a woman and a child reading a book

Providing opportunities for neurodiverse children to succeed in school is more essential than ever. According to the national resource center for ADHD approximately 15% of school aged students have ADHD. Parents, teachers, coaches, tutors, and support staff who know how to best support the unique learning environment for these neurodiverse kids are seeing the long term benefits for the child’s mental health and academic success.

For children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), (sometimes referred to as attention deficit disorder) the journey can present unique educational challenges. However, with the right support, understanding, and collaboration between parents, teachers, and the child, children with ADHD can thrive in the classroom just as much as other students. In this blog post, we will explore eight essential principles to help ADHD students succeed in the classroom.

Understanding ADHD Symptoms

Before diving into strategies and tips, it’s crucial to grasp the key characteristics of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects a child’s ability to focus, control impulses, and regulate their behavior. The two primary types of ADHD are predominantly inattentive presentation and predominantly hyperactive-impulsive presentation. Other students may display a combination of both.

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What does the child’s teacher need to understand about ADHD?

For educators to effectively support adhd students, they must have a solid understanding of the disorder and things associated with it.

Perhaps most important is to have a perspective that the child is likely capable of more than they realize. Delays in executive function skills cause many students to under perform and doubt their own abilities. This underperformance is not for lack of trying, or lack of desire, but rather the inability to access skills such as time management, planning and prioritizing, focus, etc.

While consulting the diagnostic and statistical manual for information about ADHD can give a person an idea of the challenges associated with ADHD, supporting children with ADHD in school goes beyond just knowing symptoms. Moving beyond an attention deficit disorder, to understanding who the student is, what their strengths are, and how to support their EF delays are all great places to start understanding a child with ADHD.

Creating an environment that supports executive functions can be a great first step.

Offering Accommodations for ADHD in the Classroom

Knowing the challenges children with ADHD face, it’s important for a child’s teacher to proactively create an inclusive and supportive learning environment. Accommodations are adjustments made to teaching methods, materials, or the learning environment to help children with ADHD perform at their best. Common accommodations include preferential seating, extended time for homework assignments or tests, and the use of assistive technology.

Special Education Services and Accommodations

two children being thought by a woman

In some cases, students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ADHD may qualify for special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). These services can provide an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or a 504 Plan, outlining specific accommodations and support tailored to the child’s needs.

Tips for Managing ADHD Symptoms at School

The child’s teacher, Parents, and students themselves can collaborate to implement practical strategies for managing ADHD symptoms in the classroom. Techniques such as breaking tasks into smaller, manageable steps, using visual aids, and implementing regular routines can aid in maintaining focus and organization to help with big tasks to require sustained mental effort.

Gender Differences in ADHD: How are Girls Different From Boys?

While attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ADHD tend to be associated with hyperactivity, it can manifest differently in girls compared to boys. Girls may exhibit more internalizing symptoms, leading to underdiagnosis or misdiagnosis. Recognizing these differences is vital for providing targeted support and ensuring that all students’ needs are met to help the child succeed.

It is important to note that a student with ADHD can still get great grades, not cause behavior problems, and may even seem organized. Girls often present this way, and therefore don’t draw attention or concern from those around them. The energy it takes to show up this way is unsustainable and takes a toll on their mental health, however. Getting an accurate picture of what it takes to perform well in school is important for both boys and girls with ADHD due to the way it is manifested in each gender.

Related Video: ADHD in women

Developing a Plan That Fits the Child

Each child with attention deficit disorder is unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Collaborate with teachers, school staff, and any specialists involved to create an individualized education program that addresses the specific strengths and challenges of the student. Regularly review and adjust the plan as needed to ensure its effectiveness.

How Can Teachers Help Kids With ADHD in the Classroom?

Teachers can make a significant difference in the academic success of students with ADHD by making a few key adjustments to the structure of the day and the way material is presented.

