ADHD in the Classroom: How to Teach and Support Students with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

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A survey of educators found that the majority lack enough information and classroom management strategies for students with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and that they don’t feel capable to help them.[2] But the more familiar you are with recognizing and helping these students, the more likely they are to reach their academic potential and exhibit positive classroom behavior.

In this article, we’ll define ADHD and note a few symptoms to look out for in your students. Then, we’ll discuss classroom management strategies and a few quick tips for supporting these students as a teacher.

What is ADHD and What Causes It?

What exactly is ADHD, and what are some causes of ADHD in children? Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is a chronic condition that usually manifests in childhood and affects a child throughout their life.[16] While symptoms vary based on a child’s personality, characteristics of ADHD usually involve difficulties staying focused, keeping organized, and controlling impulses.[17] This can make it tough for a student to feel prepared and capable for school, particularly if they haven’t yet received treatment.

While the causes of ADHD in children aren’t fully known, researchers believe that genetic factors can increase the likelihood of developing the disorder. If a child has ADHD, there is a 25% likelihood that at least one of their parents has it, too.[16] A few other risk factors for ADHD include premature birth, exposure to environmental toxins, or exposure to alcohol or nicotine while in the womb.[17] It’s a common misconception that eating too much sugar or additives, or getting vaccinations, can cause ADHD; however, scientific evidence has confirmed that none of these are true.[16]

Without effective intervention strategies, students with ADHD are more likely to have lower GPAs, turn in fewer assignments on time, and have higher rates of chronic absenteeism.[4] Additionally, these students may display lower self-esteem about their academic abilities—especially as they grow older.[4] However, treatment and school accommodations can improve the likelihood of academic success for these students and provide them with the same opportunities as their peers.[5]

Symptoms of ADHD in Children

ADHD is one of the most common learning disorders, and approximately 5%–10% of all students will be diagnosed with it at some point.[1] Even if you don’t have a student with the disorder in your class this year, you most likely will at some point. That’s why the more you know about how to recognize the signs and symptoms of ADHD, the better you’ll be able to help them.

Symptoms of ADHD may vary depending on the child’s age and how much treatment they’ve received. For elementary school teachers, here are a few early signs of ADHD to look for:[14]

  • Low self-control
  • Difficulty staying focused on lessons
  • Hyperactivity that interferes with a child’s ability to pay attention
  • Tendency to fidget and trouble holding still
  • Trouble organizing assignments and belongings
  • Excessive talking with peers and difficulty staying quiet while working
  • Frequent behavioral problems in class related to other ADHD symptoms

If you suspect that a child might have ADHD, it is best to discuss this concern with their parents. They may have already pursued a diagnosis for their child and could provide information on any treatment they’ve undergone. After speaking to the child’s parents, and if the child has not been diagnosed with ADHD, you may want to refer a child to a specialist. Remember that as a teacher, you are not qualified to officially diagnose a student, but you can advise a specialist as needed.

In terms of frequency, ADHD is equally common in boys and girls.[9] Teachers, however, are more likely on average to refer boys to ADHD specialists than girls, even when they display similar symptoms.[9] It might be helpful to keep this potential gender bias in mind as you consider whether or not to ask a child’s parents about whether they’ve been diagnosed with the disorder.

Is ADHD a Disability? What Educators Need to Know

ADHD is one of the most common learning disorders that affects children, and while it’s treatable, it cannot be cured.[2] Because it is a neuropsychiatric condition, students are likely to exhibit symptoms for their entire lives.[3] But that doesn’t mean that having ADHD inhibits a child’s potential or that they cannot attain the same success as students without the disorder. For that reason, it may be more helpful to frame ADHD as a condition that causes children to have unique needs in school rather than as a disability.

As a teacher, you may not feel qualified to help children with ADHD in the classroom—especially if you don’t have much experience with it. But classroom interventions can be as simple as modifying your instruction or providing accommodations for your ADHD students.[2] You could, for example, give them extra time to complete homework or give them a folder to organize all of their assignments.[13]

For issues that are beyond your expertise, you can always refer the student to your school counselor or an in-school ADHD specialist, depending on the resources available. Get to know your school counselors or psychologists so if you have a student with ADHD, you know who can help them.[5] If you don’t have an ADHD specialist at your school, you could also discuss your concerns with a school administrator. They may be able to get in touch with a specialist within your district or provide accommodations or advice in another form.

If school accommodations are sparse, discuss the possibility of out-of-school specialists with the student’s parents. If the family has not yet pursued professional treatment (such as therapy) for their child, it can also be helpful to refer parents to ADHD specialists outside of your school.[8] Additionally, try to involve parents in the process of helping or disciplining a child with ADHD in school.[10] Parents will be more familiar with their child’s symptoms and may be able to suggest tactics to help their child focus in class.

