Finding the best coping strategies for kids who are hyperactive, fidgety, or unfocused can be a challenge. These behaviors are common with kids with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), as well as for kids on the Autism Spectrum. Because these children may have sensory processing issues, they can suffer from reduced attention spans and behavioral issues.
Many factors can cause children to have trouble remaining still long enough to cooperate and get through class material and therapy. Kids may not have a 504 accommodation for ADHD or Autism, but are still often referred to occupational therapy because they have trouble paying attention in class.
Before you can develop ADHD strategies for kids in your care, try to identify the reasons behind their inability to focus. Here are some thoughts for how you can more effectively engage with students who have difficulty maintaining attention and controlling impulses.
Characteristics of ADHD students in the classroom
Students with ADHD deal with several obstacles to success in the classroom. Some of these include:
- Inability to focus or sit still
- Difficulty in controlling impulses
- Easily frustrated
- Poor time management
- Difficulty coping with stress
ADHD symptoms are more than an academic challenge. They affect children’s social interactions, too. Developing strategies for students with ADHD can improve their entire school experience, creating a more positive environment that lays the foundation for success into the future.
While ADHD is a common cause of focus issues, other factors may drive these difficulties. That’s why it is crucial that you specifically determine the root cause of each student’s behavior. To learn more about the various types of ADHD and how to assess a student, this article by the Child Mind Institute is a good place to start.
Besides ADHD and issues with neurological functioning, several other conditions can affect focus. Sensitivity to light or sound and tactile defensiveness with overly sensitive skin can be highly distracting for some children. Also consider readiness to learn issues, such as sleep deficits and inadequate nutrition.
How do schools assist students with ADHD?
Many schools provide a variety of services to help students with focus and control issues succeed. You do not need a formal 504 accommodation for ADHD to begin using effective ADHD tools for classroom success. Some example services include:
- Extra time for exams
- More breaks and letting a child move around
- Tailored instructions to address a child’s specific issues
- Assistive technology
- Less distracting environments
- Organization help
- Supportive feedback and positive reinforcements
Can children with ADHD focus in a class?
Learning how to focus in class with ADHD or other conditions can be life-changing for children. They can benefit from specific strategies that will help them succeed, grow more confident, and maintain motivation. Your work in providing kids with these kinds of tools and approaches can be exceptionally rewarding.
Do students with ADHD qualify for a 504 plan or IEP?
ADHD students do qualify for these programs. A 504 plan provides services that help with focus and adapt the environment for learning so that a child with ADHD symptoms can achieve as well as any other student. An IEP allows for individualized special education services that address the specific issues your child faces. ADHD accommodations are often a blend of both approaches.
Management strategies for students with ADHD
ADHD strategies for kids should include strategies that address classroom behavior and remove stimuli that can exacerbate ADHD symptoms.
Behavioral classroom management to promote positive behavior
One of the more important strategies for students with ADHD is to address behaviors. As children learn social interactions and academic subjects, they also must learn to control themselves. These behavioral principles provide immediate feedback to the child and instill positive life-long habits and attitudes:
- Consequences should be clear and immediate, whether positive or negative. Immediate and specific praise ties a positive behavior directly to an emotional reward. Similarly, negative consequences must be known in advance and applied immediately.
- Consequences should be frequent. Rewarding or reprimanding once or twice is ineffective. Ongoing and frequent consequences cement cause and effect in the child’s mind.
- Consequences should be more pronounced and tangible. Light praise might not get noticed. Obvious and sensory consequences, like ringing a bell and rewarding with a red star sticker makes the reward more impactful.
- Start with incentives and rewards. Punishment should be secondary. Develop an expectation of positive things and you will see much less negative behavior. That said, negative consequences are still a necessity.
- Stay consistent. Positive and negative feedback should be clearly established in advance and consistently applied.
- Plan ahead. Learn each child’s inclinations and develop a feedback system that connects to their specific needs.
Organizational training to reduce distractions
Getting oneself organized is a necessary step in having a productive day, taking on a project large or small, and for learning. Teaching kids time management and organization is thus one of the more important focus strategies for students.
Creating a colorful step-by-step schedule for a daily routine and creating a plan for a specific task, like a homework assignment is helpful. Kids also benefit from color coding and labeling learning materials, like books, folders, boxes of crayons.
Even adults benefit from organizing papers and tasks in folders such as “to do” for homework, “completed” for what has been done, and “mail” for communications that need to go out. Organizing helps create a plan and structure while reducing distractions.
7 accommodations for students with ADHD
504 accommodations for ADHD and IEP plans both provide pathways for how to focus in class with ADHD. The ideas and tools involved can help any child with attention and self-control issues. In addition to these tips, you may wish to explore online resources for special education teachers.
1. Set up classroom environment to minimize distractions
Setting up a classroom for ADHD students will help a child with this condition focus and more effectively interact with teachers and other students.
Posters with written routines and rules, clearly labeled materials and areas help a child with ADHD know what is expected and reduce distractions. Flexible seating, designated quiet work spaces, and even a time-out place create a clear, understandable, and predictable learning environment.
2. Provide immediate and clear communication and instructions
Children with ADHD benefit from frequent, clear, and direct communication. Use simple, concise sentences. Talk directly to the child so that you have their undivided attention. Pause to let the child take the information in. Ask the child to repeat what you said. Reward attention and praise comprehension.
3. Assign work suited for children with ADHD
Children with ADHD learn in different ways. Changing your school assignments are examples of ADHD strategies for kids that will help them succeed academically.
Break assignments into smaller chunks that a child can understand, complete and check off. Provide a visualization of the work steps and time needed for each. An assignment with four steps of 15 minutes each can be represented by a clock. The child can color each quarter hour as each task is finished.
Let the child check in with you at each step so that you can make sure they are on track. These check-ins are a chance for you to praise the child and keep them motivated to finish. Rather than assigning just a grade to the work, provide constructive feedback and praise. Make sure the child is working in a distraction-free environment.
4. Encourage positive behavior and active participation
Children with ADHD have difficulty with focus and with self control. They may have emotional issues that have developed as a result, including anger management problems and feelings of low self esteem. Providing clear information about what is expected and consequences, both good and bad create a foundation for good behavior.
Focus on positive reinforcement over punishment. That said, negative consequences are part of the real world and apply in the classroom as well. Develop a behavioral plan for each student that is tailored to their specific issues and habits. How to motivate special education students and develop habits of good behavior is a skill you will use often.
5. Offer extra time to complete assignments
Extra time is part of most strategies for students with ADHD. In addition to kids needing more time to process information and do the work, the extra time is useful for check-ins during the assignment. You will also have the opportunity to provide feedback and encouragement. Children with ADHD also need time to make transitions and break focus in moving from one task to the next.
6. Include plenty of breaks with a chance to move around
Since maintaining focus and control requires additional effort for children with ADHD, giving them breaks is important. For some students, putting their head down and closing their eyes for a bit of quiet time during a task can help them rest and have enough energy to complete it. For others, they may need to move around and burn off built-up energy.
The break time, whether resting or moving, also helps kids process the information just taken in or the work just completed.
7. Help students get and stay organized
Time management and organization are important ADHD tools for classroom success. Help the child organize their locker and desk. Help them map out steps to completing a task or achieving a goal.
For ADHD students, organization is an ongoing challenge. They may need help bringing things back to an organized state after completing work or ending a school day. Helping them turn organization into a repeatable routine helps them learn this skill for lifelong benefit.
Being a special needs advocate for your students is a tremendously rewarding career. Helping students with ADHD gives these bright kids tools they can use throughout their lives.
Looking for a job in special education? Begin your search for available special education teaching jobs.