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

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A survey of educators found that most feel they don’t have enough information and classroom management strategies for students with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).[2] Because children with ADHD need the right resources to thrive in the classroom, this can seriously inhibit their ability to reach their academic potential.

As a teacher, you know how important it is to provide support and guidance to these students. The more familiar you are with recognizing and helping students with ADHD, the more likely they are to reach their academic potential and exhibit positive classroom behavior.

In this article, we will define ADHD and list a few symptoms to watch for in your students. Then we’ll discuss helpful classroom management strategies.

What is ADHD and How Does It Affect Students?

stAttention-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]

Of course, definitions can only go so far. Talking to someone with ADHD is the best way to learn what it is and how it feels to live with it. If you don’t have anyone to ask in real life, this video from the How to ADHD channel is a great primer for educators on what ADHD is and how it affects academics.

Is ADHD a Disability? What Educators Need to Know

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 slight modifications your instruction or providing small 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 in another form.

If school accommodations are sparse, and the family has not yet looked into professional treatment (such as therapy) for their child, it can 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.

Signs of ADHD: What Teachers Should Look For

Remember that as a teacher, you are not qualified to officially diagnose a student, but you can advise a specialist as needed. If you suspect that a child might have ADHD, it is best to discuss this concern with their family and with your school administrators. After speaking to the child’s family, and if the child has not been diagnosed with ADHD, you may want to encourage that family to visit a pediatrician or other specialist.

Symptoms of ADHD may vary depending on the child’s age and how much support 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
  • Trouble organizing assignments and belongings
  • Excessive talking with peers and difficulty staying quiet while working

To learn more about ADHD signs and how these might present in the classroom—along with common misconceptions—use this video from ADDitude Magazine as a guide.

7 Teaching Tips and Classroom Accommodations for Students with ADHD

While students who have ADHD may have additional needs, these students are just as capable of 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 seven 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 a range of learning disorders by limiting confusion or distraction.[12]
  • Provide students with organization tools, such as a three-pocket notebook or binder, to help them keep their assignments together.[11]
  • Because children with ADHD often have trouble staying focused, schedule in short breaks for students to recharge throughout the day.[19]
  • Offer positive feedback regularly 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 add a few to your classroom library to normalize discussions about ADHD.
  • Students with ADHD often struggle in test-taking environments. Give these students extra time and help them find a space that is distraction free (like the school library) to take tests.[18]
  • Remember, a student’s needs may exceed what you’re able to provide. In this case, refer the child to a counselor or ADHD specialist.

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.
  18. Morin, A., and Oswalt, G. Classroom accommodations for ADHD. Understood. https://www.understood.org/articles/en/classroom-accommodations-for-adhd.
  19. Ditzell, J. What School Accommodations Can You Get for a Child with ADHD? Psych Central. August 10, 2021. https://psychcentral.com/adhd/adhd-accommodations.

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