Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) impacts up to around 11% of children, so if you are an educator in a K-12 setting, it is almost certain that you currently have or have had students with ADHD in your class at some point in time. Living with ADHD can affect all areas of life, including education, learning environment, and mental health.
In this article, I will outline classroom modifications that can be made for students with ADHD and learning disabilities, such as the implementation of physical activity and the reduction of distractions. Then, we will talk about what else can help and what someone who wishes to learn about classroom modifications can take away from the knowledge of these practices.
Classroom Accommodations for Students with ADHD
When a student lives with a condition that impacts their engagement in the classroom or their educational goals, modifications can be made. ADHD is just one example of a condition that can affect classroom engagement and learning.
Symptoms of hyperactivity/impulsivity may impact social connections at school, the ability to stay seated, patience throughout learning activities, and more. Symptoms of inattention, too, such as forgetfulness, being easily distracted by external stimuli forgetting or misplacing important objects (IE, pens or necessary technology for school), difficulty with tasks that require sustained mental effort, and so on, can have severe impact on learning.
With that said, here are five things educators can do to help.
Since people who live with ADHD are more easily distracted than other people, one critical adjustment educators can make is to reduce distractions.
Common distractions in the classroom might include talking to other children or looking at what's going on outside of the window rather than what's happening indoors. To mitigate this, an educator may be mindful of things like seating.
You may seat children next to quiet students and away from distractions such as windows and doors. A classroom may also have a general policy where all kids do not have cell phones and other similar objects out in the classroom environment.
Incorporate physical movement
Studies show that physical activity helps children and adolescents who live with ADHD in a number of ways - including with their education. One study found that even just 20 minutes of aerobic exercise helped improve math and reading capabilities in both children who live with ADHD and in healthy controls that did not.
Another study that looked specifically at kids who live with ADHD found that 11 weeks of regular exercise resulted in teacher-reported symptom improvement. This suggests that incorporating physical activity can help kids both short-term and long-term.
Adding physical activity or movement into lessons can be advantageous for kids with ADHD who are prone to fidgeting, squirming, getting out of their seats when it isn't appropriate to do so, and so on. It can make lessons more engaging and accommodates the way that their mind works. You can also build more frequent movement breaks into a child’s daily school routine to help with their focus on tasks.
Encourage good habits
Encouraging good habits is vital both at home and in school. Although kids with ADHD are sometimes scolded for behavior, what's more productive is to point out what they do right. When things aren't quite so ideal, emphasizing any positives, gently redirecting, and offering an explanation can be helpful.
Providing a reward when kids engage in positive behavior can be adaptive and valuable, too, at times. Many teachers use reward systems for all students, so this can be relatively simple to implement. Positive reinforcement can be simple but should be immediate. It can even be in the form of verbal praise, which can be advantageous, as many kids with ADHD struggle with self-esteem and perfectionism.
Even if a child has difficulty in school or has a tendency to disrupt others during class, remember that it's not on purpose. Understanding and empathy can go a long way when it comes to classroom management.
Prevent chatting and interruptions
In addition to being mindful of a seating chart in the classroom, there are other ways to prevent classroom behavior such as chatting and interruptions. People with ADHD may interrupt other people often, but it's not on purpose.
Frequently, interruptions take place due to impulsivity, the worry that one might forget what they want to say if they don't say it right now, or for other reasons. If a child has tools to help them curb excessive talking and interrupting during class, they can benefit from this.
Gentle reminders when a child talks out of turn, as well as teaching a child skills that can help them interrupt less frequently (IE, active listening, mindfulness, raising their hand) and using engaging learning activities that involve the child or allow for physical movement are some examples of what can help prevent chatting and interruptions.
Sometimes, allowing fidget toys can also be advantageous for appropriate behavior. While it may seem like adding a fidget toy could be a further distraction, it can actually help someone with ADHD concentrate and remain appropriately stimulated. School staff can help a child learn some of these behavior management tools, especially if they have a diagnosis and an IEP or 504 plan.
Provide extra time for exams
Sometimes, people with ADHD have trouble starting or finishing tasks. Additional time for exams is a common accommodation that is used for children who live with ADHD. This additional time can help children comprehend the material, and it can reduce pressure.
Extra time can also accommodate and support a child who faces challenges related to task initiation and time management, as many people with ADHD do.
What Else Can Help?
In K-12 education, a child who lives with a diagnosis of ADHD will be eligible for special education services. This means that they would qualify for a 504 plan or IEP. These plans can help a child get the accommodations they need, as well as any other additional support. We talked about one example of an accommodation - providing extra time for exams - but other accommodations for ADHD can help as well.
Other commonly used accommodations for ADHD in K-12 settings include taking tests in a room separate from other children, allowing children to take breaks, assistance with organization, and special assignments that are tailored to the individual's needs. Tutoring may be an option for children who need extra support with classroom material or who are working to catch up to their peers in school.
At home, games and apps like Joon can be advantageous for things like the completion of homework. Behavior therapy and parenting training (for those aged 12 or below) can be helpful for behavioral concerns such as blurting out answers or talking during class. Medication is also often used to treat and help with symptoms of ADHD that hinder the learning process.
ADHD can cause challenges during the school day and in other parts of life. There are classroom modifications for ADHD students that can help. Classroom modifications an educator might make to support children who live with ADHD can include but aren't limited to the reduction of distractions, incorporating physical movement, encouragement for good habits, the prevention of chatting or interruptions, and giving children extra time when taking exams.
Some children require more support than others, and interventions both in and outside of the classroom can be valuable for a child's learning.