How to recognise and support ADHD students in the classroom

How to recognise and support ADHD students in the classroom

Diagnosis of ADHD has increased in recent years, especially among young children. So, what does that mean for teachers? As awareness of ADHD and other neurodiversities grows, teachers are tasked with the responsibility of creating an educational environment where all students can thrive. Let’s take...


Diagnosis of ADHD has increased in recent years, especially among young children. So, what does that mean for teachers? As awareness of ADHD and other neurodiversities grows, teachers are tasked with the responsibility of creating an educational environment where all students can thrive.

Let’s take a look at how to recognise ADHD, student classroom challenges, and how you can support them in your classroom.

What is ADHD?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – commonly known as ADHD – is a neurodevelopmental condition that can affect people’s behaviour, ability to concentrate, movement, and impulsiveness. If left undiagnosed, the consequences can be significant for students’ learning and social and professional future. In this scenario, not only are students with ADHD at risk of underachieving, they can also become isolated and lose self confidence.

However, early intervention can often prove key to helping students to manage their differences and fulfil their academic and intellectual potential.

School is a setting where ADHD symptoms first become noticeable in many young children, and classroom teachers are often the first people to notice that students are struggling with focus and appropriate classroom behaviour. So, what exactly are the symptoms that teachers should look out for?

ADHD: students’ symptoms to watch out for

Research shows that underdiagnosis of ADHD is widespread among young children.

A medical diagnosis of ADHD should always be provided by a doctor – but teachers can often flag behaviour that they have noticed in class, which can help parents to decide whether to seek a diagnosis. Some signs that may indicate a child has ADHD are:

  • A short attention span
  • Easily distracted
  • Losing things or being forgetful
  • Inability to concentrate on long, tedious tasks
  • Careless mistakes in schoolwork
  • Difficulty listening to and carry out instructions
  • Problems organising and prioritising
  • Constantly changing tasks or activities
  • Unable to sit still, often fidgeting
  • Talking a lot
  • Interrupting regularly
  • Little or no sense of danger

A certified ADHD definition and list of symptoms for children can be found here. It’s also important to be aware of unconscious bias when you’re considering student behaviour, recognising how ADHD can present differently across genders, and allowing for normal developmental differences when it comes to students at the younger end of the age spectrum in your classroom.

ADHD: students’ challenges and solutions

Often, the traditional classroom environment is challenging for students with ADHD. Recognising these barriers and creating tailored solutions is an effective way to keep your ADHD students engaged and excelling in their education.

Diagnosis is the first step when it comes to student support. However, even in the absence of a diagnosis, there are small changes you can make to accommodate students’ needs.

Here are some common challenges:

1. Sitting still for long periods of time

Students with ADHD can struggle to remain in one place, especially in quiet settings. However, that’s often important learning time in the classroom. Virtual learning can be particularly difficult for students with ADHD.

Solution: Allow movement breaks and time for physical exercise. Allow your students to use fidgets (spinners, stress balls, rubber bands) to help them focus during quiet task time.

2. Doing repetitive tasks

Students with ADHD can become bored easily, and find it hard to sustain focus or concentration on activities they aren’t interested in.

Solution: Vary the pace of your classes, and sequence tasks that are quite different from one another to maintain concentration among ADHD students.

3. Building and maintaining social relationships

People with ADHD may find it difficult to make friends or understand social cues. Younger students in particular can struggle with turn-taking, managing their feelings, listening, and other important friendship skills.

Solution: Make sure to work on these skills with younger students, and find dedicated ways for students to practise these social skills. Help students in relationship-building through careful pairing and team design.

4. Adjusting to change

New routines or transitions can be overwhelming for ADHD students, from small transitions (switching between tasks) to larger transitions (moving between classrooms or from one year group to another.) Coming back to school after the holidays or even after a long weekend can be challenging as students re-adjust to the routine of the school day.

Solution: Be flexible in your expectations, and allow your students with ADHD extra time to process new routines. When it comes to smaller transitions, such as moving to a different space or changing tasks, you can ease the transition by giving students repeated reminders ten minutes before, five minutes before, two minutes before etc.

5. Missing materials

Part of the struggle with executive function is being forgetful and disorganised. For ADHD students, this can often mean forgetting homework, materials, equipment, lunches or other things they need for school.

Solution: It’s a good idea to keep extra materials in the classroom which students can use, and give them regular reminders to bring what they need from home.

6. Following complex instructions

Students with ADHD find time management, planning, and organising hard. They can also be easily distracted, and struggle with multi-step processes.

Solution: It’s useful to provide these students with instructions ahead of time, and privately confirm instructions with them too to make sure they are clear on which steps they need to follow. Time checks to keep them on track can be helpful, along with written details of multi step processes which they can consult as they work through them to remember what is next.

Further steps in accommodating students with ADHD

These small tweaks can make a big difference to the classroom experience of students with ADHD. On a wider strategy level, educators can adopt a behavioural classroom management approach, encouraging students to behave in productive ways and discouraging disruptive behaviour. You can introduce a rewards system to facilitate this strategy (such as a points table) or a daily report card to document ADHD students’ days to their parents. This behavioural classroom management can increase academic engagement and constructively influence student behaviour.

Organisational training is another strategy involving teachers, counsellors, and school psychologists. It is focused on creating a unique plan for students with ADHD to follow in school. It concentrates on planning skills, time management, materials organisation, and reducing distractions. Research shows that setting clear expectations and providing immediate positive feedback in this way can aid students with ADHD.

ADHD awareness is still growing, and schools and teachers have to stay informed about the latest developments and accommodations for students with the condition. After all, creating a classroom environment suited to neurodivergent students is a learning curve for everyone.

Further reading

Read about how to support SEN children and teaching strategies for children with autism.

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