Five ways to support a pupil with ADHD

I always prided myself on working well with students with SEND, but my daughter’s diagnosis has given me invaluable insight

Diane Redman

supporting a pupil with ADHD

As a secondary English teacher, I always felt I was in a privileged position when it came to SEND.

The Sendco would email the SEND list and the students’ IEPs and EHCPs.

All I had to do was read them. 

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And then my daughter was diagnosed with ADHD. Suddenly, I was cast into the unknown. What do you do when it is your own child? What do you do when there is no helpful Sendco giving you all the answers? 

Over the past year I have been trying several different approaches with my daughter and those that worked I have tried out with pupils at school with similar behaviour traits to her. 

Although every child is different, these five strategies seem to have had a positive impact. 

1. Adapt your language

People with ADHD don’t just struggle to “sit still”, they struggle with fidgeting, planning, organising, getting started, getting distracted, handwriting, overload and much more.

Simply changing your language can have a huge impact. 

Being very specific with instructions for example. If I say: “Go upstairs and get yourself dressed”, I know this will cause problems. It’s too vague. 


She goes upstairs then stares into her wardrobe trying to figure out what “get dressed” means. 

A better instruction would be “Upstairs, uniform on”.  Fewer words, clearer instructions, works almost all the time. 

And it works in the classroom, too. I now use short phrases like “Sit. Copy the date and title.” It sounds impersonal, but it removes the haze. 

Likewise, some simple switches from negative to positive messages can make a huge difference. For example: 

“What were you thinking?” becomes “I’m going to help you.”

“I’ve already explained this!” becomes “Let’s start with what you do understand.”  

“Do you have any questions?” becomes “What questions do you have?” 

“Do I need to separate you?” becomes “Are you OK?” 

2. Redirect negative behaviour 

If you have a student who is prone to outbursts, giving them responsibility when you first spot the signs of a problem can be the best intervention. 

Sending the student on a little errand (to hand out books, to give a note to the year office and so on) can be a way to diffuse the situation; it gives them the time to regulate and it de-escalates the situation before it has got to a dangerous level. 

3. Focus on praise 

A lot of children with Send have very low self-esteem. As such, praise goes a long way. 

Every teacher tries to do this, but we can so often forget. Making sure you’re positive with students who may be used to near-constant negativity around their work and their behaviour can be so important. 

4. Enable fiddling

Is it really so bad if a pupil in your class is fiddling with something as they work or listen? This doesn’t have to be the latest trend.

There are many things that students can fiddle with, like Blu-Tac, string, a doodle pad or just paper. My daughter finds ripping and twisting paper very therapeutic. 

5. Embrace competition

Rephrasing tasks into a competition or challenge has had great results in my household and classroom. For example, the textbook could say “Name 10 musical instruments.” 

Going to the student and saying “That’s too easy for you – can you do it in 5 minutes?” gives them a little praise and challenge. 

This approach can even help with extended writing. Pop a little star in the margin and say: “I bet you can’t get to that star in x minutes.” 

It has become a challenge. A chance to prove me wrong. And I find children with ADHD really respond to it. 

Diane Redman is an English teacher at Springwood High School in King's Lynn

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