Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) is considered a neurodevelopmental disorder. According to the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5), neurodevelopmental disorders are “a group of conditions with onset...typically [manifesting] early in development…and characterized by developmental deficits that produce impairments of personal, social, academic, or occupational functioning.” AD/HD, is specifically described as a “neurodevelopmental disorder defined by impairing levels of attention, disorganization, and/ or hyperactivity-impulsivity.”
So, hold on, back it up! What does that really mean for students in our classrooms? Broken down to basics, it means that kids with AD/HD often have challenges in focusing, sustaining attention, keeping materials organized, losing/ misplacing materials, and waiting their turn. However, they seem to have an abundance of energy, are often fidgety, are often in and out of their seat or wondering, and are often interrupting others. Essentially, they can be your proverbial chatterboxes (DSM-5, 31-32, 59-60).
Research suggests a multi-modal approach to addressing AD/HD. That is, approach it collaboratively and concurrently from different fronts. Generally, research indicates that a combination of behavioral interventions, skills training, psycho-education for parents and teachers, and medical interventions will give a child the best chance for success (CHADD, CDC, 2015). That means…getting the skinny.
Because children and adults with AD/HD often have difficulty with focus and attention and have difficulty blocking out distractions, most experts recommend the following basic strategies for helping children and adults for AD/HD: rest, good nutrition, regular exercise, and a predictable schedule.
The plus side? These strategies are also tried and true interventions effective for the maintenance of positive emotional and psychological health for most, if not all, human beings.
Because we as educators rarely have the ability to control for many of these factors (e.g., accessing behavioral and psychiatric health practitioners, having a structured routine at home, imposing a regular bedtime, having access to safe play environments in the community) we ask ourselves, what do we as teachers have control over? What can we do at schools to help kids facing challenges stemming from AD/HD succeed? Read on to find out.
- Shift Your Mindset
If we can identify the risk factors, unmet needs, and lagging skills which impact our students’ behavior we can develop a plan to teach them those skills that will elicit the desired behaviors more consistently. In order to help us establish this strength-based paradigm we should consider the following (Boushey & Moser 2014; Greene 2014):
- Challenging behavior is indicative of lagging skills and unmet needs.When students can do well, they do.That is, when kids have the skills to consistently manage a behavior appropriately, they use them.
- All behavior is communication.
- All behavior can be taught.
Next we need a plan, one that begins with this strength-based perspective to guide us and help establish the structure, consistency, and continuity of our work with our students. The effectiveness of your classroom management plan will have a significant impact on your ability to teach and on your students’ ability to learn. When developing your classroom management strategies you need to anticipate your students’ needs and strengths and address these as you work to formalize your plan.
In addition to anticipating your students’ needs, you also have to be willing to assess your own needs and strengths as classroom leaders. This self-awareness will allow you to address unanticipated challenges, barriers, and needs more quickly, collaboratively, and with more flexibility and increased effectiveness. As you give yourself permission to improve your professional practice without shame or guilt you will notice the additional benefits of a more secure, skilled, and cohesive team that is better able to meet the needs of students and adults alike.
2. Manage the Classroom Environment
Predictability, predictability, predictability, and…oh yes, predictability! A structured environment helps to keep kids organized and on-task in school. The structure that is necessary comes from teachers who explicitly teach what acceptable and unacceptable behavior, and who provide predictability, consistency, and follow through. However, the key to being successful in establishing routines and structures comes first and foremost from your ability to foster meaningful, positive relationships with students and your ability to increase trust and rapport on a personal level. Reif (2005) suggests the following strategies for building this rapport:
- Modeling respectful language, tone of voice and body language
- Greeting and welcoming students with a smile every day
- Communicating an enjoyment and appreciation for the class
- Maintaining high expectations and supporting students in achieving those expectations
- Finding time to make personal connections with students (Reif, 2005, 97)
- Structure the classroom by providing a clear schedule, routines, rules, careful planning of seating, and physical space
- Use clear rules and behavioral guidelines
- Make sure procedures are clearly defined, taught, and practiced until they become automatic routines of classroom operation
- Focus on the use of positive reinforcement of appropriate behaviors
- Communicate in a mutually respectful and supportive way
- Back up behavioral limits and boundaries with fair, corrective consequences that are enforced predictably and consistently
- Allow enough flexibility to accommodate the individual needs of students (e.g., allow students to stand or sit when doing independent work)
- Establish high academic and behavioral expectations
- Establish a classroom where children and adults feel emotionally and physically safe; one where students are not fearful of making a mistake or looking or sounding foolish and, consequently are willing to take the risk of participation.
3. Reduce Distractions
Children with AD/HD are particularly vulnerable to distractions; therefore, whenever we can help to minimize diversions, we offer them an additional opportunity to remain engaged. Consider reducing sensory input by reflecting on how they might impact your basic senses, particularly your auditory and visual senses. Small adjustments such as the use of folders for the whole classroom (to minimize stigma, which often contributes to low self-esteem and self-efficacy and increases negative behaviors) to block out other students when doing independent work or dimming the lights and playing soothing music when kids are returning from recess go a long way in supporting children displaying challenges with AD/HD symptoms.
4. Offer Movement Opportunities
Allowing children with AD/HD to have movement opportunities not only helps them to better manage impulsive movement but also contributes to memory and learning by effectively helping to engage their kinesthetic memory in addition to their visual and auditory memory (Boushey & Moser 2014; Psychcentral, 2015).
5. Help the Student Address Challenges in Executive Function
Organization: Have the student keep a folder specifically for homework. They can use this to organize and prioritize their tasks as they travel back and forth from home and school.
Transition: Help the students prepare for transitions by giving brief one or two-step prompts prior to each transition.
6. Facilitate Classroom-Family Collaboration
Let’s face it, we live in an urban setting where resources are often hard to come by. Add a challenged national economy and watch the resources dwindle even further. Many of families work long hours to provide for their families’ basic needs and are often faced with barriers which tend to multiply in times of need. Often, devoting time to school collaboration is challenging. Still, we can help to facilitate home-school communication and collaboration.
Use a notebook log to communicate strengths and needs and make sure to highlight the positive at least as often as you communicate the challenges. A Daily Behavior Report Card is an example of an evidence-based intervention for improving specifically identified school impacts of AD/HD.
Feasible in your school?
Which of these six non-medical interventions are you using to support students with AD/HD? Do you think any of these interventions that you aren't already trying would be feasible for implementation in your school or classroom? Please be generous with your feedback.
For more highly suggested AD/HD intervention strategies, check out our AD/HD interventions page.
Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. (5th ed.). (2013). Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association.
Greene, R. (2014). The explosive child: A new approach for understanding and parenting easily frustrated, chronically inflexible children (Fifth ed.). New York, NY: Harper Collins.
My child has been diagnosed with ADHD - now what? (2015, October 9). Retrieved December 21, 2015, from http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/treatment.html
Reif, S. (2005). How to reach and teach children with ADD/ ADHD: practical techniques, strategies, and interventions (Second ed.). San Fransisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Treatment of ADHD. (2015). Retrieved December 22, 2015, from http://www.chadd.org/Understanding-ADHD/About-ADHD/Treatment-of-ADHD.aspx