How Does Your ADHD Child Learn?

Schoolboy writing on chalk board

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How does your child learn best? What is your child's learning style? Understanding a child's learning preferences may be helpful so that parents and educators can create learning experiences and environments where children can learn efficiently.

For children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), matching educational experiences with learning preferences may be helpful for keeping kids focused on the task at hand. Choosing the right instructional methods can maximize your child's strengths in learning.

What Are Learning Styles?

Rory Stern, PsyD, a therapist and ADHD coach who specializes in working with children with ADHD and their families, explains that there are three major types of learning styles (although some models define many others). These are:

  • Visual
  • Auditory
  • Kinesthetic

Learning style theories suggest that people have specific, individualized ways in which they learn best. Such theories gained a great deal of popularity, but most research has failed to support the idea that teaching children based on a specific style has any impact on learning outcomes. 

However, understanding the type of educational experiences your child finds the most engaging can help keep your child on task and motivated. So it may be helpful to pay attention to your child's learning preferences.

Why Different Styles Are Important

According to some educators, determining learning style can make a big difference in your child’s school success. The trick is getting a handle on what learning style or ​a combination of learning styles work best for your child.

“A simple way to understand these different learning styles is to consider what senses your child relies on most when learning,” notes Dr. Stern.

The idea is that once parents and teachers understand the way a child learns, teaching methods can be better geared to maximize the learning experience.

Visual Learners

Visual learners learn by seeing, explains Dr. Stern. “In school, your child will do best from seeing examples and having an opportunity to watch.”

These children respond well to:

  • Charts
  • Colorful pictures and illustrations of the learning material
  • Diagrams
  • Educational videos
  • Maps
  • Outlines
  • Written lessons on the board or overhead projector

Visual learners tend to prefer things they can see to absorb the information. They also tend to cue in well to a teacher’s facial expressions. Note-taking (depending on the student’s age) is also often helpful for visual learners.

“We want to make sure that this student is taking good notes, and reviewing good notes,” says Dr. Stern. “If your son or daughter does not take good notes, then we need to make sure that he or she has a study buddy or partner who is willing to share their notes.” Talk with your child’s teacher about helping you coordinate this.

Auditory Learners 

“These children learn and retain information when they have an opportunity to hear it,” says Dr. Stern. Auditory learners learn best by hearing class lectures and participating in and listening to class discussions. They tend to cue in to:

  • Voice tone
  • Speed
  • Volume
  • Inflection
  • Body language

“One of the best strategies for these students is to allow them to record classroom lectures,” notes Dr. Stern. “By recording a lecture or classroom instruction (depending on the child’s age), the pressure is off of your child scrambling to take notes to keep up. Because we know that anyone who tries to keep up at a pace that doesn’t match his or her own, sacrifices really understanding the material.”

An added benefit to recording classroom instruction: The student can replay any material he or she was not able to grasp fully and move along with learning at his or her own pace.

In addition to using a tape recorder, auditory learners benefit from reading text out loud and presenting learned material orally. They may want to rephrase and repeat back new material to help reinforce their learning. Some auditory learners enjoy music in the background when studying.

Kinesthetic Learners 

“These children are often the ones labeled as having ADHD,” says Dr. Stern. “Why? A kinesthetic learner will appear to be fidgety and sometimes highly active.”

These students love to be wholly physically absorbed in the learning activity, actively exploring and moving around. They may have trouble sitting for long periods of time, becoming bored and distracted when they are not “doing.” Hands-on, tactile teaching approaches in which a child is allowed movement work best for kinesthetic learners. These include:

  • Science labs
  • Experiments
  • Involved unit studies
  • Field trips
  • Crafts, skits
  • Model building

These hands-on activities all help a kinesthetic learner absorb new information.

During the times when these students need to be seated, it is helpful for them to sit at the front in a classroom where there is a lot of activity going on as the teacher teaches. This way it is easier to stay engaged in the learning process.

Dr. Stern explains that it is sometimes helpful for a kinesthetic learner to hold something in his or her hands to fidget with while doing work—silly putty, a Koosh ball, holding the book while reading (rather than setting it on the desk)—anything tactile works well.

Many kinesthetic learners benefit from being permitted to work standing up, though the rest of the class may be seated.

A Word From Verywell

Teaching to a child’s strengths and favored learning style or ​a combination of learning styles is always more productive than a one-size-fits-all approach. Pay attention to your child's needs and preferences in order to determine what works best for them.

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  1. Pashler H, Mcdaniel M, Rohrer D, Bjork R. Learning styles: Concepts and evidencePsychol Sci Public Interest. 2008;9(3):105-19. doi:10.1111/j.1539-6053.2009.01038.x

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