For a child in school who struggles with ADHD and or sensory issues, just being able to truly HEAR what the teacher is saying, FOLLOW the visual information presented, and in some cases, WRITE DOWN the necessary information to review later can be a big challenge. Is it best to modify the environment or expectations to accommodate the child’s needs, or perhaps have the child adjust their own expectations of what they can do? In practice, it is often a combination of approaches that are all required. It often takes flexibility, creativity, patience and perseverance on the part of all involved. Let’s explore the best ways to truly help a child who struggles.
Internal and External Distractions
If your child is easily distracted, they may have a very hard time attending to a teacher’s lesson. Keep in mind that distractions can occur due to internal thoughts or external stimuli. Their eyes may wander and their thoughts may wander. In only a split second, something internal or external may catch their attention and they have lost the teacher’s train of explanation. To make matter’s more complicated, many children who have ADHD have a slower than average processing speed. This may make it harder to pick up the teacher’s lesson where they left off, as it takes them a little longer to processes and integrate the next information they hear.
Understanding the Distracted Student
It is vital that teachers recognize that this is part of the neurobiology of the student. They cannot always control their attention, much as they may try. Helping a child by making the environment more suitable to their tendencies does not absolve them of responsibility, it does, however, allow them the best chance to keep up and catch up with the lesson plan. Working with the student by respectfully, discreetly, and creatively in coming up with methods to help them learn, will empower the student feel more optimistic and to try ever harder. Sometimes, simple accommodations can be employed. Sometimes, a modification of expectation is necessary to help a child succeed.
Accommodations for the Distracted or Unfocused Kid
- Allow them to sit where they will be least distracted. Sometimes this is in the back of the room where they are less curious as to what is going on so they can look forward, sometimes it’s in the front so they aren’t exposed to as much stimuli – try to get the child’s input.
- Allow a child to fidget. The sensory stimuli can help their brain stay active, alert and focused. Try Velcro attached to the desk, a cloth, a squishy ball, a sweatshirt rolled up on the chair. Experiment and change the item when necessary to keep up interest.
- Allow a child to move when necessary as long as there are guidelines. Standing in the back of the class, passing out papers, delivering a note to the next-door classroom are all appropriate opportunities to allow for movement to stimulate the brain and help focus.
- Lifting/moving heavy objects can sometimes help kids gain alertness and focus.
- For middle and high school students, allow the scheduling of less stimulating classes at the peak of their day, rather than when they are too tired early or late in the day.
- For children who benefit from visual input, keep important graphics and lists in view for an extended period.
- Allow a student to receive a set of class notes. This will allow them to leave class knowing they have complete notes for review at home. Before the lesson, if possible, provide the student with the PowerPoint that they can highlight and follow. This way, if they do get distracted they can quickly scan what they have missed.
The important thing to consider is whether we are moving the student toward greater success and independence by including them and accepting that their challenges are real and not willful disregard. By having the student be accountable to be part of the solution, we are increasing their cooperation and commitment.