ADHD is a complex neuro developmental condition and it requires understanding of the condition. Additionally, many such pupils have co-morbidities, which will also affect their presentation. It is important to note that no two children or teens with ADHD are the same.
How can teachers begin to understand ADHD?
Fintan O’Regan, former Headteacher and Educational Consultant, produced an excellent classroom guide for teachers and SENCos on how to support pupils with ADHD.
ADHD Foundation, a national ADHD charity, has an excellent guide on teaching and managing students with ADHD. See here.
Where can teachers learn more about ADHD?
In order to help teachers gain a better understanding of the condition ADHD Embrace, in collaboration with Kingston University, will be running seminars for teachers covering a variety of topics relevant to teaching pupils with ADHD. Find out more. We also recommend teachers read our “What is ADHD?” and “Treatments” sections of this website.
ADHD Embrace is always pleased to discuss ADHD with teachers and students. We are always happy to do a talk for all teaching staff on ADHD and about our offering in a 1hr session. Similarly, we can advise on specialists to come into schools and provide insights and training. Contact us for further information: firstname.lastname@example.org.
How can teaching staff spot a student who may have ADHD?
Diagnosing ADHD needs to be carried out by an expert. For a diagnosis of ADHD to be considered, the person must exhibit core symptoms (inattentiveness, impulsiveness, hyperactivity), demonstrate significant problems with daily life in several life areas (work, school, or friends) and have had the symptoms for a minimum of six months.
With regards to the core symptoms it should be noted some children will not exhibit all three.
Hyperactivity (more common among boys)
- Fidgets and jiggles when sitting, appears restless and distracted
- Frequently leaves seat in class
- Tendency towards being silly and showing off
- Fondness for running or climbing at inappropriate times
- Excessive talking
- Chaotic manner; will often arrive late without correct equipment
- Shouts out in class
- Finds it difficult to wait their turn, will frequently interrupt
- Often agitated
- Reacts emotionally, rather than rationally
- Can become angry and aggressive, will frequently argue with peers
- Keen to take risks taker, likes excitement
Inattention (more common among girls)
- Easily distracted, lacks focus
- May not listen properly
- Makes careless mistakes
- Poor short-term memory
- Experiences difficulty in following instructions
- Appears detached and/or absent-minded
- Will often lose things, arrive late, become lost or forget things
- Will avoid tasks requiring sustained mental effort
If teachers suspect ADHD, they should discuss it with parents. The school or parents can recommend a child or teen is assessed to see if they meet the diagnostic criteria. The assessment is done by an experienced psychiatrist.
We encourage early assessment and intervention as if left untreated, it can result in pupils not gaining the education needed to reach their potential and also can have serious mental health issues for the individual.
What natural advantages do children with ADHD have?
That said, children with ADHD possess some common attributes that may give them advantages in certain areas:
- Heightened enthusiasm
- Capable of innovative and imaginative thinking
- High reserves of energy
- A different perspective that lends itself well to lateral thinking
- Charisma and a willingness to engage
- Confidence to take risks
- A readiness to volunteer
- A kind, friendly and outgoing demeanour
- A good rapport with younger children
- May rise to a challenge if given responsibility
- Ambitions to do well and make friends
- A keen sense of justice and fairness
- A passion and aptitude for a certain topic, sport or hobby – particularly physical and creative pursuits such as acting, dance or sport
- If they are interested in a topic, they can be very focused and passionate about the subject
How does a teacher deal with the behavioural issues seen in some pupils with ADHD?
Not all students with ADHD have behavioural problems but some do. Very often behaviour is the way of a child that has more complex needs indicates that they are overwhelmed or have misread the classroom or playground environment. Therefore, before a child is labelled as having behavioural issues, we strongly recommend that the teachers evaluate circumstances when difficulties arise and see if there are any particular triggers.
Very often children whose needs are not met in the school setting may display difficult or challenging behaviour. Many children and teens with ADHD have comorbidities which include difficulties with sensory processing issues, social communication difficulties, dyslexia, dyspraxia, Tourette’s syndrome and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) to mention some.
The Education Endowment Foundation has developed a guide on Improving behaviour in schools. This is not specific to children and teens with ADHD, but is a useful resource. https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/tools/guidance-reports/improving-behaviour-in-schools/
What can a teacher expect from pupils with ADHD academic ability?
ADHD is not linked to IQ and many exceptionally bright individuals have ADHD and similarly students with lower intelligence can also have ADHD. However, reduced working memory and executive function can be a problem with many pupils with ADHD irrespective of intellect, The diagram below explains executive function:
How can teachers help children with ADHD in the classroom?
ADHD pupils benefit from a structured environment where there is routine, regularity and clear instructions. A pupil with ADHD has problems concentrating and will need your help to organise their time. Here are some top tips:
- Praise is essential. Look for opportunities, however small.
- Describe and comment on the behaviour you WANT, not the behaviour you don’t want
- Give strong incentives for desired behaviour. Rewards work better than punishment
- Give short achievable targets. Give frequent and immediate positive feedback
- As far as possible ignore unwanted behaviour if not disruptive. Give positive feedback if they return to task
- Alternate sitting-down activities with more physical ones. Give frequent opportunities to get up and move around. Include the whole class in short exercises or stretches
- Allow fidgeting or standing up, if this helps the child to persevere with a task. Allow space for movement
- Give directions singly and repeat calmly as necessary. Get child’s attention first, with eye contact. Get child to repeat out loud, what he/she is going to do. Use visual reinforcement
- When whole class teaching, seat close to you or try different places to see which works best, e.g. next to sensible children. Use visuals and movement to keep attention
- Plan ahead for difficult situations: Have alternative activity ready. Allow a time-out period in a quiet corner. Accept a shorter concentration time
- Try to give the ADHD pupil some responsibility in the classroom. When possible let them help another pupil
- Give warning of change-over times coming up. Be sure the pupil has heard and understood. State the behaviour expected during change-over, in simple clear language
- Do not value neatness over content and effort. The handwriting of pupils with ADHD is frequently slow and poor. Remember that the effort involved for pupils with ADHD is far greater than their output would lead us to believe. Allow other methods of recording.
