How Can I Handle a Student With ADHD?
Ruth Manna provides strategies to help keep students with ADHD focused and learning.
- Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8
For more tips and strategies for teachers and parents, read A Mind at a Time by pediatrician Dr. Mel Levine (Simon & Schuster, 2002). You may also want to visit his Web site, All Kinds of Minds.
Since ADHD runs in families, parents may be affected. Consider suggesting these resources: Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping With Attention Deficit Disorder From Childhood Through Adulthood by Edward M. Hallowell and John J. Ratey (Simon & Schuster, 1995). CHADD (Children and Adults With Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder)
This article is excerpted from 130 FAQs and Practical Answers From Scholastic's Teacher Helpline, by Ruth Manna
You will need a large bag of tricks to work productively with an ADHD student. While many strategies work for ADHD students, no strategy is effective for long because this student loses interest quickly. Once the novelty has worn off, you will need to adopt a new strategy.
All students in grades K–2 need frequent breaks and chances to move. Typical students in grades 3–6 are able to sit at a desk all day. Students with ADHD will need special support and accommodations, but what’s good for an ADHD student will benefit his more typical classmates as well.
A highly structured and predictable classroom works well for all students, but especially students with ADHD. Post and preview the day’s schedule with your class. If there are changes in routine due to an assembly or visitor, make sure everyone knows in advance. An ADHD student feels out of control, but a structured, predictable setting offers him a measure of control.
To help all students pay attention, keep your room decor simple. It’s easy for a classroom to become cluttered, so reevaluate periodically. Put away items you are not using, get rid of extra furniture, and cover open shelves with curtains.
Behavior charts are not effective with ADHD students. The delay in gratification a behavior chart requires is too difficult for them. Instant rewards, like stickers, work better. Here are other suggestions to try with ADHD students:
- Seating: Seat this student near you in the front of the room, away from distractions. If necessary, use cardboard dividers to make a study carrel.
- Desk: Help an ADHD student clean his desk and organize his materials once or twice a week.
- Materials: Give assistance and extra time for an ADHD student to get out necessary books and materials for a lesson. Ask a classmate to help him find the correct page.
- To-do list: Type and laminate a to-do list for the top of the student’s desk. This will remind her what you expect of her.
- Time: This student will need more time than her classmates to collect her thoughts and respond to a question, so increase your wait-time when you call on her. Don’t let classmates answer for her. This student also needs more time to complete her written work and help getting started on written tasks. A timer or stopwatch may help.
- Nonverbal redirection: It’s tempting to constantly verbally redirect this student, because he needs it. If you can work out nonverbal signals, you won’t have to single him out as often.
- Sensory breaks: Make this student your messenger and send him on errands. Allow extra bathroom trips. Check with an occupational therapist or P.E. teacher who may be able to offer an ADHD student breaks during the day.
- Fiddle toys and gadgets: It seems counterintuitive, but fiddle toys sometimes help students focus. Have a box of fiddle toys like small Nerf balls and plastic toys. Allow an ADHD student to select a different fiddle toy every morning. A large elastic band stretched between the front legs of his chair, a wiggle cushion for his chair seat, and a slant board for writing also help. Ask your occupational therapist about these and other gadgets.
- Medication: I mention medication last because some parents are reluctant to consider it. There are now several medications, and not all are stimulants, but I can understand parents’ reticence. Negative press about ADHD medications concerns parents. Side effects also worry them. At my school, teachers don’t mention medication to parents of ADHD students. The most I say if a parent brings up medication is, “You might discuss this with your pediatrician.” In my experience, medicine sometimes works miraculously. When medicine works, an ADHD student will change within a day. But medicine is not for everyone, and there are other ways to cope with ADHD.