Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder in the Classroom  

April 25, 2013
We’ve all heard of ADHD (attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder). Most of us have seen it in the classroom at one time or another. ADHD impacts 3-7% of children and 2-5% of adults. If left untreated the disease results in serious, life-changing consequences. Between 25% and 50% of students repeat a grade and 37% of students don’t finish high school. Only 5% of individuals with ADHD complete college compared with 35% of the normal population. Other important life skills that are impacted include money management, maintaining stable employment, and operating a car safely (those with ADHD are 4 times more likely to be in an accident). The table at the end of this article summarizes some common areas of difficulty and provides suggestions for dealing with them.   

So what do we do?
How we perceive the problem is usually the best place to start. It is important that we maintain a perspective of disability. It can be hard to remember that an individual with ADHD is an individual with a disability, because oftentimes these are individuals who can “do it one day, but not the next”. This makes it easy to label the problem as one of motivation. They are able to focus on materials that capture their interest (video games for example), but not the important materials they are expected to learn in school. When we attribute the problems we see to laziness we are more likely to believe the child has the skills necessary to succeed without modifications or supports in the environment. This leads to reliance on natural consequences, which in some cases leads to increased oppositional behaviors and more of what we’ve been getting. So it is important that we maintain a disability perspective when working with youth who have ADHD.

The 30% Rule
Remember the 30% rule. The 30% rule says that an individual under the age of 24 who has ADHD will often perform like an individual 30% younger than their chronological age. So, a 16 year old behind the wheel of a car might demonstrate the maturity of an 11 year old (one reason why some countries require individuals with ADHD to be taking medication before they are issued a driver’s license). A 6 year old with ADHD will often react to situations more like a 4 year old (emotional responses will be faster than typical for a 6 year old and more intense).
This perception is one of the most helpful things for parents to understand, but it is important for educators as well! When giving an assignment, ask yourself whether you would expect someone 30% younger to be able to successfully complete the work. If not, consider making some adjustments or providing other supports so the student is more likely to complete the work and acquire the important skills/knowledge you are teaching them.

Other ideas and strategies:
If following directions is a problem, then think Clint Eastwood!   Keep statements and instructions short, get eye contact, touch their shoulder, and have them repeat what was said.
Use color coded binders and organization systems.
Find a coach or mentor the student is familiar with and schedule several 5 minute checkups across each day.

For additional resources see:             

Completion of routine assignments without direct supervision Intervention Ideas
Controlling impulses 
Intervention Ideas  Problem:
 Intervention Ideas Problem:
 Intervention Ideas
Stopping and thinking before acting  Self-monitoring strategies;
 Fidgety, restless Allow some restlessness in the work area; build movement into lessons; Allow use of fidgets   Student reports becoming easily bored  Use visuals; Actively involve student in teaching lesson:   use pointer, write on board; schedule most difficult subjects in the mornings

 Resisting distractions while working  Strategic seating; independent work area; soft music while working; brief work breaks with physical movement

Wriggling feet and legs, tapping things, rocking   Allow some restlessness, but teach the difference between acceptable restlessness and distraction  Completion of routine assignments without direct supervision  Decrease total workload; give small amounts of work at a time; Daily Behavior Report Cards attached to rewards

 Inability to work for large, long-term rewards Emphasize rewards before punishments (at least 2:1); change rewards occasionally; Allow access to rewards often each day   Shifting in posture or position, excessive running and climbing with younger children

 Allow some restlessness in the work area; provide opportunities for exercise and moving around

 Completion of routine assignments without direct supervision  Decrease total workload; give small amounts of work at a time; Daily Behavior Report Cards attached to rewards