ADHD Support Strategies for Teachers

I wrote up a few strategies that have worked for me when teaching students who have ADHD. Check first to see if the student has an IEP or a 504 plan. If they have either of these plans, the accommodations may already be in place in which case it’s the teacher’s legal obligation to follow through on the plan. ADHD is not one of the 13 categories of disability under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). Students with ADHD might be eligible under “Other Health Impaired” for special education services.

If you are a student teacher, check with your collaborating teacher before trying any new strategies.  It’s important to take data to see if the support strategy is effective. The information you collect can be given to the behavior support teacher and collaborating teacher to help modify how you are supporting the student. Remember if a strategy is NOT working over a period of time (for example, repeated verbal redirection), take data to support that it is not working and try something new.  Students who hear too many negatives and commands may eventually refuse to cooperate. Remain positive and supportive, and focus on progress (however small).Here are a few ideas to try…

  • Minimize Distractions-Use a room with a clean and clutter free work area with minimal noise.
  • Create a schedule of the day using visuals (words/pictures) to help provide structure (give advanced warning of changes in the schedule eg. fire drills).
  • Increase motivation-Follow classroom-wide behavior incentive systems. Find out what is motivating to the student. Sometimes what motivates a student changes from day-to-day and hour by hour so continue to do a “reinforcer assessment” often.
  • Create individual incentives- Make the motivator(reward) contingent on a desired behavior (Completing worksheet). The reward needs to be immediate and not given later at home. You can control the school environment but there is no guarantee of follow through at home. Pair specific social praise such as “nice sitting” with the tangible reward. The goal is for the student to not need a tangible reward long term but respond more to positive praise and ultimately be intrinsically motivated to do his or her best.
  • Break tasks into smaller chunks with breaks built in. For example, take a worksheet and fold it in half. Have the student complete the first half of the worksheet followed by a break. After the break, the student should complete the second half of the worksheet and receive the pre-determined reward. Completing only half a worksheet may be less daunting and less visually distracting than seeing the whole worksheet. By knowing ahead of time when the breaks will be can help decrease stress and anxiety for the student.
  • Allow for Movement-Build in movement breaks, allow a yoga ball for seating or an inflatable disk on the chair (check with CT and behavior support on this). Allow “fidgets” for the student to hold (squish balls, Velcro under table etc.) Pre-teach behavioral expectations for these items.
  • Prompt the correct behavior and reinforce it frequently and consistently.
  • Provide Visual Supports-Print pictures of the student or use stock photos of sitting, raising hands or any other targeted behaviors and point to the pictures instead of giving constant verbal re-direction. Work with the students to create a pre-determined silent signal. This silent signal is a non-verbal way to say, for example, “self-check your actions and fix them.” I often use American Sign Language (ASL) signs such as the letter L directed towards their ear to indicate that it is time to listen.
  • Be patient with the student and with yourself-Working with children with ADHD is a process. Experiment and see what works. Sometimes you have to change your strategy frequently and often what works one day may not work another day. Taking data will allow to discover which strategies yield the best results for a particular student.

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