If your child struggles with attention issues, this guide can help you understand how their teacher handles — or needs to address — ADHD in the classroom.

ADHD in the classroom is a reality that all teachers will have to deal with at one point or another during their career. Teachers have a huge part to play in the lives of children with ADHD. With the right strategies and techniques, educators have the ability to make a lasting difference in the lives of these students.

Recognizing ADHD in the Classroom

Because teachers spend so many hours a day with their students, they have a unique role in the diagnostic process. Teachers need to know how to recognize the symptoms of ADHD in the classroom.

When children have trouble sitting still or experience difficulties with schoolwork, ADHD is the first thing that pops to mind. Everyone is pretty much aware that behaviors like blurting out answers or daydreaming are symptoms of this disorder. However, ADHD isn't always the source of these behaviors. There are other things that can cause these behaviors, such as anxiety or trauma. To help distinguish between ADHD and other struggles a child may be facing, teachers need to know the other symptoms of ADHD in the classroom.

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Image CC by 0, by Amanda Mills, via Pixnio

Symptoms of ADHD

The symptoms of ADHD fall into two categories: inattentiveness and hyperactivity/impulsiveness. While most children with ADHD will exhibit symptoms that fall into both categories to some extent, one type is often predominant. Here are the behaviors you may see in a classroom setting:

Inattentive symptoms of ADHD in the classroom:

  • Makes careless mistakes in school work
  • Overlooks details 
  • Easily distracted or sidetracked
  • Difficulty following instructions
  • Doesn’t seem to be listening when spoken to directly
  • Trouble organizing tasks and possessions
  • Fails to finish work in school or chores in the classroom
  • Avoids or resists tasks that require sustained mental effort, including homework
  • Loses homework assignments, books, jackets, backpacks, sports equipment

Hyperactive or impulsive symptoms of ADHD in the classroom:

  • Fidgets or squirms
  • Trouble staying in his seat
  • Runs and climbs in inappropriate situations
  • Difficulty playing quietly
  • Extremely impatient
  • Trouble waiting for his/her turn
  • In constant motion, always “on the go”
  • Talks excessively
  • Blurts out answers
  • Interrupts or intrudes on others conversations, activities, possessions

Challenges of ADHD Students in the Classroom

Modern schools expect children to sit still, listen quietly, and pay attention for long periods of time. Students are also asked to follow instructions and concentrate. For kids with ADHD, these things are nearly impossible. Despite how much they want to do these things, their brains just won't cooperate. Inevitably, these children receive low grades and are constantly subjected to scolding and punishment. They are teased by their peers. It is no wonder that their self-esteem plummets under these circumstances.

ADHD in the classroom comes with the following challenges:

  • Children with ADHD demand attention because they talk out of turn and/or move around the classroom
  • Kids with ADHD have a very hard time following instructions. This is true especially when the instructions presented in a list or require ordered steps.
  • These children have trouble remembering to write down homework assignments and often fail to do the assignments or bring completed work to school.
  • They often lack fine motor control. This causes trouble with note-taking and results in handwriting that is difficult to read.
  • Children with ADHD usually have a hard time with long-term projects if there is no direct supervision.
  • These kids don’t do well when working in groups. They have a hard time completing their part of the work and may even keep others in the group from accomplishing their tasks.

Learning Skills for Kids

As children with ADHD get older and progress through school, it becomes essential that they learn how to learn. Many kids with ADHD also have other comorbid disorders and learning disabilities, such as anxiety or dyslexia. Good study skills help students complete their homework, learn the material, so well on tests, and get better grades. The following learning skills are invaluable to all students.

Study skills

  • Break the material down into manageable chunks.
  • Figure out what time of day the child focuses best.
  • Find the study environment that works for best for the child.
  • Utilize practice tests to reduce anxiety.

