Teaching Children With ADD/ADHD

(The suggestions in this post are more being pulled from research and mainstream literature and really geared more toward a traditional, not homeschooling, environment – although some of these ideas could work quite well there.  They do not represent my independent total ideas of general suggestions, which would include more holistic options as well. However, I feel it is extremely important that parents know what mainstream health care professionals are saying, what research is saying, because if a child is in a traditional school setting particularly I think parents need to have familiarity with what is out there from this perspective.  There are more posts to come in this series in which I hope to detail some other suggestions for teaching)

In our last post, we looked at the neurobiologic differences of children who have ADD/ADHD compared to children who don’t.  However, this often leads to the inevitable question of how to best help children who are experiencing these challenges.  The work of the family due to children who have ADD/ADHD and its often related co-morbidities are real.    And, although not all readers who read this blog homeschool, I think it can feel very difficult in the beginning for the homeschooling parent who is teaching a child with ADD/ADHD where it feels like finding all the answers are on their shoulders.

Here are a few things I would think about regarding teaching and support in general.  Some of these are ideas borne out in studies, some are ideas that parents of children with ADD/ADHD have told me were helpful over the years, and some of my own ideas based on the children I have worked with when I was an actively practicing pediatric physical therapist.

Some very general things:

Exercise – Exercise improves learning in general for all children, and especially  for children with attentional deficits, exercise helps increase neurotransmitter activity.  Here is an example of one study regarding exercise and boys with ADD/ADHD.  Here is one meta-analysis  on this subject from February of 2016.  There is some evidence that exercise in nature is particularly wonderful.

Positive strengths – making a list of your child or student’s positive traits is so important.  It can carry a parent through hard times, it can help to have something to say when a child with ADD/ADHD suffers with low self-esteem or feels rejected socially, and it gives a teacher a place to draw from in teaching.

According to this document regarding teaching children with ADD/ADHD from the U.S. Department of Education, it is important to assess exactly how, when, and why the child becomes inattentive or disruptive.  Then the teacher can make up a strategy based upon academic teaching, behavior management, and accommodations.

Some general strategies could include:

Older children and teens in the classroom or a noisy environment can use noise cancelling headphones for working or use white noise.  Here is a study from March of 2016 talking about this issue.

Movement can be incorporated by teachers.  Teachers in schools and in homeschools can design their teaching  to have “Brain Breaks” and get up and move every 20 minutes or so.  Brain breaks in the classroom can include any number of activities, but true physical therapy may be needed to deal with increased motor issues, as many children with ADD/ADHD do have motor challenges.

This recent meta-analysis shows that to decrease disruptive behavior during school, consequences and self-regulation techniques provide the best effects (but what “consequences” were used or what self-regulation techniques were used were not specifically explored).

“High Interest” teaching strategies are important – because children and teens with ADD/ADHD have reduced dopamine receptions and transporters in the area of the brain that is involved with reward and motivation, high interest subjects help improve academic performance.  Students with ADD/ADHD often do not learn well with just visual or auditory input – they often need a more hands-on style with visual cueing.

Understand that learning is DEVELOPMENTAL.  If a child or teenager with ADD/ADHD has delayed neurobiologic brain maturation, he or she will not have the learning or memory capacity of students of the same age.  (This is where structural maturation CAN impact function).   Working memory for student with ADD/ADHD, even a teenager, may be limited to about five items or fewer.  So, a lesson in which the student is supposed to remember ten things will not be learned in one lesson.

For children with ADD/ADHD, if you are the teacher, you must be very clear as to your objectives in learning.  This seems to really help children with ADD/ADHD.

As a teacher, you can orally ask questions as you go along and point to visual cues to help assist in answering.  In public schools, some of the methods being used include the teacher giving the student a copy of lecture notes to the student in outline form with key points marked to help the student, or to provide skeletal outlines to provide compensation for poor working memory.  Reducing notetaking for teens is important.

Showing sample completed projects or pages helps.  Reduced written work should be expected.  Having an older child or teen  write the correct answer only or fill in blank often works better than having a child try to write full essays or summaries.

Quality over quantity.  Pick your assignments for your child carefully.

These are general suggestions.  I hope to address helping with language arts and math in future posts to help parents and homeschooling parents.




3 thoughts on “Teaching Children With ADD/ADHD

  1. Dear Carrie–I so appreciate the neuro-biological approach you take to parenting and teaching. However, in working with all the learning and personality differences in our children, I think it’s important to value “neurodiversity”–the concept that children with neuro-differences (ADHD, sensory integration, autistic spectrum, anxiety) are bringing awareness, sensory sensitivity, intelligence and diverse perception that we NEED in our time, and should be actively supported with our parenting and teaching.

    This isn’t just an ideal–it’s a reality that we can really accommodate and celebrate as Waldorf home-educators! While we strive to balance our children in their thinking, feeling, and willing, we should really ask ourselves where our children thrive, and where their neurological differences serve them. Many children with ADHD show no problematic symptoms in entirely outdoor, experiential environments. Farming programs and nature school may be a perfect places for them to learn. Tasks with practical outcomes and real benefits to others (cooking for sick neighbors, caring for animals, gardening–all the will activities) are often areas in which these children shine. They often outwork and out-problem solve children who have an easier time in sit-down environments.

    Conventional medical and educational advice usually suggests behavioral solutions for ADHD (systems of rewards and consequences), along with medication, and Waldorf-oriented practitioners and teachers often recommend therapeutic solutions (therapeutic eurythymy, Extra Lesson, cranial sacral work) meant to address the imbalance of the nerve-sense pole. Any of these could be right for particular children, and many of them have helped our family. Ultimately, though, my own life experience and observation of my child is leading me to amazement at how much she accomplishes in the right environment, and how my task may really is, in the words of the Steiner verse, to be “a remover of obstacles” so that she can meet her destiny.

    • Dear Abigail,
      You know I totally agree with you ..and was getting to some of those ideas at the end of this series. You are ahead of me! 🙂 However, I do always want to point out what is being published in research…even if we don’t agree with all of it, and I don’t, I think it is important for parents, especially for those whose children are in a more traditional school environment to know so they can agree or disagree about things from an informed standpoint when they are at an IEP meeting advocating for their child. There is a lot to be said for Extra Lesson teaching, craniosacral therapy, naturopathic and chiropractic remedies, therapeutic eurythmy, biofeedback, dietary changes and even more that I am probably forgetting. We certainly pull from these pools in our family for all of our children and ourselves.

  2. Pingback: Holistic Support for Children With ADD/ADHD | The Parenting Passageway

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