How Can Teachers Better Support Students with ADHD

This post features an article by Jenn Pedde.  Jenn is the community manager for the MSW program at the University of Southern California in the Virtual Academic Center, which enables students to become social workers.  She’s an avid traveler, and enjoys photography.


As children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) grow older and enter adolescence, some of the outward signs of their condition may decrease. Although they may be less active and have more control over impulsive behavior, many middle school and high school students continue to experience problems with focus and attention in the classroom. Issues related to poor concentration and distractibility may intensify, affecting their grades and their ability to learn. Without intervention, many teenagers with ADHD develop poor self-esteem, difficulties in relationships and substance abuse problems.

The U.S. Department of Education has identified the following three components of a successful educational program for students with ADHD and this may be of some help to teachers who struggle with keeping the focus of their students.

Academic Instruction Tips for ADHD Students

Many students with ADHD have problems staying organized and keeping track of assignments. Strategies can be adopted in middle school and high school that will help these students throughout their academic career. One of the ways that teachers can help is to provide a daily organizer and devote classroom time for copying assignment information (all students can benefit from this type of support). Daily expectations for each class should be clearly defined and posted in written form.

ADHD students in middle school and high school can also benefit from assistance in developing study skills. Teachers can provide instruction for note-taking during class. These students can also benefit from tips on how to keep their workspace uncluttered to minimize distractions.

Whenever possible, teachers should identify areas where an ADHD student needs extra assistance and create strategies that will help the student review material that was previously presented in class lectures.

Feedback is also important for ADHD students. Providing timely progress reports to parents can help keep older ADHD students on track. As with any student, parents and teachers should avoid criticism and sarcasm when discussing areas for improvement, and should instead try to provide reassurance and support.

ADHD Behavioral Intervention

Many older students with ADHD are still learning to control their behavior. A variety of intervention techniques can be used to help these students with self-control in the classroom. Using punishment for poor classroom behavior is a temporary solution that rarely changes a student’s attitude. Instead, teachers should use consistent and sincere verbal praise to help reinforce positive behavior. Providing an ADHD student with an “escape valve” (such as leaving the classroom on an errand) can sometimes be used to defuse undesirable behavior and allow the student to burn off excess energy.

Parents of ADHD students should be viewed as partners in the educational process. Teachers should communicate frequently with parents about behavioral concerns and involve them in intervention strategies.

Peer mediation can also be an effective tool for mediating disputes between students and reinforcing positive behavior.

ADHD Classroom Accommodations

Many of the classroom strategies recommended for younger students with ADHD are still effective for students in middle school and high school. Teachers should try to seat ADHD students at the front of the classroom or near the teacher’s desk to make it easier to monitor their progress and attention level. An alternative seating arrangement is to place an ADHD student near a peer role model who can provide academic and social support. If space permits, a quiet area of the classroom with few distractions should be provided to ADHD students for study sessions and test taking. Teachers should be discreet about assigning students to this area to avoid any stigma or the appearance of punishment.

Additional recommendations that can help older students with ADHD succeed in school include classes with low teacher-student ratios and regular meetings with private tutors or peer tutors. The Department of Education also suggests using technology and audiovisual materials for instruction and homework, as these media can be more interactive and thereby increase focus.

Editor’s note:  For more ideas on accommodations that help ADHD students and can benefit your entire class to become better learners, visit http://mypage.iu.edu/~rllsmith/ADHDweb.htm or http://www.ldonline.org/article/8797/.

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4 Responses

  1. Anna
    | Reply

    When i recognized with ADHD i had to move from my old school to new school which was for ADHD children and i felt really bad.
    But after studying their i realized that my teachers was specially trained for helping children like me.
    So, finally i can say that teachers can really support ADDH children for improving themselves in every field of life.

    Reference: http://cluas.ie/children/adhd/

  2. Natalie
    | Reply

    I am an upperclassmen in high school, and I have had a majority of the symptoms listed for years. I’ve always done well in school and don’t normally cause problems, so my parents are skeptical about my claim that I probably have ADHD. During the past few years, keeping up with my work has become more difficult, especially since I am taking college classes. I enjoy taking the classes, but need help and advice. How do I talk to my parents about being tested, and what can I do to focus on my work?
    Although I have some of the symptoms for the hyperactive side of ADHD, most of my symptoms are on the inattention side.

    • Peggy
      | Reply

      Natalie,
      Thank you for writing. Sounds like you are a stellar student! You are not alone in finding that you hit a wall in college. College classes require a much higher level of self-discipline than any of your previous experience has prepared you for.

      Perhaps the best approach with your parents is to not focus on the diagnosis, but instead explore with them the idea of working with an Edge coach.

      While we talk a lot about ADHD at Edge, you don’t have to have ADHD to benefit from coaching. People with ADHD usually have executive function deficits in attention, planning and organization, prioritization, impulse control, memory, time management, and higher-order conceptual thinking. But you don’t have to have ADHD to be struggling with one or more of those executive functions.

      Research has shown that executive functioning is an important part of academic success. Do any of these things sound familiar?

      Do you do your homework but forget to hand it in?
      When finally clean out your backpack or room, do you find things you’ve “lost”?
      Do you have trouble getting to sleep on time?
      Are you often late and just can’t seem to get out the door on time?
      Do have trouble staying focused on the things you know you “should” be doing?
      Do you get bored in class?
      Do you procrastinate then swear to yourself you won’t do it next time — only to find yourself doing it all at the last minute, again?
      When faced with a task, do you know what to do first and what to do next? And can you get yourself to do it? And finish it?
      Do you do well on one test and practically flunk the next?
      Have your grades tanked?
      Are you overwhelmed? Discouraged? Behind?

      While these are all hallmarks of ADHD, not everyone who has these issues has ADHD. Yet all of those issues are ones that Edge coaches are trained to help you with.

      A coach is your advocate. He or she gets to know you and finds ways to help you succeed in your life. You and your coach talk regularly and check in about how your life is going. Your coach can help you find strategies to stay organized and remember important things. Your coach can help remind you to take care of yourself and show you ways to stay focused. Your coach can also help you improve your relationships with friends, classmates, teachers, and family members. Your coach is there to talk to, strategize with, and advocate for you as long as you want.

      You may also want to read these articles about girls and ADHD. (hint girls often have inattentive type ADHD and not exhibit hyperactivity.) https://edgefoundation.org/blog/2009/08/10/dr-patricia-quinn-girls-with-adhd-face-special-challenges/

      Feel free to call us if you have additional questions 1-888-718-8886.

  3. Kelly Miller
    | Reply

    In order to conduct the most productive lessons for children with ADHD, effective teachers periodically question children’s understanding of the material, probe for correct answers before calling on other students, and identify which students need additional assistance. Teachers should keep in mind that transitions from one lesson or class to another are particularly difficult for students with ADHD. When they are prepared for transitions, these children are more likely to respond and to stay on task.

    At one of the dyslexia school (http://www.winstonprep.edu/) I have learned the three main components of a successful strategy for educating children with ADHD are academic instruction, behavioral interventions, and classroom accommodations.

    By incorporating techniques from these three areas into their everyday instructional and classroom management practices, we, teachers will be empowered to improve both the academic performance and the behavior of our students with ADHD.

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