Four ways to support students with ADHD

6th February 2018 at 15:04
Students with ADHD need support that comes from close relationships between teachers and parents, says Gemma Corby

The chances are that you will teach someone with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) at some point in your teaching career. Therefore, it is important to know what ADHD is and how best we can support learners with this diagnosis in the classroom.

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder – and like ASC (Autistic Spectrum Condition), it is a spectrum condition. 

It requires a medical diagnosis, with most cases being diagnosed between the ages of 6 and 12 years old. According to the NHS website, "Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a group of behavioural symptoms that include inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness."

It is important to recognise that ADHD is a lifelong disability, one which can influence the future emotional wellbeing and success of young people if the appropriate support is not offered. It regularly occurs alongside other conditions, such as specific learning difficulties (eg, dyslexia) or ASC.

So if you have a young person in your class with this diagnosis, what can you do to support them?

1. Teach self-help strategies

It is up to parents, carers and schools to work together to teach young people self-help strategies. For example, it was brought to my attention at a recent training session that teachers and teaching assistants (TAs) were forever saying "pay attention" or "you must focus" – but what does this actually look like?

Some young people may need to be explicitly taught what is expected of them – that they need to listen to what is being said, that they should try and look in the direction of the speaker and the board and attempt to "zone out" other distractions.

Some students may benefit from having something to play with to aid their concentration, such as a tangle toy. I appreciate that some of these toys can be the bane of some school's lives, so it might be worth implementing a few key rules. For example, that students only use the tangle toys that are permitted in school – avoiding fidget spinners or anything too noisy and distracting for others – that they use them appropriately and keep them in their own hands and under the table.

Certain schools only permit the use of soft materials to avoid the noise issue.

Some young people with ADHD may also need to be taught the benefits of delayed gratification, as well as how to regulate their emotional responses to situations.

The emphasis should be on helping the individual to help themselves.

2. Clear communication and consistency

Clear communication is a fundamental part of being a successful teacher. However, young people with ADHD require visual supports and a consistent approach in lessons.

Visual supports may be as simple as having the task written on the board and broken down into small steps, or available as a printed handout. Teachers could also provide checklists (eg, how to prepare for the start of a lesson); timers (whether an individual sand timer, digital timers for all students or one projected onto the whiteboard in a secondary setting) and red-green help cards (the green side means I'm OK, the red side means I need help).

Teachers and TAs should ensure that instructions are broken down into small steps and repeated and rephrased as required. It is hard for a person with ADHD to retain multiple instructions in their heads, due to challenges with working memory.

Again, talk to parents about what works at home.

3. Organisation

Young people with ADHD struggle to organise themselves, therefore it is vital that parents and schools work closely together to support them.

This could mean that all homework is explained in detail using a home-school online tool, or is written in the student's planner. Some teachers may wish to email homework and messages to parents and carers.

Because ADHD is recognised as a disability, it is essential that schools put reasonable adjustments into place. For example, keeping equipment at school and not criticising the young person should they forget something. Criticise the behaviour, not the individual.

Students with ADHD can have very fragile self-esteem, so it is important to praise them in public and reprimand in private.

4. Environment

Ideally, students with ADHD and/or ASC should be taught in rooms with minimal distractions on the walls or ceilings. However, this is a tricky balance to strike, because other children may benefit from this stimuli.

Try to position young people with ADHD as far away from distractions (eg, the window or door) as possible. Speak to them about where in the room they think they will learn best. This helps to give the young person ownership and sense of empowerment.

It is also interesting to hear what they have to say, as some may volunteer that they work best seated alone or nearer the teacher. Some may prefer to sit near to the front, others at the back avoiding the distraction of having people seated behind them.

Positioning a young person next to, or close to, positive role models is an excellent idea as well.

Some young people may benefit from a time-out card and a quiet space that they can go to, if things feel like they are becoming too much. This promotes emotional self-regulation and should be encouraged.

Again, always talk to parents, too.

Gemma Corby is Sendco at Hobart High School, Norfolk. Her Sendco column for Tes runs every second Tuesday during term-time. To read Gemma's back catalogue, click here

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