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ADHD in the Classroom
Neurodiversity in the Classroom
Justin Coulson

ADHD in the Classroom

ADHD, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects at least one in twenty students in our classrooms. That’s more than one per class! As an educator (and one of the primary adults in these children’s lives) the impact that you have on your ADHD students is paramount.

This quick guide offers insights into ADHD, debunks myths, and provides practical strategies to help teachers create an inclusive and productive learning environment.

Common Misconceptions:

Before we delve into understanding ADHD, let’s debunk some common misconceptions:

Myth Fact
ADHD is common among all children While many children exhibit traits of ADHD, a formal diagnosis is specific and requires careful evaluation.
ADHD is not real ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition, not a behavioural issue. Recognizing it as such is crucial to support affected students.
Children will eventually outgrow their ADHD While symptoms may improve with age, many individuals continue to experience ADHD traits into adulthood.
ADHD is caused by diet While diet can influence behaviour and may exacerbate ADHD symptoms in some individuals, it is not a direct cause of ADHD. ADHD is primarily a neurodevelopmental disorder with a complex genetic and neurological basis.

Understanding ADHD:

ADHD encompasses various traits and challenges:

Challenge Description Classroom Examples
Inhibition Inhibition refers to the ability to control impulsive behaviours and refrain from acting on immediate urges or desires. Students with ADHD often struggle with self-regulation, making it challenging to control impulsive behaviours. During a quiet reading time in the classroom, a student with ADHD might have difficulty suppressing the urge to blurt out comments or questions, disrupting the class’s focus.

When asked to wait their turn during a classroom activity, a student with ADHD may struggle to control their impulses and jump ahead in line, causing a disruption.

Hyperactivity Hyperactivity involves excessive physical restlessness, fidgeting, and impulsive actions. Students with ADHD may display these behaviours, making it difficult to sit still for extended periods. In the middle of a lesson, a student with ADHD may constantly tap their pencil, tap their feet, and shift in their chair, making it challenging for them to sit still and pay attention.

During group discussions, a hyperactive student might frequently interrupt their classmates, eager to share their thoughts without waiting for their turn to speak.

Attention Difficulties Attention difficulties in students with ADHD refer to their struggles with maintaining focus, forgetfulness, and trouble following instructions or completing tasks. A student with ADHD may find it hard to maintain focus during a lengthy lecture, frequently getting distracted by external stimuli like sounds from outside the classroom or their own wandering thoughts.

When given a set of instructions for a classroom project, a student with attention difficulties may struggle to remember all the steps and requirements, leading to incomplete or incorrect work.

Future Concept The concept of the future, specifically planning for it, can be challenging for students with ADHD. This can lead to difficulties in prioritizing tasks, especially when tasks have varying deadlines or require long-term planning. When asked to prioritize their homework assignments based on deadlines, a student with ADHD might have difficulty understanding the importance of completing tasks that are due later in the week, choosing instead to focus on immediate, short-term tasks.

Planning for long-term projects, such as a research paper, may be challenging for ADHD students who have trouble envisioning and organizing their work over an extended period.

Empowering Teachers to Support Students with ADHD:

Now, let’s explore strategies for teachers to support students with ADHD in the classroom.

Strategy Classroom Example
Step into their shoes Most teachers know what it’s like to have an ADHD child in the classroom, but do you know what it feels like to BE an ADHD child in the classroom? Talk with ADHD adults who have the benefit of hindsight to grow your understanding from the child’s perspective.
Use Clear and Visual Instructions Provide clear, concise, and visual instructions. Incorporate visual aids, such as charts, diagrams, and schedules, to enhance comprehension. Classroom example: When assigning a project, provide step-by-step written instructions along with a visual diagram or flowchart to help students with ADHD better understand the task.
Create Structured Routines Establish predictable routines with consistent schedules and clear transitions. Students with ADHD thrive in structured environments. Classroom example: Begin each class with a clearly defined routine, such as a consistent warm-up activity, followed by the main lesson, and then a closing activity. This structure helps ADHD students know what to expect.
Celebrate Small Wins Acknowledge students’ efforts and achievements. Create a system where students can set their own goals, track their progress along the way, and share that progress with you and their parents.
Redirect, rather than Correct Remember that ADHD kids struggle maintaining focus. Rather than “getting them in trouble” for going off track, use gentle reminders to redirect. Classroom example: If a student with ADHD becomes distracted during a lecture, gently remind them to refocus by saying, “Let’s get back to the topic” rather than scolding them for not paying attention.
Chunk Information Break down lessons into smaller, manageable chunks. This approach helps students process information without becoming overwhelmed. Classroom example: In a math class, for example, introduce one step of a multi-step problem at a time.
Active Learning & Movement Breaks Incorporate hands-on and interactive activities into lessons. Engaging lessons can captivate students’ attention and enhance learning. Classroom example: Take a short movement break between activities. Incorporate stretching routines, take a short walk around the building, or put on some music for a few minutes and start a conga line around the classroom.
Peer Support Encourage peer support by assigning buddies who can assist students with ADHD when needed. Classroom example: Pair a student with ADHD with a responsible peer who can assist them in staying organized, understanding instructions, or taking notes during class. Create a buddy system for sharing and reporting on personal goal progress.
Communication Regularly update parents and caregivers on their child’s progress and any specific challenges. Collaborate with them to provide consistent support both in and out of the classroom. Classroom example: Conduct regular 1:1 short interviews where students have the opportunity to discuss with you what is working well, what’s not, and where they might benefit from receiving further support.
Be patient ADHD kids are prone to extra social challenges, and receive negative feedback from their peers and at home. On top of that, many children with ADHD also struggle with Rejection Sensitivity Disorder. Avoid stigmatizing or singling them out in front of the class. Be patient and understanding. Students with ADHD may have good days and challenging days. Offer support and empathy rather than criticism, especially when they face social challenges or struggles related to their condition.

Key Takeaway for Teachers

Teaching students with ADHD requires a holistic approach that combines patience, understanding, and tailored strategies. By embracing these approaches and fostering an inclusive and supportive classroom environment, teachers can empower students with ADHD to thrive academically and personally. ADHD is not a barrier to success; it’s an opportunity to adapt and grow together as educators and learners.


Want more help with ADHD in the classroom?

Get in touch with Caroline about having Dr Justin present his keynote, ADHD in the Classroom, to your staff in 2024.

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    About the Author

    Justin Coulson

    Dr Justin Coulson is one of Australia's most trusted parenting experts and authors and holds a PhD in Psychology. He is the founder of Happy Families (a website of parenting resources and advice) as well as the co-host and parenting expert on Channel Nine's Parental Guidance.