A child with ADHD is easily distracted, fidgety and talkative. They may interrupt you while you're explaining things to the class and have difficulty waiting their turn. And while they are a disruptive influence on the class, they may also need extra help with learning.
So as a teacher, what can you do?
The guidance below gives an overview of the issues ADHD brings to the classroom.
As well as these ideas, a good relationship with the parents is important in getting the best out of a child with ADHD. Let them know about the good changes in their child's behaviour, as well as the bad, and ask for help from your special educational needs coordinator (SENCO), if you need it.
Teaching and special needs
A revised Special Educational Needs (SEN) Code of Practice came into effect on 1 January 2002. Under the graduated approach of this code, SEN should usually be provided in the mainstream school setting. The idea is children receive help faster, but it also means 'all teachers are SEN teachers'.
The code gives schools the right to request a statutory assessment of a child, and it also says schools have a duty to tell parents when they are making special educational provision for a child.
If you feel a child is struggling in the classroom, you may decide to draw up an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for them.
An IEP forms part of the special needs action record and lists:
- the child’s targets – what you want them to do or behaviour you want to change
- the action you’re going to take to help the child meet the target, eg small group work and the use of rewards
- how often the child will receive this help
- what help parents can give at home
- the date you’re going to review the targets
- the outcome – filled in at the review date.
You should discuss the IEP with the child’s parents and agree the actions with them.
At this stage, you may not feel an IEP is necessary. But if the child doesn't improve, an IEP will be part of the next level of support and go on to form part of the special needs action record.
At this stage you will seek advice from the school special educational needs co-ordinator. SENCOs are involved if the child:
- doesn't progress
- can’t develop skills
- has behavioural problems that aren’t improved by classroom behavioural management
- has communication or physical problems.
The SENCO will talk to you about how to help the child and what learning materials or equipment will help. Usually, you will draw up and deliver the IEP, while the SENCO monitors the child's progress by arranging further assessments and reviews.
School Action Plus
If the child’s needs are not met under School Action, the SENCO will consult specialists from external support services, eg speech therapists, and arrange assessments for the child.
If the child’s needs are not met under School Action Plus, the SENCO will ask the Local Education Authority (LEA) to give the child a Statement of Special Educational Needs that sets out the help the child should receive from the school, such as extra tuition.
Spotting the signs of ADHD
As a teacher, you may be the first person to notice problems with a child's behaviour. But it can be difficult to distinguish between the core ADHD symptoms of hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention and problems such as oppositional defiant behaviour – which the child may have as well as ADHD.
Talk to the child’s parents about any problems they may have had at home, and check the child has had hearing and sight tests – frustration can lead to behaviours similar to ADHD.
You can also talk to the child’s previous nursery or playschool to see if there were problems there.
According to the Department for Education and Skills (DfES), day-to-day decisions about managing and administering medication is the head teacher’s responsibility.
There's no legal requirement for teaching staff to administer medication or supervise a pupil taking medication, but you may volunteer to do it.
If the child needs medication at school, you need to know what the medication is, when the child needs to take it and who will supervise him taking it.
Taking medication at school is something that bothers a lot of children. So, find a way of sending the child to take medication without making them stand out from the rest of the class. For example, give them a task to do and quietly remind him that on his way he needs to see the school secretary or nurse for his medication.
Some of the newer generation of medications for ADHD are long acting and can be administered once daily at home, eliminating some of the above concerns.
If you have any concerns about the medication, you should pass these on to the parents or SENCO.
In the classroom
The watchwords for ADHD are routine, repetition and regularity. A child with ADHD has problems concentrating and will need your help to organise their time. You can do this by:
- having rules clearly displayed on the wall
- establishing a daily classroom routine – have regular times for stories, desk work, etc
- displaying the day's lessons on the wall or blackboard
- providing structure through lists, timetables, deadlines and regular reminders.
At the end of the day you could also remind the class what work has been set, what's due the next day and review the instructions you've given. You could also use this time to get pupils to tidy their desks and work away.
The best place for a child with ADHD is:
- near you
- near the blackboard
- at the front of the room
- away from windows
- away from bright, colourful displays.
This limits distraction – which is also why children with ADHD don't work well in groups. If you have the option, seating in rows is best.
A clear system for keeping track of the work you set will also help a child with ADHD. You may have different folders for uncompleted and completed work, and use a colour code for different subjects.
Children with ADHD don't cope very well with change, so try to give the child prior warning about any changes to their routine.
Talking too much and interrupting
Chattering and interruptions are common at primary school, although they tend to decrease as the child gets older.
