending emails or making phone calls to update them on their child’s behavior and progress.

16 Teaching Strategies for Students With ADHD

Here are several tips to help your students with ADHD succeed.

1. Establish Rules

Every good classroom has a short, simple list of rules to follow. These rules should be clearly laid out and posted from the beginning of the school year. Rules can be more effective for students with ADHD when incorporated alongside strategies for ADHD classroom management into their daily routine.

For example, instead of simply saying, “No talking when you come to class,” tell students, “When you arrive, sit down quietly and begin the math problems on the board.” Consistently modeling these behaviors every day can go a long way toward teaching students what you expect.

2. Create a Routine

Routines are essential when teaching students with ADHD because they help students stay on task. For example, place homework assignments in the same spot every day or write them on the same place on the board, and take a few minutes at the end of class to go over them so students know what’s expected of them. Stick to the same basic daily schedule, and incorporate time to move around or engage in physical activity.

3. Make Learning Personalized

Though every child needs to receive the same educational material, they learn in different ways. Some students may struggle to sit still long enough to complete assignments, while others struggle more with organization and remembering to complete each step in an assignment.

Consider providing hands-on activities to present the material or allowing students to “teach” each other by breaking into small groups. Incorporating manipulatives and more interactive activities and games into the classroom may also keep students engaged and focused. It may be beneficial to break down an assignment into several smaller steps, providing students with a checklist they can mark when they complete each step.

4. Offer Choices

Many times, offering several choices for how to finish an assignment can produce better results and prevent emotions from overwhelming a student with ADHD. For example, if you want a student to practice a set of vocabulary words, allow them to choose between writing each word in a sentence, creating their own flashcards or air-writing each word. In math, you can give them choices between a worksheet, answering problems on the board or using a calculator to complete assignments.

5. Communicate Intentionally

With a classroom full of students, it can be easy to forget that each student is an individual. Inquiring about their interests and answering their questions goes a long way toward their academic success, especially for students with ADHD. Take the time to greet each student by name, and use their name when calling on them in class. Create a classroom bulletin board to display your students’ artwork, photos, accomplishments and interests.

If students with ADHD exhibit negative behavior in the classroom or struggle to keep up with schoolwork, ask questions instead of reprimanding them. If they misbehave, you can ask them, “Is this a good choice or a bad choice?” to help the student understand their behavior was inappropriate.

6. Provide Visual Reminders

Provide Visual Reminders

Students with ADHD respond to visual reminders, cues and examples, so incorporate a visual component into your lessons and homework assignments. For example, you can demonstrate a skill like writing on the board so the student can follow along. During independent work, write out the key points on the board so students can reference as they work. Post important concepts on bright-colored poster board around your classroom.

Visual reminders also help students stay on schedule. The Go! Board System supports scheduling techniques with eight picture symbols that the student can remove when they complete the task.

7. Provide Hands-On Learning Opportunities

Encourage your students with ADHD to experience things first-hand to engage them in learning. Create learning opportunities that allow your students to participate. For example, you can have students build and take apart a model to understand how it works. Have students write and act in a play to express their creativity, or create an assignment in which the student records on video.

For music-themed lessons, you can integrate toys that teach music appreciation and allow students to play music. With an Adapted Musical Cymbal, students can use a capability switch to make a percussive sound. The Ring Around Bells has twirling, ringing bells that also increase auditory development and teach cause and effect.

8. Reduce Distractions

Help your students focus on the lesson or assignment by reducing potentially distracting barriers. Place their desk near the source of instruction in a low-distraction area of the classroom. Often, these areas are closest to your desk and furthest from windows and doors. When giving the class instructions for homework, stand near them to help them focus.

A Classroom Fidget Kit has fidget toys to help students stay focused and regulated to facilitate learning. They can play with a variety of toys to meet their sensory needs, such as a gel bead ball, rainbow pom ball, squish disk, water snake and more.

9. Use Positive Role Models

Peer role models can give students with ADHD a positive example of good classroom behavior. Create a seating chart where the student sits near the “role model” students. Positive peer models also help students ease the potential distractions from other students with diverting behaviors.

10. Provide Positive Feedback

Many students with ADHD respond best when they are offered positive, immediate and frequent feedback. For example, when a student with ADHD completes an assignment, use positive praise, such as “You’re doing a great job!” If their answer is incorrect, get a positive conversation going by saying, “Let’s talk this through” or “Does that sound right to you?”

