Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders in children. About 10% of children ages 4 to 17 suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), according to data collected from 2015 to 2016 by the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS).
Children diagnosed with ADHD often perform poorly in school as they struggle to control their hyperactivity and/or impulsivity. This significantly impacts their ability to learn effectively.
Many children with ADHD also have at least one additional mental health diagnosis, often behavior/conduct problems or anxiety — and these students are at an even greater risk of poor outcomes. Given the critical importance of education to success in life, it’s especially important that you know how to help your child achieve their full potential at school.
Understand the Struggles Your Child Must Overcome at School
If your child’s ADHD symptoms are minor at home, they may surface in full force at school because they must sit still for long periods of time. Some symptoms of ADHD that may show up in a school setting include:
- Carelessness in schoolwork
- Forgetfulness and distraction
- Difficulty staying on task
- Failure to complete assignments
- Trouble with organization
- Talking excessively, interrupting, or blurting out answers
- Risky behaviors, such as running or climbing in situations when it’s not appropriate
- Constant motion, such as fidgeting, tapping, or moving around the classroom
In a crowded classroom, the disruptive behaviors associated with ADHD can sometimes feel overwhelming for everyone, including your child, their classmates, and their teacher. So it’s imperative that you partner with your child’s teacher to implement strategies for an effective learning environment.
Strategies for Engaging Your Child in the Classroom
While medication may help your child to better manage their classroom behaviors, non-pharmacological interventions can also be effective. Dr. Emma Sciberras, an Australian researcher who leads the Children’s Attention Project research study, has explored the positive role of cognitive behavior therapy for children with ADHD. In a 2018 “Research Files” podcast interview, Dr. Sciberras shared some creative strategies for engaging students with ADHD in the classroom. These include:
- Individualizing teaching to the student as much as possible;
- Leveling the playing field for the student by allowing typed assignments instead of handwritten ones or providing audio books and notes;
- Incorporating movement into the classroom setting;
- Designing creative ways to demonstrate competencies, such as allowing students to produce a website or make a short film instead of writing a paper;
- Creating clear and reassuring transition routines to help students move from one activity to the next; and
- Partnering the teacher and parent(s) for better classroom behaviors.
Make sure to discuss these and other strategies with your child’s teacher, and follow up with the teacher on a regular basis to make sure the strategies are effective. If they aren’t, try something new.
One intervention that may help your child with time management and organization skills is called the Homework, Organization, and Planning Skills (HOPS). A 2012 study of middle school students with ADHD diagnoses showed that this intervention was simple for teachers to implement and resulted in higher grades for students who participated in the program when compared with a waitlisted control group. Your child’s school psychologist may have more information about this intervention.
One thing to keep in mind is that ADHD can look different in boys and girls. Compared with girls, boys are four times as likely to be diagnosed with the condition, which led researchers to conclude that the disorder may be underdiagnosed in the female population. Girls tend to be less hyperactive and more inattentive, which may manifest as low self-esteem, underachievement, anxiety, or depression. While boys in constant motion may seem like a more immediate classroom concern, girls with the “quieter” symptoms of ADHD can greatly benefit from an early diagnosis and treatment.
The Importance of Movement for Children With ADHD
In a 2019 article on classroom management, the ADDitude ADHD editorial board noted that incorporating regular opportunities for movement, providing students with breaks, and arranging alternative seating — such as standing desks for work or pillows for reading activities — are proactive ways to ensure that the whole class is on-task.
In fact, movement is critical to successfully managing disruptive behaviors for students with ADHD, which is why the age-old practice of taking away recess as a punishment for behavior problems can really backfire.
Finally, by knowing the symptoms of common mental health disorders like ADHD and providing a supportive and positive home and classroom environment, you can set up your child for success in school and in life.