The answer to whether your child with ADHD can be successful in school is YES!
Ok, so most children with ADHD, Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, will generally have issues within the classroom setting. The name suggests that their attention span is shorter. In actual fact, they have difficulty with attention be it hyperfocussing or unable to focus due to distraction or boredom. It can be so hard to keep them engaged. Kids with ADHD may have trouble with:
- Starting on a task
- Managing their time
- Focusing on what is important in the task
- Following directions correctly
- Changing their focus from one task to the next
- Their working memory i.e. ensuring they bear in mind one instruction to follow the next
- Sitting still!
As well as having children with ADHD, I have worked in a primary school and I have seen first-hand how difficult it is to keep a child with ADHD present and engaged. They are not being naughty. They simply cannot learn sitting still for the entire length of a lesson. So, instead of forcing a child to conform to mainstream rules, what can the school do to better enable the child with ADHD to learn? A priority for the school must be to reduce the child’s stress and minimise overstimulation. Yet conversely, ensuring they remain stimulated!
Listed below are some effective strategies that work well with many of our children in a school setting. The first points can be implemented for the benefit of all children, the latter are aimed more specifically for the child with ADHD.
- Display class rules – 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’. These should be referred to throughout the day as a gentle reminder of expectations.
- Clear, visual daily timetables – Put on the board first thing in the morning for all the children to see. Again, these must be referred to frequently throughout the day to keep the child on track of what is to come. *Allowing a child with ADHD to transition from one lesson/task to another is extremely important. They cannot chop and change as easily.
- Whole class relaxation periods – Keeping all children de-stressed is vital. Peer massage and yoga are lovely ways to relax and 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!
- Hands to be raised before answering – For all children, but something that children with ADHD find hard due to their impulsivity. It is much better to remind the whole class than just the one! I know my son could not understand why he would get told off when his answer was right! I explained to him that it was because he was calling out, not because he had got it wrong.
- Think before answering – This is another great technique that benefits all children. By waiting approximately 10 seconds before the teacher accepts any answers, the child with ADHD can have time to prepare their thoughts rather than just blurt out.
- Make learning fun – This is 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 and 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..
- Have positive and realistic expectations of the child. – There is no point in expecting a child with ADHD to complete the same amount of work in the same period as a child without ADHD. Great if they do but, largely unrealistic and sets them up for failure. Many children with ADHD have low self-esteem, they do not need to be made to feel worse.
- Use visual rewards – Children with ADHD react far better to rewards than punishments. Punishments can often close the child down. Praise after an achievement as soon as possible. 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!
- Ensure consistency is used – 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.
- 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.
- 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 15 minutes or 20 minutes, whatever they can cope with. Sometimes even just sending the child on an errand to the school office can be enough!
- 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.
- Sand Timers – These can so help with time management and come in many times 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 need to 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, biting their nails, it is not that uncommon. I will write a list of a few that have worked for my family on the ADHD resources page on this blog. If you do click the link I will eventually get a small percentage. Disclaimer!
- Quiet, chill-out areas – These can be so beneficial to a child that is coming out of the Green Zone and going into the Amber Zone (Zones of Regulation I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.) or has 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. 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. Away from windows, bright lights and loud/colourful displays is helpful. Of course, with each child, this could be different, they may need/want to be near the door to take a break when necessary, without disrupting the class.
There is nothing better than a teacher who ‘gets’ a child with ADHD. Sadly, there are many that still do not. I have seen both. The difference it makes is enormous. When a teacher knows not to judge your child; to understand that they simply cannot help themselves; that they are not naughty and that they are trying their very best, that’s when you know they ‘get it’.
Our children did not choose to feel like this. They do not enjoy this. They are not giving us a hard time intentionally, they are having a hard time. I know from my daughter, the remorse she feels when she has had a bad day in school and knows she was ‘mean’ to the teacher. She comes home and draws them a picture and an apology. Sometimes the wording makes me cry. It is so heartfelt. She is ashamed and embarrassed by her behaviour. She literally cannot control it. Thankfully, I am lucky that she goes to a specialist school now, after many years of battling. For me, it makes a world of difference. They all ‘get it’!
ADHD awareness in schools needs to be greater. With more and more children being diagnosed it is essential that there is a true understanding. There is no point in diagnosing children if we are not prepared to help them. We do not as parents seek a label to then sit back and go, oh my child has ADHD so there is no hope and I can sit down and relax now. No! Now we know what it is we can do to help teach them, both at home and in school.
It is now up to the adults to adjust to the child with ADHD and make the child’s life better. ADHD is a hidden disability. A school would always provide ramps and wider doors etc. for wheelchair users. They must now provide the necessities for a child with hidden disabilities. There is no excuse for a child not to be successful in school now. All it takes is some basic provisions and an acknowledgement that ADHD is real. I have just read an amazing book by Ross Greene, The Explosive Child, 2006. His main theme is, “Kids do well if they can”, Let that sink in.
So, to answer the question ‘Can a child with ADHD be successful in school’, with the right adjustments, there is absolutely no reason why they cannot!