8 Simple School Strategies for Students With ADHD

Helpful Techniques for Teachers and Parents

boy working with teacher on whiteboard in classroom

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Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is characterized by problems with attention, impulse control, and hyperactivity. It usually develops in childhood, but may not be diagnosed until adolescence or adulthood.

Approximately 9% of children in the United States between the ages of 13 and 18 have ADHD, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). It is four times more likely to be diagnosed in boys than in girls.

The struggles that children with ADHD face, such as difficulty paying attention, may become apparent once they start school. As such, parents and teachers will need to work together to help kids learn to cope with their ADHD symptoms.

Strategies in the Classroom

Kids and teens with ADHD have unique needs in the classroom. Here are some strategies that parents and teachers of students with ADHD can use to help them succeed at school.

Keep Expectations Consistent

Classroom rules should be clear and concise. Rules and expectations for the class should be regularly reviewed and updated when necessary. Rules should be posted in the classroom where they can be easily read.

It's often useful to have a child repeat back rules, expectations, or other instructions to ensure that they understood. Teachers should keep in mind that a child may have heard the words that were said but misunderstood the meaning.

A child with ADHD may find it helpful to have an index card with the rules taped to their desk for quick reference. 

For kids who struggle with time management and "shifting gears" from one task or class to the next, having a schedule handy and reviewing it often can make transitions go more smoothly. You can also use timers, taped time signals, or verbal cues to help a student see how much time is left for an activity.

Limit Distractions

Students with ADHD are susceptible to distractions, so it can be beneficial to seat them away from sources of classroom disruption such as doors, windows, cubby areas, and pencil sharpeners. Try to limit other distractions in the room, like excessive noise or visual stimuli like clutter, as much as possible.

If a child has an especially difficult time dealing with distractions, being seated near the front of the class close to the teacher may be helpful.

Listening to “white noise” or soft background music can actually improve focus and concentration for some kids with ADHD, though it can be a distraction for those children who don't.

Provide Frequent Feedback

Kids with and without ADHD benefit from frequent, immediate feedback about their behavior. When necessary, any consequences given for unwanted behaviors should also be swift.

Provide immediate praise for good behavior. If a negative behavior is minimal and not disruptive, it's best to ignore it.

Reward Good Behavior

Rewards and incentives should always be used before punishment to motivate a student. To prevent boredom, change up the rewards frequently. Do not use the loss of recess as a consequence for negative behavior.

Kids with ADHD benefit from physical activity and may be able to focus better after being outside or in gym class. Prioritizing rewards over punishment will help ensure that school continues to feel like a positive place for kids with ADHD.

Give Them a Break

Kids with ADHD tend to struggle with sitting still for long periods of time, so giving them frequent opportunities to get up and move around can be a big help.

You can provide them with a physical break by having them hand out or collect papers or classroom materials, run an errand to the office or another part of the building, or erase the board. Even something as simple as letting them go get a drink of water at the water fountain can provide a moment of activity.

Use Tools and Flexible Rules

Students with ADHD tend to be restless. While a standard classroom rule may be that students must sit in their seats during lessons, a child with ADHD may be able to stay on task better if they're allowed to stand up.

For kids who tend to fidget, holding a small “Koosh Ball" or something tactile to manipulate (like Silly Putty) provides a little stimulation without disrupting the classroom.

Some studies have claimed that chewing gum may improve certain students' concentration, but the research has not been conclusive. Furthermore, many schools do not allow students to chew gum.

Don't Overload Them

For a child with ADHD who is prone to becoming overwhelmed, it can be helpful to reduce the total workload by breaking it down into smaller sections.

Teachers can help students avoid feeling overloaded with information by giving concise one- or two-step directions.

Kids with ADHD may also have sleep problems that affect their behavior and their ability to pay attention in class. In general, students tend to be "fresher" and less fatigued earlier in the day, though teens and college students are more likely to struggle with morning classes. It's also not unusual for kids to have a bit of a slump after lunch.

If possible, plan to have the class tackle the most difficult academic subjects and assignments when they are most alert and engaged.

Encourage Support

Children with ADHD may need extra help from a classroom aid, though these staff members are not always available. Likewise, access to academic support services for students with ADHD may not be in place.

Even if a child does have one-on-one help from an adult, it can sometimes be helpful to arrange for peer support. Pairing a student with ADHD up with a willing, kind, and mature classmate can be a beneficial experience for both kids. A child's "study buddy" can give reminders, help them stay on task or refocus after being interrupted, and provide encouragement.

Working with another student can also help a child with ADHD improve their social skills and enhance the quality of their relationships with peers—both of which can be struggles for kids with ADHD.

A Word From Verywell

A successful school strategy for a child with ADHD must meet the triad of academic instruction, behavioral interventions, and classroom accommodations. While the regular implementation of these strategies can make a world of difference to a child with ADHD, they will also benefit the whole classroom environment.

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Article Sources
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