Lizzie Lister’s seven ways teachers can support students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

With rising awareness, many young people are being diagnosed with ADHD early on. This is a promising contrast to the prior norm of neurodivergences falling under the radar, undiagnosed and untreated. Many adults later in life are now coming to terms with their ADHD diagnosis, thrilled to finally understand how and why their mind works the way it does, but perhaps feeling resentful that they “didn’t know this 20 years ago”.

Early ADHD diagnosis is clearly preferable. It allows students to learn how to handle their symptoms, while simultaneously giving them a sense of identity and belonging. There is nothing more isolating than feeling misunderstood, especially not even understanding your own brain.

As teachers, we need to be vigilant for these signs, and ensure you don’t immediately dismiss them as bad behaviour. Beyond this, there are ways that you can actively support students with ADHD, whether suspected or officially diagnosed. What’s more, as a school, you may be able to arrange a specialist referral for your student, to help them on their diagnosis journey.

Seven ways to support students with ADHD

1. Consistency
Consistency helps neurodivergent students navigate through the overstimulation of the day-to-day. From consistent expectations to clear instructions and regular feedback, consistency and clarity in the classroom will make life much easier for both students and teachers. For example, you can provide students with a clear schedule to ease transitions between classes, and ensure that classroom rules and expectations are consistent and visible as many students find visual reminders helpful. Students with ADHD often find it particularly beneficial to repeat rules and instructions out loud. What’s more, they will be far more likely to thrive with frequent feedback. Consistently check in to see how they’re doing with their work, and try to give continuous feedback for behaviour—particularly praising positive progress.

2. Positive reinforcement
Many pupils with ADHD are greatly misunderstood in the classroom. Behaviour that they cannot control is branded as ‘acting out’ or ‘disruptive behaviour’. So, praise for anything they get right is all the more valuable. It helps to provide immediate feedback, whether positive or negative—however, be selective about which negative behaviours you give consequences for. Iit is important that all students receive consequences for disruptive behaviour, but be mindful of the symptoms of ADHD, and how some actions may be beyond the child’s control. Pick your battles. Minimal behaviours which don’t impact the rest of the class can be ignored, while more severe disruption must be confronted—and fast. You need to help students with ADHD identify and understand the behaviours which are unacceptable, and actively help them to navigate this. Again, anger and frustration won’t help the situation! Instead, opt for a calm, measured approach.

3. Limit distractions
One of the main symptoms of ADHD is difficulty paying attention for a sustained period, and therefore being easily distracted by your surroundings. Try to limit both visual and aural stimuli, from classroom clutter to background noise. For example, there are often endless distractions outside the window, so avoid seating students with ADHD by the window or door. While some students find external stimuli distracting, having an object or toy to fidget with can provide sensory comfort, easing the difficulty of sitting still for long periods at school.

■ Having something to fidget with can provide sensory comfort.

4. Allow regular breaks
Allow pupils with ADHD regular breaks throughout the day. Every student is different. Some may require several breaks in one lesson, whereas others may find it easier to sit for a prolonged period. Avoid sending them out of class as this means they miss parts of the lesson. Consider the use of more active learning for the whole class, such as group work, standing desks and carousel activities.

5. Nurture their hyperfocus
It is helpful to think of ADHD not as a disorder, but more so a different form of brain function. ADHD may cause students to be more easily distracted, but it also provides the gift of hyperfocus in some people. This is the ability to intensely fixate on a task or activity that one finds particularly interesting. Take some time to discover what particularly interests your students, and nurture their ability to hyperfocus by giving them extended tasks on the topic. However, it is also important to teach them how to manage this, ensuring there is a clear finish time. This can benefit them in the future, as they will utilise their hyperfocus without getting too immersed in the task, at the detriment of everything else.

6. Be patient
Try to be patient and calm, even in the face of challenges. If a student with ADHD is acting out, it’s likely that their mind is in a chaotic, overstimulated place. You can counter this with your own calmness and kindness—we assure you, it will go a long way.

7. One-to-one support
ADHD affects students at varying levels, and some pupils may benefit from classroom assistance. Support staff members may not always be available, but peer work is another effective way to inspire classroom collaboration. Encourage partner work—a study buddy, for the benefit of all your students as this can enhance social skills and encourage teamwork in the classroom.

Lizzie Lister

Lizzie Lister Marketing Manager Titanium Tutors

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