Identifying and Helping ADHD Students

Teachers may have the best perspective in identifying kids with ADHD. Even more than parents and psychologists, experienced teachers are able to spot ADHD students among their typically functioning peers. As a child clinical psychologist who conducts comprehensive neuropsychological evaluations, the input of teachers, particularly those in elementary school who see students for five or more hours per day, is crucial in making an accurate diagnosis of ADHD. Teachers may have observations extending over many months. In addition, they have the chance to watch ADHD students interact with their peers, organize material on their own, and play in unstructured situations in the classroom and on the playground. They also have the experience of having taught ADHD students in the past.

Spotting ADHD students may be more difficult for less experienced teachers. Familiarity with the basic symptoms of ADHD can be helpful. Conferences with the parents of students who may be displaying signs of ADHD can help to determine whether similar behavior is being observed in the home setting. If symptomatic behaviors are isolated to the classroom setting, students who may appear to be displaying symptoms of ADHD may instead be experiencing learning difficulties. Here are some strategies for teachers to help them identify and help ADHD students and others with more modest attentional problems:

High/low. Provide children with a mixture of high- and low-interest tasks to sustain attention. Children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder are likely to respond best to a mixture of tasks rather than to a series of either high-interest or low-interest activities. Teachers could offer them a hands-on activity after lecturing to help them maintain their interest in the classroom.

Keep in touch. Communicate frequently with students’ parents. Teachers are encouraged to work with students’ parents to develop and organize academic routines. Provide daily communication with parents using the students’ planners and a weekly communication sheet that includes space for comments by each teacher. Give advance notice regarding upcoming special or long-term projects and post homework assignments through a school website or classroom blog. Parents could discuss children’s interests and achievements outside of school that teachers could draw upon to engage them and to highlight strengths.

Be there. Offer guidance and modeling at the beginning of long-term projects. Close guidance in planning long-term projects is important. ADHD students often procrastinate, miscalculate, and avoid tasks until the last minute. Parents are encouraged to model examples of how to plan and to coach children through the planning process. This could help them to gain a better sense of how to plan within a timed framework.

The write support. Provide enhanced structure, technology, and assistance with writing assignments. A recent study indicates that nearly 65% of boys and 57% of girls with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder have some form of a writing disability. These students might benefit from the use of word processing for writing assignments and employing a tape recorder to dictate written responses. A reduction in the number or length of writing assignments could also be appropriate. Students are encouraged to use brainstorming techniques or outlining of materials to be covered in a writing assignment before beginning a task, putting ideas on Post-it notes and rearranging them to form the outline. They could also have another student proofread materials or a proofreading checklist to cue for specific areas to assist in written production.

Direct their attention. Stay close to students who need to pay attention. The closer a teacher is to  students who are inattentive, the more likely they are to tune in. Provide choice and activities to keep such students alert and paying attention.

Make allowances. Give students some choice in their instructional activities to help improve attention span and increase their engagement with academic activities. Assign independent sitting work, allow students to sit in different places and work in different types of groups, and offer choices about an assignment. Keep up the pace of instruction as another way to maintain attention in the classroom.

Pace and praise. Keep it interesting and fast-moving at a level students can understand. Pay attention to inattentive students when they are on task and praise on-task behavior. This can help them to  increase the amount of time they remain on task and focused on activities in the classroom.


Featured image: Flickr user woodleywonderworks

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