ADD/ADHD in the Classroom: Intervention #1 – Move it! (Part 1)

Imagine for a moment that you are hyperactive. You seem to be driven by some kind of hidden engine to keep moving. For you to live is to move and to move is to live! What would be the one of the worst forms of torture that someone could devise for you? Simple really: Make you sit still for hours on end!  You can almost imagine the agony. Every fibre in your body is twitching as you resist the overwhelming temptation to move even one inch for you know that there will be consequences if you do! Now turn your mind to thousands of classrooms up and down North America. What I have not described is not merely a hypothetical situation but the daily reality for thousands of kids with ADD/ADHD. In fact, the inability to sit still is such an important part of the condition that it defines a specific form of it. The ‘H’ in ADHD obviously stands for hyperactivity. Rest assured, for those of your students where the ‘H’ is applicable, sitting still is one of the most difficult things imaginable.

So how should we respond to the hyperactivity associated with ADHD? In essence there are two main types of intervention. The first type deals with the accommodation of hyperactivity (especially in terms of designing strategies that will allow for the incorporation of movement into the teaching environment) and reduction (strategies designed to lessen the incidence and impact of the condition). This article will focus on the first type of intervention namely the ones that are designed to accommodate the condition in the context of the classroom.

Before we look at specific interventions it might be necessary to address the question of whether accommodation would be a good or even a desirable thing. This is necessary because many people would almost instinctively respond to the suggestion of accommodation by stating that the kids involved should simply hear a loud ‘sit still’! My standard response is to point out that we accommodate students with special needs all the time. For example, if a child has hearing or visual problems special effort are almost invariably made to facilitate their learning within the context of their individual needs. This is obviously a very good thing! Why should this very same principle not be extended to children with ADD/ADHD? Especially in light of the fact that the condition can have such a massive negative impact on the learning outcomes of students if it is left unaddressed.

I make no excuse, in light of the above, for advocating accommodation as part of a strategy to deal with ADD/ADHD in the classroom. In fact I am willing to go so far as to state that accommodation strategies will not only enhance the learning of children with ADD/ADHD but will also lift the standard of classroom learning in general. Why so? Well, firstly it will minimise the disruption caused by hyperactive children who are hyper-frustrated at being forced to keep still and quiet for hours on end. I am, secondly, also convinced that many of the principles that will be shared are based on sound pedagogical principles and will bear fruit, regardless of whether there are children in your class that deal with ADD/ADHD. They are, therefore, sound general principles that can be applied under all circumstances.

How should you go about designing interventions that are geared towards accommodation? The simplest answer to this question is that you should have a long hard think about how you can include movement and the freedom to move in as many aspects of the teaching experience as possible. This might sound like a fool-proof recipe for total chaos but it isn’t. Responsible and well thought out interventions to ‘get the class moving’ in the most literal sense will facilitate learning rather than hinder it. If you don’t believe please stick around for the discussion of specific interventions! I’m sure that you will agree with me that they will not only make your teaching of ADD/ADHD kids more effective, it will also be a lot of fun.

Before we look at specific movement related interventions it is important to stress that an important ‘mind shift’ must take place before you can even think of implementing them. The essence of this mind-shift is that you cannot continue to regard teaching as an essentially static activity. Despite years of it being challenged, the paradigm of the teacher holding forth from the front while the students are expected to simply lap it up still holds sway in many classrooms. Liberating yourself from this kind of self-imposed imprisonment (which is guaranteed to drive ADD/ADHD kids up the wall) is of crucial importance if you want to deal with hyperactivity in the classroom. Please check back next week when I will discuss specific interventions that will help you to do just this!