Some key strategies they can implement include:

Create a Structured Classroom Environment

Consistency and structure are vital for students with ADHD. Establish clear routines and predictable schedules to help them feel more secure and in control. Use visual aids like daily schedules, task lists, and calendars to keep students organized and aware of upcoming activities. A structured environment reduces anxiety and enables students to focus better on their studies.

Utilize Multimodal Learning Approaches

Incorporate diverse teaching methods that cater to different learning styles. Use a combination of visuals, auditory cues, hands-on activities, and kinesthetic exercises. This approach not only benefits students with ADHD but also enhances learning for the entire class. Multimodal learning helps engage students’ various senses, making lessons more memorable and enjoyable.

Implement Breaks and Movement Opportunities

Students with ADHD often struggle with sitting still for extended periods. Allow for short, frequent breaks and incorporate movement opportunities throughout the day. Brain breaks, where students engage in physical activities or stretching exercises, can help them release excess energy and refocus on the lesson.

Use Positive Reinforcement

a father and a mother motivating their child with ADHD through positive reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool for motivating students with ADHD. Praise their efforts, accomplishments, and positive behaviors to boost their self-esteem. Reward systems, such as earning points or tokens for good behavior, can provide additional motivation and reinforce desired actions.

Break Tasks into Manageable Steps

Large tasks can be overwhelming for students with ADHD, due to delays in working memory and sustained attention. This challenge often leads to frustration and avoidance. Break down assignments or projects into smaller, manageable steps. Provide clear instructions and checklists to help them stay on track and complete tasks more effectively.

Incorporate Technology and Digital Tools

Leverage technology to enhance the learning experience for students with ADHD. Educational apps, interactive games, and digital tools can make lessons more engaging and interactive. Additionally, technology allows for individualized learning experiences, catering to each student’s specific needs and interests.

Foster a Positive and Supportive Classroom Culture

Create a classroom culture that promotes inclusivity, empathy, and understanding. Teach students to respect each other’s differences and to be supportive classmates. Encourage peer collaboration and group work, which can boost social skills and create a sense of belonging for students with ADHD.

Use Visual Aids and Organizational Tools

Visual aids are invaluable for students with ADHD. Use charts, graphs, diagrams, and mind maps to present information in a more accessible format. Color-coding materials, using highlighters, and providing organizational tools can assist students in managing their belongings and assignments.

Encourage Goal Setting and Self-Monitoring

Teach students with ADHD to set achievable goals and track their progress. Encourage them to reflect on their work, identify areas for improvement, and celebrate their successes. Areas such as completed homework done in advance, increasing desired behaviors, etc are all great things to monitor. By developing self-monitoring skills, students become more independent and proactive in managing their learning.

Establish Regular Communication with Parents

Maintaining open communication with parents is essential for supporting children with ADHD. Share the child’s progress reports, discuss strategies that work well in the classroom, and seek input from parents about successful techniques used at home. Collaboration between teachers and parents can lead to a more consistent and effective support system for the child.

Tips for Helping Kids With ADHD Prepare for Finals or Exams

Strategies to support EF deficits can be employed to better support students with ADHD as they prepare for finals and exams. As mentioned earlier, ADHD can significantly impact an individual’s ability to concentrate, manage time effectively, and stay organized, making traditional study methods often ineffective. Often, the more often this happens, the more it negatively affects a child’s self esteem and belief that they can rise to their potential. This results in students repeating unhelpful patterns, such as cramming for tests the night before, and oftentimes even getting the grades they want when doing so. Teaching more consistent, less stressful, and more effective study strategies can set a student up for long term success.

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Tailoring their exam preparation allows for the implementation of strategies that support their attention, focus, and memory, ensuring a more equitable testing environment. Whether through extended time, frequent breaks, or alternative study materials, these adjustments empower the student to showcase their true potential, fostering a sense of confidence and reducing unnecessary stress during this critical academic period. Ultimately, creating an inclusive approach to exam preparation not only benefits the student’s academic performance but also nurtures a supportive and compassionate learning environment for all. The following are a few fun and helpful strategies parents, coaches, and tutors can use to help a child learn better study skills.