- If they're taking turns in a group, use a timer to set limits.
- Remind the whole class before they speak that they should give one sentence only.
- Remind the whole class to put their hand up if they want to talk.
- Teach your pupils to stop and think before talking. This will help a child with ADHD to learn to slow down before talking. You can do this by waiting 10 seconds before you accept answers from the class.
- Remind the whole class about the rules for interrupting. If they persists, talk to them on their own – not in front of the class.
- You could also use a reward system that is visible to the child, eg colour-coded cards. If the child gets to the end of the session without a red card, they get a star. If they get to the red card, they knows the consequences.
- A child with ADHD is more likely to start interrupting as their medication wears off. In which case, it's worth checking if they have taken their medicine.
ADHD causes problems with concentration. This means working alone at their desk is often difficult for children with ADHD – especially if you're using this time to focus on another pupil or small group.
Tips for handouts
When making handouts for children with ADHD:
- use large type
- keep the page simple
- don't put in extra pictures that don't relate to the task
- underline key directions and vocabulary
- only put one or two activities on each page
- use borders to emphasise blocks of text.
- Make eye contact and stand near when giving instructions.
- Break down large tasks into small chunks. This will take a lot of planning on your part, but it's a way to work within the child's attention span and stops the child feeling overwhelmed.
- Keep tasks short, or as a series of short, different tasks.
- Get the child to repeat instructions back to you, to make sure they know what's expected.
- Use visual aids.
- Write checklists on the board.
- Provide handouts with an outline of key concepts or vocabulary at the start of lessons.
- Ask questions to keep the child’s attention.
- Check on progress during the task.
- Work with the child: if they tend to lose focus as the day goes on, schedule more demanding tasks in the morning.
If a child is having problems sticking to a task, it can help to let them move around for a couple of minutes. Give the child a task such as getting crayons or materials, or get them to wipe the board for you.
- Use a home-school diary or tell the parents what the homework is.
- Encourage the child to bring in something, even if they didn’t finish all of it.
- Check if homework has been handed in. Completing homework is one problem for children with ADHD, but so is paying attention when you ask for homework before it disappears into desks, schoolbags etc.
- Remind pupils to 'check your work' so it becomes second nature. Children with ADHD tend to complete work and hand it in without checking it through.
- Discuss any specific difficulties with the parents. If budgets permit, one of the simplest things that can help children with ADHD is providing them with a second set of textbooks that they can keep at home.
The child may have specific learning difficulties, for example problems with written expression. The SENCO and specialists can help with specific problems, eg with speech and language.
Ideas to tackle include:
- use visual cues
- give step-by-step instructions
- arrange for extra time on tests, or for the child to do the test in a quiet area or on a different day when their attention levels are better
- discuss with the SENCO what resources are available in the school, eg a social use of language programme, access to speech and language therapy programmes.
The child may overreact to teasing or let themselves be egged on to doing something they shouldn't.
Ideas to tackle
- Keep a playtime diary: how did it go, were there any problems, what did you do, how did others react, what could you have done differently?
- Get them a play-buddy who’s sensible and will be kind.
- Try circle time activities, such as choosing each child in turn and getting the rest of the class to say something nice about them.
ADHD is a psychiatric disorder that causes behavioural problems, so although the child's behaviour may be exasperating, try not to take it personally.
- Make simple, clear rules and have them on display. This includes rules about asking questions, interrupting and classroom conduct.
- Manage classroom behaviour by walking around the pupils' desks. A wink or a smile is an effective way to reward good behaviour such as getting on with work.
- Actively reward the behaviour you want from the class. Praise specific behaviour instead of using generalisms such as 'well done' or 'good boy'.
- Avoid giving the whole class a punishment based on the ADHD child's behaviour.
- If the child is refusing to accept a punishment, tell them they have a couple of minutes to think about their refusal. Explain that they can use the time to decide to accept your consequence or face a more serious punishment.
The SENCO is your first source of help and will advise on ways you can cope with difficult behaviour.
This will start with an IEP and may move on to School Action, School Action Plus or a statement.
If the child has a statement, you should get some individual help for the child in the class. The level and type of support will depend on the statement wording.
If this isn’t enough, you should talk to the SENCO about an early review of the statement.
A helpful overview with recommendationd regarding day to day management of ADHD in school is provided by Fintan O’Regan (www.fintanoregan.com):
- Cooper P and O'Regan F (2001) Educating children with ADHD: Routledge Falmer Press
- O'Regan F (2002) How to teach and manage children with ADHD: LDA a division of McGraw- Hill
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