11. Fit Assignments to Attention Span

Students with ADHD will likely struggle to complete long assignments. Be sure that they’re seated in an area in the classroom that provides minimal distractions, then make accommodations for finishing assignments, such as allowing them extra time to finish a test or complete an assignment in stages rather than all at once.

Besides allowing accommodations for assignments, think about a student with ADHD as you’re planning assignments. Asking yourself, “Will this set them up for failure or success?” is a great way to start, and anticipating problems in advance gives you time to plan for alternatives or accommodations. This planning can also help avoid emotional meltdowns that might otherwise take away from instructional time.

12. Build in Time for Breaks

Allowing time for movement in between assignments, such as a bathroom break or recess, can go a long way toward helping students pay attention at the most important moments. If a student with ADHD needs opportunities for movement and it’s not time for a formal recess, consider asking them to run an errand to the office or help with a chore around the classroom.

If it’s not possible to allow for breaks, allowing them to keep a manipulative, such as a squeeze ball, at their desk may also help them by giving them an alternative outlet for movement when they have to stay seated.

13. Integrate Movement and Mindfulness Into Lessons

Some of the common symptoms of ADHD — including lack of concentration, clumsiness, hyperactivity, distractability and nervousness — can get in the way of effective learning. Rather than fight against these symptoms, incorporate short times of movement and mindfulness into the day’s schedule. Activities like yoga, Zumba or even a short walk can improve focus and improve a student’s ability to sit through and comprehend the lesson of the day.

Similarly, mindfulness exercises can help students with ADHD focus on their thoughts and feelings. When they can pay attention to their emotional state, they can better control themselves and prevent meltdowns or emotional outbursts later in the day.

14. Support Engagement and Participation

A teacher’s role is twofold — to present new material and to support children in their own discovery. The goal as a teacher isn’t to stand in front of the class and tell them things they need to know — it’s to encourage them to engage with the material being presented in a way they will remember it later.

This goal is true for all teacher-student relationships, but it’s essential when teaching students with ADHD. These actions may be as simple as moving a child with ADHD to the front of the room where there are fewer distractions or pairing students with a homework buddy to offer accountability to ensure homework assignments aren’t forgotten or overlooked.

Teachers can also encourage student engagement by helping them get organized. Take note of potential pitfalls and address them. Does a student with ADHD regularly forget assignment due dates? Help them set up a planner and check it at the end of every day. Hang a large calendar in the classroom and use it to make note of important due dates.

Does a student with ADHD lose assignments or forget to take the necessary supplies home each evening? You could create a color-coded folder system and put take-home assignments in the same color folder each day. You could also create a checklist of necessary materials and work with the student to check off necessary items each day before they leave school.

15. Reward Good Behavior

Some children with ADHD spend a lot of time being corrected or reprimanded for their behaviors. Praising good behavior and offering rewards when appropriate can make a huge difference in a child’s confidence.

One of the best things a teacher can do is look for daily ways to encourage and praise a student with ADHD. Be on the lookout for daily behavior victories or a personal best on a test grade, and provide specific and immediate praise. Offering praise in the middle of the situation can go a long way in providing motivation and confidence to continue the behavior later.

16. Partner With Parents

Communicate regularly with the parents of your students with ADHD to ensure they have the best learning experience possible, whether at home or in class. Some ways teachers and parents can work together to support students with ADHD include:

  • Keep in touch on a weekly basis or as needed.
  • Discuss any problems the student is having with schoolwork while at home.
  • Check if the student has completed their assignments, especially for any classes they are struggling with.
  • Help the student prepare for the next school day by helping them with homework and organizing school papers.

Support ADHD Classroom Management With Products From Enabling Devices

As a teacher, your days are full, with lesson plans to write, papers to grade and students to teach. Working with a student with ADHD can create additional challenges, but those challenges don’t have to be a burden. Students with ADHD are smart and creative kids who need a teacher who is willing to adapt to their unique way of seeing the world. By making small changes to the classroom, teachers can encourage students with ADHD to reach their full potential.

At Enabling Devices, we offer a range of products to help teachers and students make the most of their time in the classroom. For more than 40 years, our company has created and manufactured products that improve the quality of life and learning for children and adults with a wide range of disabilities. We have a wide selection of products to integrate into the classroom environment, including:

Browse our sensory products to find ADHD classroom tools that can enhance your instruction, or contact Enabling Devices for help finding the right products for your classroom.

Support ADHD Classroom Management With Products From Enabling Devices