Increase Movement

For students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, movement is essential. It’s even more important to integrate in times of stress, which is typical during exam periods.

Studies show that movement can help improve focus and attention naturally, allowing a child to maximize their study time. Improve the moment by putting a pause on your studies and trying one of these strategies. Engaging in one (or more) of these approaches will help you get back on track in a more positive mindset.TED Talk about the brain changing benefits of exercise

“PLEASE” Skills

a board with the word "#PLEASE" in it

Use the PLEASE acronym to remember a set of strategies to help your student improve mentally, emotionally, and academically. Over time this practice can also help improve self esteem. These are strategies that will set your student up to be in a better emotional state, allowing them to more effectively do the things they need to be doing (i.e. studying for finals!). Taking care of the body and reducing vulnerabilities helps students be better prepared to tackle things that may be mentally and emotionally draining.

  • PL– Treating physical illness:  Is your student taking care of themselves physically? If they are getting sick or have a chronic medical condition, is that being treated appropriately? Are they visiting the health center if needed? Are they taking their medicines as prescribed, particularly their adhd medication?
  • EEating:  Is your student eating 3 meals a day? Are those meals balanced and nutritious? Are they eating healthy snacks in between meals to keep them fueled and performing optimally?
  • A-Avoid mood-altering substances: Are they refraining from substances that will impact their focus and productivity? Are they limiting your alcohol use? Are they limiting your caffeine use to at least six hours before bedtime?
  • S-Sleep: Is your student maintaining good sleep habits? Are they going to bed on time? Do they have a good bedtime routine? Are they getting enough sleep?
  • E-Exercise: Is your student getting some exercise in between study sessions? Are they taking movement breaks and getting outside for a walk? Are they making time for the gym?

This simple acronym can help a student remember to prioritize the most important aspects of their adhd strategies. Without adequate sleep, exercise, and fuel, all other strategies become less effective.

* For more on PLEASE skills see the following links: 

Handout with tips

Understanding PLEASE skills article

Self-Soothe techniques

the phrase "Be kind to yourself" with a blue background

As emotional regulation is heavily impacted by ADHD, it’s important to integrate regular self-soothing techniques into the school day. Have your student keep the following in mind when determining when to use these techniques;

Are you being kind to yourself in the weeks leading up to finals?

Is your mental self talk more positive and motivating, or demeaning and negative?

This is a strategy you can use to nurture a student during times of stress. One way to improve emotional regulation easily during the school day is to identify things that are comforting in each of the five senses. Some people find it helpful to gather up these items ahead of time and make a small kit for themselves so that they already have these items to turn to and use when stress arises. Here are a few ideas for each of the 5 senses:

  • Smell: Essential oils, like lavender or eucalyptus; a nice smelling candle or lotion; a room spray
  • Taste: Gum, mints, or hard candy in a flavor you enjoy; a piece of chocolate; tea bags or a packet of hot chocolate
  • Touch: Fabric or material that you find calming; fidget toys; a soft blanket
  • Vision: Pictures of things you enjoy – nature, animals; magazines; a book of poetry
  • Hearing: A list of songs that you find calming; an Ipod with a playlist

* For more on Self-Soothe Skills:

How to make a self-soothe kit w/ video

Self-soothing techniques

STOP Strategy

A poster with the words stop, breathe, and go.

Children with adhd tend to get overwhelmed or shut down before finals or a test, which is why the STOP strategy can be very beneficial, helping a student to slow down, calm down, and be more mindful. Encourage students to use this strategy by teaching the following technique:

STOP what you are doing!

