12 Strategies to Help Students with ADHD in the Classroom

I'm not going to get into the nitty gritty of what ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is. If you are reading this post there is an excellent chance you already know what it is because you are dealing with it in your classroom. I'm also going to go out on a limb and assume that you are struggling with a student (or several) and that's why you're here. Dealing with ADHD in the classroom can be a big struggle for the teacher, the student, and the other members of the classroom depending on the severity of the child's symptoms. Read on to find easy strategies that you can implement right away.

You might be seeing disruptive behavior (shouting out, aggression, constant movement, fidgeting etc.) and you're at your wits end because you have tried the typical teacher tricks (behavior charts, time outs, taking away recess, phone calls and notes home etc.) and none of it is working. You might be seeing a quiet child who appears to be listening but then struggles with his or her learning. I've listed strategies that I have successfully used in my classroom for both types of ADHD (inattentive or hyperactive/impulsive). Some strategies lend themselves better to the inattentive type and some are better for the hyperactive/impulsive type and some work well for both types.

One important thing to keep in mind is that a child with a diagnosis of ADHD is lagging in skills that other students already have. They aren't behaving this way on purpose, they really just don't have those skills in place yet. ADHD is also a neurological condition. It is not a made up disease. Their brains are actually different than those of a neurotypical child.

These strategies below will help to address those lagging skills and hopefully give these students strategies to help themselves to manage their own behavior.

 Strategies for Managing ADHD in the Classroom:

1. Use fidget toys. Now I know, you may have tried this unsuccessfully before (maybe the silly putty was used as a projectile!) but you have to implement it properly. This requires a sit down with the student to discuss the purpose of the fidget toy. Here is an example of the wording I use, "I know you sometimes have trouble staying focused and that your body feels like moving, this is meant to help you with that". Be very specific about how to use it, break down the dos and the don'ts e.g., DO use this silly putty to squish in your hands when you are trying to listen to a lesson. DON'T pull it apart and throw it or make things with it). I have found that once I am very specific about how to use it and why it is needed, it eliminates most of the inappropriate use. Here are some examples of fidget toys that I use in my classroom:

-Silly putty for squishing in their hands. I prefer this Silly Putty but you can get other brands at your local dollar store.
-I have made several of these sensory bottles and they have so far worked the best as a fidget toy.
-Squishy balls with different textures on them like these (I find them at Walmart and my dollar store all the time):

-This Fidget Cube has been AMAZING for several students.
2. Body Breaks! I know these can be hard to fit into the day but they can be beneficial for all students. After your lesson have everyone stand up and do some stretches. Part way through the working time remind your ADHD students to take a body break or even have your whole class stand up and run on the spot for 30 seconds or just do some simple stretches. 

3. Get them involved in the lesson. That might seem like an obvious one but so often we stand in front of the class and just teach instead of allowing students to take part. Get the student involved by holding something for you, reading something, pointing to something etc. It gives them a specific task to help hold their attention.

4. Chunk the work. Too many steps at once will draw their attention in too many different directions. Children with ADHD aren't lacking in focus, they are actually focusing on many different things all at once which makes it difficult to just focus on one thing. Break it down for them in nice small, specific chunks.

5. Use headphones to block out distractions. You can get noise cancelling headphones that are meant for this purpose, they look like ones you might see on workers in a noisy workplace but they are child sized.

6. Block out visual distractions with an "office". I have secured 2 twin pocket folders together so that they can stand up on a desk and act like a partition between students. I have a whole class set because I find many students like using these for privacy and to help with concentration and focus.

7. Frequent check-ins. While students are working I make a point of checking in multiple times with my students with ADHD. Sometimes it is obvious when they are off task but for some students with ADHD they might not be disruptive. They might just be staring off into space (or appear to be staring off into space). I check in and give feedback on the work they have completed so far and then I give a specific task for them to work on next like, "Okay, now I want you to check over your writing for spelling mistakes". Then I'll check back in 5-10 minutes and if they are done that task, "Alright, now I would like you to find a friend to peer edit your story".

8. Provide alternative seating. In my class, I have a couch, pillows, a foam rocking chair, an exercise ball and various styles of tables. There are so many options out there now like Wiggle Seats and
Wobble Chairs

9.Teaching them how to monitor their body cues and how to use calming strategies. This also might seem obvious but these kids really don't know how to use strategies that other people just naturally do. Trust me, if they did they would be using them! With really little ones (Kindergarten, First and Second grade) I often say, "How's your engine running?". We talk about what happens when cars go too fast. They are able to relate to this and understand that they want their engine to be running, "just right". Going too fast or too slow are both things we try to avoid. If their engine is going too slow we talk about ways to perk them up (getting a drink of water, going for a walk etc.) and if it's going too fast we talk about ways to slow the engine down (taking deep breaths, counting to 10, also getting a drink etc.).

10. Student generated strategies. Sit down and talk with the student. If they always have trouble with a certain task find out what solutions they have. I had one student who could not sit still on the carpet and would bother those around him constantly. I sat down with him and said, "I noticed you often have trouble focusing during carpet time. This means that you aren't learning and neither are your friends. What do you think might help you to focus better?" This particular boy thought that sitting on a chair at the back of the group would be helpful so we tried it out. It just so happens that this is exactly what I had been planning to do with him but the fact that he came up with the solution means it is not a punishment. It's a solution to a problem.

11. Teaching Self Regulation. This is a skill that can take a long time to teach but once they have this skill it will benefit them forever. I do a lot of coaching around recognizing their body cues and understanding what each cue means. One student that I had with ADHD would get up and start walking around the room in the middle of my lesson. This was disruptive for everyone. She pace back and forth, sit down, get up and pace again, over and over. We worked hard on recognizing that her body was telling her she needed to move but that she could satisfy this need in a less disruptive way. In her case, silly putty worked wonders! She would sit at the back and squeeze it, stretch it out, squeeze it again. She was in the back so the others weren't distracted by it and she was now able to focus on the lesson.

12. Read The Explosive Child! This book was a game changer for me. It is geared more towards parents who are dealing with explosive behavior at home but the strategies work the same in the classroom. Of course not all children with ADHD demonstrate explosive behavior but there are many who do. This book presents a collaborative approach to solving the problems the child exploding about. I found that using the approach in this book, I got to know these students better. It really helped me discover the actual reason for the behavior and how to solve it along with the student. I recommend this book for both parents and teachers!

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