Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most talked about conditions within the schooling and parenting world. It is a controversial subject, one that leads to much distress in both teachers and parents.
ADHD is a neuro-developmental disorder that results in difficulty with the organising of actions and thoughts and is characterised by inattention, impulsivity and/or hyperactivity. Contrary to belief, most children do not outgrow ADHD as they develop into adolescents and adults. Some of the symptoms may decrease somewhat in adolescence, but the increased demands of high school can then again provide new challenges for these children.
Whether treated medically or not, the reality is that children with ADHD need strategies that will help regulate and calm the sensory processing systems. As with many diagnoses pertaining to the brain’s processing abilities, one cannot ignore the impact of sensory input during times of increased school demands and stress.
The classroom is a challenging and overwhelming environment for the child with ADHD. The things that we expect of children throughout the day are the things that children with ADHD have the most difficulty with, i.e. sitting still, listening quietly and concentrating. Imagine these children’s frustration levels – it’s not that they don’t want to learn and work, their brains just don’t allow for it to happen.
We have a few handy tips for teachers to cater to the needs of children with ADHD in the classroom (most of which parents can use at home too!).
- Seat the child away from doors and windows. If possible keep the child in the front of the class, close to the teacher’s desk.
- Alternate desk tasks with tasks that need movement.
- Reduce clutter – pack unnecessary items away in cupboards and on shelves.
- Write and place important information where the child is able to see it easily.
- Break big tasks into smaller ones and allow for regular movement breaks.
- Give instructions clearly, and no more than three at a time. Reinforce the steps and redirect when necessary. Make eye contact when giving instructions.
- To decease impulsivity and unacceptable behaviour, make sure that classroom rules are written where they can be seen by all the children.
- Be consistent in dealing with misbehaviour. Be specific and ensure that the child understands why the behaviour was not acceptable.
- Recognise good behaviour in a way that the whole class recognises what has been done right.
- Stick to the day’s timetable, and if needed, remind the class what is happening next, so that the child with ADHD has some sense of control of his/her day.
- Provide regular movement breaks – send the child on an errand, ask him/her to hand out books or to clean the board.
- Do not keep the child in at break time, and do not allow the child to miss physical education classes. The ability to run and play allows for much needed movement after being in the class for a few hours.
- Allow for fidget tools at the desk, especially during structured tasks, such as tests. This allows for indiscreet movement and stress release.
- Make learning fun – use silly songs, physical actions or acting out the concepts being taught. Challenge the children and allow for creativity and new ways of doing things.
- Provide a quiet space in the classroom, where the child can go to regulate the overwhelmed sensory system.
Most importantly, acknowledge and support children with ADHD and provide regular praise and encouragement. Going over the highlights of the day will help them realise that school and learning can be fun. Lastly, encourage these children to approach you, or any other teacher in the school, when they are unhappy or struggling to cope, and provide opportunities for them to do so.
When all else fails remember to Take 5:
- BREATHE – deep breathing calms the sensory systems
- SIP/SUCK/CHEW – drink water from sports bottle, chew on healthy, crunchy foods (nuts, fruit, pretzels)
- BLOW – bubbles, balloons
- FIDDLE – make use of fidget tools
- MOVE! – organised movement allows for organised brains.
Written by Annabella Sequeira, a Specialist Sensory Intelligence® Facilitator for Parents and Teachers.
She holds a BSc (Occupational Therapy) degree from the University of Cape Town, backed by 23 years’ experience in both the public and private sector. She has extensive practical experience in the area of Sensory Integrative Dysfunction in children and is passionate about empowering others to improve functionality and quality of life.
She is also part of our Gauteng-based Senses in Education team that regularly facilitates various Teacher Training and Parenting Workshops as part of the Sensory Intelligence® offering.