  • Stop: When you notice increasing distress, do not react. Stop what you are doing for a moment – freeze in place and don’t react. Stay in control and name the emotion you are experiencing.
  • Take a step back: Allow yourself to step back from the situation to give yourself time to calm down and think. Take a deep breath and continue doing some breathing exercises until you feel like you are in good emotional control. 
  • Observe: Make observations of what is going on inside and around you. Notice your own thoughts, feelings and behaviors, as well as the words and actions of others. Simply observe and gather facts of your situation.
  • Proceed mindfully: Return to your situation mindfully, asking yourself, What will make this situation better or worse? What can I do that will improve my stress?

* For more on STOP Skills:

60-second how-to video

What is STOP & how to use it

IMPROVE skills

Improve academic performance by focusing on the following skills:

  • Imagery: Go to a safe/happy place in your mind. This can be any place that brings you a sense of calm and peace. Or, visualize yourself coping well with your stress.
  • Meaning: Can you find meaning in your distress? Focus on what is important to you, your strengths, and what you might learn from the challenges you are experiencing. Connect your current studies to your values and your larger goal of why you are pursuing a college education.
  • Prayer: Some students find it helpful to pray for the strength to get through difficult moments, or to connect with a higher power.
  • Relaxation: Do something that is relaxing to you so you can get back to your studies in a calmer state. This might be some breathing exercises, taking a warm shower, getting into nature, or practicing some yoga.
  • One Thing: Practice mindfulness with focusing on one thing in the moment unrelated to your source of stress. Sometimes you may find your mind wanders to the past or the future. Try to focus on something (it could be on your cup of coffee, the books in the library, something within your view) without judgement. If your mind wanders, notice this and bring your attention back to the present.
  • Vacation: Allow yourself a “mini-vacation” before returning to your studies. Take a short break to do something you enjoy before returning to your studies. Some ideas might include taking a walk in the woods, sharing a coffee with a friend, watching a TV show you enjoy, and doing something creative.
  • Encouragement: Give yourself a pep talk! We can all be hard on ourselves, especially during times of stress. Engage in some positive self-talk through encouragement, affirmations, mantras, and reminders about your strengths. Say this out loud or write it down to refer to again later.

* For more on IMPROVE Skill:

Cope Ahead Plan

Problem solving and flexibility are two skills that impede a students ability to cope in the moment they are feeling overwhelmed. Planning ahead, and identifying the skills to use can help minimize the challenge of having to make decisions in the moment, helping children with ADHD more successfully and predictably choose strategies that can have a positive effect on student behavior. Here are the steps to include in that plan:

  1. Describe what it is that you anticipate will be stressful about exam time. Get as specific as you can about what you think will create stress during this time. Do you anticipate certain classes/subjects to be more stressful? Or a specific type of exam? 
  2. Identify what coping strategy you will use if/when this situation arises. What strategies have worked for you before? Which adaptations would fit within the classroom rules and would feel helpful? Feel free to refer to some of the above strategies listed! Again, be specific about what skills you will use when stress arises.
  3. Visualize yourself in this situation, and rehearse in your mind you coping well! Professional athletes do this all the time, and research supports the effectiveness of it. Rather than worrying about the potential disasters ahead, when students can focus on the positive behavior they want to see, it’s much more likely for it to happen. Practicing this in your mind will allow you to access these skills and cope more effectively when the situation arises, and avoid careless mistakes. Engage in some relaxation following these steps.

* For more on Cope Ahead Plans:

Educators, coaches, and tutors can use a variety of these strategies to help a child improve positive behavior, decrease disruptive behavior, and rise to their potential. Children with ADHD often face unique challenges in the classroom, such as difficulty focusing, impulsivity, and restlessness. However, with the right teaching strategies and support, every child can shine and reach their full potential.

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A girl reading a book with colorful planets around her.

Helping attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) students in the classroom requires creativity, flexibility, and a genuine commitment to their success. By implementing these effective teaching strategies, we can create a positive and inclusive learning environment where every child, including those children with ADHD, can shine and thrive. Remember that each student is unique, and it may take time to discover the most effective approach for each individual. By providing support, understanding, and patience, we can empower our children with ADHD to reach their full potential and excel academically and beyond.