As we know, our children with ADHD generally have difficulties with attention, impulsivity, hyperactivity and time management/planning. These are all the things that are required to thrive in a mainstream school! I’ve used this analogy in a previous blog, but if your child was in a wheelchair, no one would expect to have to battle to get a ramp installed or wait years for this to happen. Yet a few simple adjustments to a mainstream school could really help our children and do not affect or impact the learning of the other students.
Sitting still is probably the first obstacle, our kids need to move! Imagine being told off for something you just can’t help. I saw first-hand during lockdown how my son would answer one question and then need to run around the table once. After ten minutes of work, he would have to go and jump on the trampoline. He wasn’t being naughty, and the work wasn’t too difficult for him. He simply needed to move.
There are many things that can be included in a classroom that would be beneficial for all children. I will list these first. Then I will explain the minor tweaks that can specifically help our children with ADHD.
Whole Classroom Ideas
- Display class rules – These should be clearly written rules about what is expected in the classroom. The wording should be basic yet positive. Personally, my number one would be, ‘Be Kind’. But you could have things like ‘Hands up before answering’, ‘Listen when others are speaking’ and ‘Keep hands to yourself’. These rules should be referred to throughout the day as a gentle reminder of expectations for the whole class. It’s also an excellent idea to draw class rules together, as a class, discussing them as you go.
- Clear, visual daily timetables – These are visual cards to be put on the board for all the children to see first thing in the morning. Maths, PE, Snacktime etc. Again, these must be referred to frequently throughout the day to keep the child on track with what is to come. Remove the lessons when done. Allowing a child with ADHD to transition from one lesson/task to another is extremely important. They cannot chop and change as easily. Especially when they have been focused on something, or if they are transitioning from a fun activity to something they consider boring!
- Whole class relaxation periods – Keeping all children de-stressed is vital I think. Peer massage and yoga are lovely ways to relax. They could be included during the day to get all children back on focus. My kids all loved learning peer massage and I loved that they would come home and try it out on me! Win-Win! Harry Potter glasses was one of my favourites! After break or lunchtime, trying mini yoga stretches or mindfulness is a great way to calm and refocus. There are some great programs on YouTube for children.
- Hands to be raised before answering – This is a rule for all young children in the class. However, due to our children’s ADHD and impulsiveness, this can be a real struggle. They tend to shout out an answer or call out before considering a hand in the air! It is much better to remind the whole class than just the child with ADHD. I know my son could not understand why he would get told off for giving the correct answer! I explained to him that it was because he was calling out, not because he had got it wrong. He did get it, just couldn’t always remember to do this.
- Think before answering – This is another great technique that is beneficial to all children. Waiting 10 seconds before the teacher accepts any answers from any child. The child with ADHD can have time to prepare their thoughts rather than just blurt them out. It’s then not a race to answer for anyone. The teacher can pick a student at random.
- Make learning fun – Again, essential for all children! Most children learn more when they are enjoying what they are doing and become actively engaged. I know I do! If I am on a course and the person’s voice drones on and on. Or the PowerPoint presentation is just words on a screen, I literally have no idea what they just said. I start planning what I am going to have for dinner… Boring doesn’t hold any kid’s attention and that’s when distraction and fidgeting take over. I was in a school recently and reading a book with a child and there was a ‘camcorder’ in the story. How dated are our children’s books?? The child had no idea when a camcorder was, and I felt very old!
Individual Pupil Support
- Have positive and realistic expectations of the child – There is no point in expecting a child with ADHD to complete the exact same amount of work, in the same time period as a child without ADHD. Great if they do but, largely unrealistic and sets them up for a fail. Many children with ADHD have low self-esteem, they do not need to be made to feel worse. Give them more time or time to take breaks throughout the task. Many children with ADHD can feel totally overwhelmed and refuse to even start a task if it appears too large. If you have ten questions on a piece of paper place another blank piece of paper over the other nine questions so they can focus on the first one, sliding the paper down as they achieve each one. Or fold the paper in half so they don’t become overwhelmed by the volume of work.
- Use visual rewards – Children with ADHD react far better to rewards than punishments. Punishments can often close the child down. Always praise immediately after an achievement. Praise, Praise, Praise! Visual rewards such as stickers, and tick/star charts can keep motivation up! Likewise, should a punishment/consequence have to be used it should be done immediately so that they understand what it is for. If a problem happens Friday, deal with it Friday, not on Monday! The only time praise like this may not be of benefit is if the child suffers from PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance, see blog post).