Test-taking strategies

  • Teach them to work at a steady pace. When a particular question trips them up, have them give their best guess and come back to it later.
  • Encourage them to do math problems on paper rather than just in their head.
  • Help them learn relaxation techniques to manage anxiety during the test.
  • Encourage the child to think positive.
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Image CC by A 2.5, by Gulliver Schools, via Wikimedia Commons

Teacher Strategies to Try

ADHD in the classroom can be tough to deal with at times. Their struggles can also affect other students in your class. However, there are things you can do to make the experience better for everyone involved. Here are some strategies to help students with ADHD succeed in school.

  1. Establish Rules - Develop a list of classroom rules and allow the students to give their input. Post the class rules in a spot where students can see them. Keep the rules easy to understand and make sure you state them in positive terms. For example, instead of saying, "no talking," try saying, "work quietly" instead.
  2. Develop Routines - Having a regular routine helps students with ADHD stay on task.
  3. Give Supervision - Students with ADHD require more supervision than other students due to delayed maturity, forgetfulness, distractibility, and disorganization. Student partners and classroom aides can help provide extra supervision.
  4. Provide Accommodations - Students who are severely impacted may require classroom accommodations.
  5. Reduce Distractions - Children with ADHD have a difficult time paying attention and staying on task. The fewer distractions, the better.
  6. Use Positive Peer Models - Seat students who don't have trouble with distractions between those who do.
  7. Prepare for Transitions - DOn't spring things on students. Warn them before a change occurs, such as next class, recess, time for a different book, etc. Give students extra time to prepare for larger changes, like field trips.
  8. Allow for Movement - Children with ADHD are unable to sit still Give them opportunities to fidget and move around.
  9. Let Them Play - Recess is extra important for children with ADHD.
  10. Build Relationships - Work to build a positive relationship with children in your classroom who have ADHD.
  11. Give Good Feedback - Kids who have ADHD need frequent positive feedback from their teachers.
  12. Questions Instead of Reprimand - Instead of reprimanding students with ADHD, use questions such as, "Is that a good choice or a bad choice?"

Accommodations for ADHD in the Classroom

For students who have severe ADHD or those who suffer from other learning disabilities, classroom accommodations may be necessary. These accommodations are usually set up in writing through an IEP or 504 plan. The graphic below shows the various classroom accommodations that are used to help manage ADHD in the classroom.

Teaching Techniques that Work

Reaching students with ADHD and actually helping them learn is one of the more difficult tasks teachers face. But rest assured that it can be done. Try using the following techniques to help these students do the best they can in your classroom despite their personal struggles.

At the beginning of a lesson:

  1. Use an aural cue, such as an egg timer, to signal the start of a lesson.
  2. In the same manner, use subsequent cues to signal how much time is left before the end of the lesson.
  3. Establish eye contact.
  4. List lesson activities on the board.
  5. Start the lesson telling students what they will be learning and what materials they will need during the lesson.

During the lesson:

  1. Keep all instructions simple and structured.
  2. Use visual aids, such as props and charts.
  3. Vary the pace of the lesson and include different activities.
  4. Set up an unobtrusive cue with the student, such as a light touch on the shoulder, to let them know when they are getting off task.
  5. Allow frequent breaks.
  6. Provide an outlet for physical energy, such as a fidget toy or a ball to squeeze.
  7. Try not to ask a child with ADHD to publicly perform a task or answer a question that might end up embarrassing them in front of their peers.

At the end of the lesson:

  1. Summarize the key points of the lesson.
  2. When you assign homework, have three different students repeat the assignment, have the class say it in unison, and also make sure you write it on the board.
  3. Be very specific about what students need to take home to study or complete homework assignments.

ADHD in the Classroom

Managing ADHD in the classroom can be difficult. Teachers need to be able to recognize the symptoms of ADHD so they are able to handle the student appropriately in class. They also have a unique role to play in helping these children to get the diagnosis and treatment they need. By using these classroom strategies and teaching techniques, educators can make sure all the students in their classroom get the education they deserve. It takes patience and perseverance on the part of the teacher, but to see these children succeed and go on to do great things in life is well worth the effort.

Featured image CC by 2.0, by Army Medicine, via Flickr

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