Returning back to school can be challenging for students struggling with ADHD. The thought of having to sit still throughout the day and focus on schoolwork can be daunting. As a parent or teacher, it is important to recognize what ways ADHD affects learning and what it looks like so that you can help the child get the support they need to succeed in both school and in life.
What is ADHD?
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental disorder that is generally characterized by inattentiveness, hyperactivity and/or impulsivity. In order to be diagnosed, the individual must complete a medical evaluation and parents or teachers will need to fill out a checklist.
Normal child behavior can often be mistaken for symptoms of ADHD. What little kid likes to sit still and pay attention? That said, a diagnosis should only be made if the symptoms are at a greater capacity than other children of the same age and last for longer than 6 months.
What are the signs and symptoms of ADHD?
There are two types of symptoms a child with ADHD can show—inattentive or hyperactive-impulses. Children may show more symptoms in one group than the other, or they may show symptoms in both. The combination of the two might be what makes it so challenging to pay attention in school. Below you will find a list of the symptoms in each group.
Keep in mind that a child that is high-energy does not automatically have ADHD. A proper medical diagnosis is needed to determine whether or not the adolescent has ADHD.
Inattentive symptoms of ADHD:
- Overlooks the details of school work
- Finds it difficult to follow instructions
- Struggles with organization
- Has trouble focusing when being spoken to
- Does not complete school work or chores in a timely manner
- Avoids doing tasks that require great focus (ie: homework)
- Frequently loses track of items such as homework and possessions
Hyperactive-impulses symptoms of ADHD:
- Difficulty remaining in seat
- Often found fidgeting or squirming
- Runs or climbs in areas where it is not appropriate
- Inability to play quietly
- Has trouble being patient and waiting for own turn
- Overly talkative
- Blurts out a response before the other person is done speaking
- Interrupts on conversations or activities
5 ways that ADHD affects learning in the classroom and how you can help your child overcome them:
1. There is a constant need for movement
Because children with ADHD have a hard time regulating the movements of their bodies, it can be difficult to sit still for extended periods of time. To combat this, students may create excuses to leave the classroom. As a result, they miss out on important instructions and lessons that may make it easier to complete assignments later.
How can you help your kid manage their need for movement?
Parents and teachers can help the child learn to identify when they have the urge to move. If moving is not an option, providing them with a way to direct that movement while staying seated will eliminate the need to leave the classroom. The best way to do this is by providing a sensory activity like standing desks, fidget spinners or objects and wiggle seats.
2. Classrooms have too many external distractions
In a room full of other children, the number of external stimuli increases. It is rare to find a completely quiet moment. Children with ADHD are easily distracted and the constant squeaking of a chair, tapping of fingers, or voices in the hallway can make it hard for the child to hold their undivided attention to the task at hand.
What ways can you improve focus?
Students now are generally asked to complete assignments via technology. One way to limit distractions while on a tablet or computer is by turning off notifications and allowing technology breaks. Another way you can help is by talking to the teacher to see if your child can be seated away from doors and distractions or ask if they can provide breaks throughout the day as well.
3. Their thoughts outrun their bodies
For students with ADHD, it usually isn’t the failure to learn that creates an issue, but rather the a gap in the ability to carry that understanding into their schoolwork. This may result in failed tests, trouble completing homework or writing assignments and an inability to turn assignments in on time.
How can you help your child handle stressful thoughts?
Success in school is determined by grades, so failed tests and assignments can take a hit on the child’s self-esteem. Teachers and parents can combat this frustration by using positive reinforcements and help build their self-awareness. Teaching the child to take deep breaths or think positive thoughts during moments of high stress can also help minimize the ways ADHD affects learning.
4. Challenges with filtering thoughts (and choosing the right time to share them)
Hyperactive-impulsive children tend to blurt their thoughts out before others are finished speaking. This can create an issue with other classmates, especially during group projects, and may interrupt the teacher during important instructional time affecting not just the child’s ability to hear instructions, but the classes as well. Beyond that, this may have an effect on your child’s social life.
What can you do to help the student communicate?
The best way to handle the way ADHD affects learning and communication is by speaking with the teacher to establish a plan that rewards good behavior. It is also advantageous to talk through behavior with the child so that they can learn to understand what is acceptable and identify their moods.
5. Thoughts tend to drift
ADHD affects learning by inhibiting the child’s ability to hold focus. Not paying attention makes it hard to remember what the teacher says regarding lessons, assignments and due dates. Therefore, the child’s ability to learn the material and complete homework may suffer.
How can you help improve organization?
To help the student keep track of due dates, teaching them to use an assignment notebook can help. Have the teacher initial next to the date at the end of each day to ensure they aren’t missing anything. This is another area where positive reinforcement can be beneficial.
Collaborating with the teacher
Symptoms of ADHD often become apparent in the classroom when there is an increase in external stimuli and more pressure is placed on the child to pay attention. Since teachers are with the child throughout most of the school day, it is vital that as the parent, you build a good relationship with the child’s teacher so that you both understand the ways your child’s ADHD affects learning.
Studies have shown that effective communication between home and school is imperative for the adolescent’s success. It allows for structure in the two areas the child spends most of their time. Parents and teachers can work as a team to implement strategies, language and rewards to encourage consistency for the child.