- Ensure consistency is used – This is a must. The teachers, support staff etc must be consistent in their feedback and rewards. It should be firm, fair, and regularly given to the child, so they are monitored throughout the day. Whenever speaking to the child, deliberate eye contact must be given, in a pleasant way! Using 1:1 support is vital in most cases. Don’t allow one thing one day or with one specific teacher and another says no. My daughter was allowed in one class to sit on a chair for story time, when a new teacher started she absolutely would not let her. You can imagine the meltdown.
- Zones of Regulation – This is a wonderful idea for some children who find it beyond difficult to verbalise how they are feeling. To be fair, most children do find it hard, and some adults! A child with ADHD can go from fine to self-combusting volcano mode very quickly. Placing the three cards out for them to visually show the teacher how they are feeling can be so helpful. They are the colours of the traffic lights. Green is good/ calm; Amber is starting to feel irritated or as I call it, fizzy; and Red is done/over/ get me out of here. Children cannot always verbalise how they are feeling, and some are too shy. A quick flash of a card is a really easy way for them to express themselves.
- Time out and movement breaks – The amount of time a child can stay in a classroom environment varies. Allowing a child to have some time out is a necessity. Again, setting realistic time frames dependent on the child, be it 5 minutes or 20 minutes, whatever they can cope with. Sometimes even just sending the child on an errand to the school office, or asking them to hand out books etc can be enough. I read somewhere the other day, the teacher asks the children to stand up when they give an answer, just to give them some movement. It really can be that simple.
- Adopting the ‘now and then’ strategies – Telling the child, ‘if we can complete this now, then we can play a game of your choice.’ This gives them something to aim for, a reason to achieve. It can really help keep them on track reminding them they are nearly there and then we will, whatever the reward/game/break is. Basic cards can be printed off, Twinkl have a great selection.
- Sand Timers – These can so help with time management and come in many times, from seconds to minutes, and colours. The child can visually see how long they have. These work well with my son who can then see how long he has to eat his breakfast, for example. Believe me, he would easily take an hour to eat porridge without one of these! My daughter, however, hates them. She hates the pressure of seeing the time running out, gives up and becomes extremely angry. Just shows again how individual ADHD is in all children.
- Fidget Toys – These therapeutic little gadgets really do help a child with ADHD to remain calm and stay focused. They work on the premise that children with ADHD must fidget to stay focused. By giving their hands something to do, their brain can focus on what they are supposed to be learning. If you look around, many people fidget, twirling their hair, and biting their nails, it is not that uncommon.
- Quiet, chill-out areas – These can be so beneficial to a child in the Amber Zone and going into the Red Zone (Zones of Regulation) or have unfortunately whizzed straight into the Red Zone. A safe, quiet room or tent is amazing for a child with ADHD to try to calm and regulate themselves. Many children will dive under their desks just to achieve this feeling of quiet and safety, so let’s give them a proper safe space. Ideally, these should be easily accessible to the child. If the school cannot facilitate a quiet space then even a quiet, calm wall can help with sensory patches to feel and touch to help calm themselves.
- Seating – Where the child sits in the classroom is vitally important. Ideally near the teacher at the front of the room where they can hear and see clearly. At the front also means that the majority of the class is behind them, less distracting. Being away from windows, bright lights and loud/colourful displays is also helpful. I have put a small version of the class rules and their visual daily timetable nearby when space allows. Of course, with each child, seating could be different. They may need/want to be near the door to take a break when necessary, without disrupting the class. I’ve worked with some children who can’t enter or leave a class unless the door is at the back and therefore their seat. They don’t want to be seen, especially if they are struggling.
- Daily Home School Report Cards – These ensure that home and school are on the same track and reinforce the reward system too. They are a great way to share praise with parents and vice versa, boosting the child’s self-esteem. Having a reward system such as, so many stars each day gets you a treat after school whatever that maybe decided between you. So many stars each week gets you a weekend treat. These don’t have to be massive, just an acknowledgment of achievement.
As you can see, there are so many simple adjustments that can be made to make a classroom far more ADHD-friendly. And many of these ideas are great for ALL children Neurotypical or Neurodiverse.
I will write a list of a few that have worked for my family on the ADHD resources page on this blog. I’m not advertising for amazon, this is just where I bought them from. However, if you click the link I will get a small percentage. Disclaimer!
Let me know of anything else that you have found works for you. This blog is aimed at Primary School children but I will be writing one to help our teens in secondary school too.