- Does the child know who they can speak to if they are struggling? Will they take the
- steps to speak to someone if they need support or does someone need to check
- in with them?
- How can morning and lunch time breaks be structured to help children with
- ADHD, which is often when things can go wrong if they are left in an
- unstructured environment?
- Remember to report to parents and other staff the child’s positive incidents and achievements, not just the negative ones.
- Lots of great classroom strategies are listed here ADHD Foundation school guidelines and here.
Eva Akin’s (SEN Lawyer) developed some great guidelines for making reasonable adjustments in the class room – see her document 101 reasonable adjustments in the classroom [https://adhdembrace.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/101-reasonable-adjustments-for-adhd.pdf]
How can I manage hyperactivity and sensory issues of children in the classroom?
Lots of movement breaks! Go Noodle is a great resource – there are 100’s of custom-created videos to get kids running, jumping, dancing, stretching, and practicing moments of mindfulness.
Here are some occupational therapy ideas to improve attention and concentration from Hounslow & Richmond NHS Community Healthcare.
What about girls and ADHD in the classroom?
Girls are underdiagnosed with ADHD due to the fact that they may mask many symptoms and some have inattentive traits which are more easily missed. We recommend Jo Steer’s book on ‘Understanding ADHD in Girls and Women’ for more insights. We hosted a book launch event where Jo led a panel discussion, which was very insightful.
What should teachers do about pupils with poor attendance levels?
Teachers need to engage with parents to establish the driver of poor attendance. Is it circumstances relating to the pupil’s home life or is it the pupil who is avoiding school.
Children who do not want to go to school can arise for a number of reasons. A research study on the subject lead by Thambirajah et al, (2008:33) explained the onset of school refusal as follows: “School refusal occurs when stress exceeds support, when risks are greater than resilience and when ‘pull’ factors that promote school [compared to] non-attendance overcome the ‘push’ factors that encourage attendance”.
If school avoidance occurs work closing with the parent and their child to get an understanding as to what is driving this. Some children may be able to say why they do not like school, whilst others may not necessarily be able to explain it. There could be a wide range of reasons such as the child finds the school work too difficult and they are not sufficiently supported, others may find they are bullied or excluded from playground games, whilst others with sensory issues may find it too noisy or overwhelming.
Our recent webinar run by Sheldon Snashall, Lead Officer for Children Missing Education, AfC discusses the Borough’s support for excluded children and school avoidance. The parent support group, Not fine in school, produced this excellent guide with lots of useful guidance for teachers on children who avoid school: .
In addition, there is also Square Peg, which explains school refusal through an animation from a child’s perspective for schools.
What should teachers do about pupils with ADHD who get excluded?
We continue to see far too many pupils with ADHD being excluded either informally or formally with fixed or permanent exclusions. Exclusions should be the exception and school have a duty to consider if they are able to meet the needs of a pupil. If not, exclusions are not a way of resolving this but merely interrupts a pupil’s education and also has social implications in terms of how it affects the pupil and their relationships with their peers.
Borough information about school exclusions can be found here.
Our recent webinar run by Sheldon Snashall, Lead Officer for Children Missing Education, AfC discusses the Borough’s support for excluded children and school avoidance. A recent behaviour survey undertaken by Square Peg and Not Fine in school also indicated that punitive treatment of children can be counter productive. The survey makes an interesting read.
If a pupil has been excluded and is due to go back into school, careful planning is needed to consider how best to support the pupil pastorally on their return to school on the first day back and for the period thereafter in order to ensure they get back into the school routine. Providing support to the child or teen is very important as the exclusion will have a negative impact on their self-esteem even though the pupil may not display this openly.
How can teachers help with children on a return to school after an exclusion?
- Ahead of the children returning to school reach out to parents and ask them to brief you on any emotional concerns their child is having about the return to school.
- On the first day back, spend enough time to clearly explain how the new school layouts work, what the routine will be and what they can expect to happen each day. This may need to be repeated in the first week or two as some pupils may not have absorbed all the information.
- Consider sensory exercise at the start of lessons to ensure all pupils are ready to learn. Build movement breaks / sensory exercise into the lesson for pupils with ADHD in particular.
- Quickly creating a daily routine giving very clear descriptions will help children to visualise their day and reduce the anxiety of the unknown or ‘getting it wrong’.
- Help children to be organised by explaining exactly what they’ll need for a task eg “you will need your pencil case, ruler and calculator ready on your desk”
- Reduce large tasks or a long set of instruction into one or two steps so it feels more achievable and can be attained.
- Encourage students to ask questions or let you know if they want to talk away from their peers.
- Seek opportunities to praise and give positive feedback.
- Provide feedback to parents on how the child is settling in or discuss any concerns to enable parents to engage and support their child with the school.
- Compassion, collaboration and consistency are the order of the day!
Further reading and resources:
The teaching website Tes.com has an abundance of ADHD material for teachers.
If you are a teacher and feel like you need more support in the classroom, The Young Minds charity works extensively with schools & has good SEN resources
Here’s a book designed for teachers by Richmond/Kingston Achieving for Children’s Clinical Psychologist Dr Jo Steer.