ADHD Friendly Education: Designing Your ‘Game Plan’ for Beating ADD/ADHD in the Classroom (Part 2)

In the previous article we discussed some elements of an ADD/ADHD classroom game plan. These are the things that you should ideally have in place before you attempt any specific individual interventions. This will ensure that you interventions are not haphazard in nature but that they will follow a coherent and unified pattern. The elements of the game plan that I listed were:

1. Understand what you are dealing with

2. Eliminate alternative explanations

3. Get parents on board

4. Do not try to go it alone

Having these values as part of your game plan will put you in a fantastic position to overcome the challenges posed by the presence of ADD/ADHD in the classroom. With this week’s article I want to help you to move beyond this solid foundation by ‘beefing up’ you game plan even further. To do so, I would like to suggest that you also add the following elements to the mix:

Keep the child involved: It is, sadly, the case that many interventions are planned and executed without the child whom they are supposed to help being involved in any way. I am obviously not suggesting that the children in your care all have the ability to design an educational strategy for themselves. What I am suggesting, however, is that they can provide you with a great deal of insight into ‘what works’ for them! Asking simple questions like ‘What helps you to learn?’ and ‘When do you really struggle to concentrate?’ can provide you with a great deal of insight that will help you to target your interventions effectively. Keeping the child involved also means that you should regularly explain what you are doing, and why. Extending children this basic courtesy can turn them from sullen opponents into willing allies.

Use positive reinforcement: Many kids with ADD/ADHD are so used to being the ‘black sheep’ that they are convinced that there must be something inherently wrong with them. This attitude is obviously formed by years of negative feedback about their behavior. Do your bit to break through this negativity by providing positive feedback and reinforcement wherever possible. This does not mean that you have to make use of half truths in order the make the child feel better. Every child will occasionally do something that is worthy of warm appreciation and praise. Make sure that you are especially attentive to these ‘magic moments’ in the lives of children with ADD/ADHD and that you respond accordingly!

Maintain open and clear lines of communication: This is certainly a good general principle but its worth is compounded tenfold when it comes to dealing with ADD/ADHD. Never assume that anything that you said was heard simply because you said it! The lack of focus and concentration that so often comes with the condition means that it is quite likely that you were not, in fact, heard. Work very hard at communicating clearly and plainly and always try to make sure that the ADD/ADHD student heard and understood what you said. Asking for ‘feedback’ on what you said might annoy students at first so take care to do so in the friendliest way possible. Open lines of communication are also important in terms of all the other parties who are involved in shaping a child’s education (e.g. parents, other teachers, medical professionals etc.).

Provide a structured environment where clear expectations are the norm: Many students with ADD/ADHD are classic ‘scatterbrains’. The last thing that they need is an environment that would make their often unfocused world a bit more chaotic. It is therefore the case that many children with ADD/ADHD (especially younger ones) respond very well when their environments are well structured and expectations are clearly spelled out. Providing this structured environment can take many forms: Shifting key activities to specific places in the class, providing lists that spell out the steps needed to complete an assignment, regularly repeating the standards of behavior and cooperation expected in your classroom etc. (Many of the interventions to be discussed in later articles will deal with this area).

The elements of the game plan that I’ve laid out over the past two weeks are designed to put you in a position where you can take classroom ADD/ADHD on and emerge victorious. The important thing is to make sure that the groundwork has been done properly before ‘stepping up to the plate’. As a professional educator with the best interest of the kids in your care at heart you will agree that laying a foundation like this would not be too difficult or tedious, especially when you consider the impact that it can make on the learning outcomes of an entire class (since even those who do not have ADD/ADHD will benefit from a calm and well ordered classroom). Next week we will begin to look at specific interventions that can be built upon this solid foundation.