5 Teaching Tips and Classroom Accommodations for Students with ADHD

While students who have ADHD may have additional needs, these students are just as capable as succeeding in school as are their peers. Classroom strategies designed to help students with ADHD are the best way to reduce disruptive behavior and help students reach their academic potential.[7]

These five tips for teaching students with ADHD can help them stay focused and feel comfortable in class:

  • Try to follow a regular classroom routine every day; this helps students with ADHD or other learning disorders by limiting confusion or distraction.[12]
  • Provide students with ADHD with organization tools, such as a three-pocket notebook or binder, to help them keep their assignments together.[11]
  • Offer positive feedback regularly to students with ADHD so they trust you and know that you have their best interests in mind.[12]
  • Check out this list of children’s books about ADHD from Verywell Mind, and keep a few of them in your classroom library to help normalize discussions about ADHD in class.
  • Sometimes, the needs of students with ADHD may exceed what you’re able to provide. In this case, refer the child to a counselor or ADHD specialist at your school.

Sources:

  1. Scahill, L., and Schwab-Stone, M. Epidemiology of Adhd in School-Age Children. Child & Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, July 2000, 9(3), pp. 541-555.
  2. Pfiffner, L., DuPall, G.J., and Barkley. R. Treatment of ADHD in School Settings. retrieved from semanticscholar.org: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/63ea/daa464079cdb6ffc661f1d8e3f3c6f35a7b1.pdf.
  3. Evans, W.N., Morrill, M.S., and Parente, S.T. Measuring inappropriate medical diagnosis and treatment in survey data: The case of ADHD among school-age children. Journal of Health Economics, September 2010, 29(5), pp. 657-673.
  4. Kent, K.M., Pelham, W.E., Molina, B.S., Sibley, M.H., Waschbusch, D.A., Yu, J., Gnagy, E.M., Biswas, A., Babinski, D.E., and Karch, K.M. The Academic Experience of Male High School Students with ADHD. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 2011, 39(3), pp. 451-462.
  5. DuPaul, G.J., Weyandt, L.L., and Janusis, G.M. ADHD in the Classroom: Effective Intervention Strategies. Theory Into Practice, 2011, 50(1), pp. 35-42.
  6. Greene, R.W., Beszterczey, S.K., Katzenstein, T., Park. K., and Goring, J. Are Students with ADHD More Stressful to Teach?: Patterns of Teacher Stress in an Elementary School Sample. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 2002, 10(2), pp. 79-89.
  7. Miranda, A., Jarque, S., and Tarraga, R. Interventions in School Settings for Students With ADHD. Exceptionality: A Special Education Journal, 2006, 14(1), pp. 35-52.
  8. Loe, I.M., and Feldman, H.M. Academic and Educational Outcomes of Children With ADHD. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, July 2007, 32(6), pp. 643-654.
  9. Sciutto, M.J., Nolfi, C.J., and Bluhm, C. Effects of Child Gender and Symptom Type on Referrals for ADHD by Elementary School Teachers. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, October 2004, 12(4), 247-253.
  10. Power, T.J., Mautone, J.A., Soffer, S.L., Clarke, A.T., Marshall, S.A., Sharman, J., Blum, N.J., Glanzman, M., Elia, J., and Jawad, A.F. A family–school intervention for children with ADHD: Results of a randomized clinical trial. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, August 2012, 80(4), pp. 611-623.
  11. Segal, J., and Smith, M. Teaching Students with ADHD. Retrieved from helpguide.org: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/add-adhd/teaching-students-with-adhd-attention-deficit-disorder.htm.
  12. Dendy, C.Z. Teaching Students with ADHD: Strategies That Help Every Child Shine. Retrieved from additudemag.com: https://www.additudemag.com/teaching-strategies-for-students-with-adhd/.
  13. Seay, B. 20 Classroom Accommodations That Target Common ADHD Challenges. Retrieved from additudemag.com: https://www.additudemag.com/20-adhd-accommodations-that-work/.
  14. HealthyChildren Staff. Early Warning Signs of ADHD. Retrieved from healthychildren.org: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/adhd/Pages/Early-Warning-Signs-of-ADHD.aspx.
  15. Perlstein, D., and Shiel, W.C. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in Teens. Retrieved from emedicinehealth.com: https://www.emedicinehealth.com/adhd_in_teens/article_em.htm#attention_deficit_hyperactivity_disorder_adhd_in_teens.
  16. HealthyChildren Staff. Causes of ADHD: What We Know Today. Retrieved from healthychildren.org: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/adhd/Pages/Causes-of-ADHD.aspx.
  17. Mayo Clinic Staff. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children. Retrieved from mayoclinic.org: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/adhd/symptoms-causes/syc-20350889.

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