This podcast is part of a series that highlights adjustments that can be made in the classroom to enable students with disability to access and participate in education on the same basis as their peers.
In this episode, we talk about potential adjustments teachers may make in the classroom to support students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). ADHD is a neurodevelopmental condition that has a learning and behavioural impact with students showing signs of inattention, distractibility, hyperactivity and impulsivity. This inability to self-control may profoundly affect how a student functions and performs at school. Some students may daydream and lack organisation, while others may be disruptive and engage in risky acts. Some students may have a learning difficulty which is the cause of perceived behavioural issue.
Year 4 student Alex describes his ADHD as annoying and explains why handwriting is a particularly stressful activity for him. His mum Katya talks about what may trigger a meltdown and what steps teachers may take to avoid this. School Principal Jenine Pallant warns against open-ended tasks. Associate Professor and Clinical Psychologist Emma Sciberras discusses why environmental adjustments that factor in classroom acoustics, visuals and desk layout are fundamental in supporting students with ADHD.
Top five takeaways
Remember that students with ADHD may find it difficult to follow rules in the classroom. The first step is to understand the individual student’s strengths and challenges. To sustain attention, break down tasks into small segments, and then scaffold their learning. To reinforce the lesson plan, use visual timetables to set out a roadmap for the day – this will create structure and routine. Finally, ensure that you communicate to the student what they are expected to achieve in a particular lesson. This will help minimise anxiety.
Transitions may be challenging for students with ADHD – whether between classes or tasks. A strategy that could help is to provide the student with a familiar item that they can carry with them from one place to the other. This will create a sense of comfort and safety.
What may appear to be misbehaviour in students with ADHD is the student’s attempt to express their feelings. If the student is acting out, find out what’s making them anxious, angry, frustrated or scared. Spend time developing the student’s emotional literacy. A strategy you can apply once you’ve pinpointed why a student is feeling a particular way is to give them two options, then explain what the consequences will be for each option and let them decide. For this strategy to be effective, the consequences have to be fair and reasonable and you have to follow through with your stipulated rules. When students make a ‘good’ choice, use a reward system that motivates them to continue to make such choices.
Look for alternative ways to engage the student in tasks. For instance, writing may be a barrier for some students with ADHD, so consider using assistive technologies like voice-to-text, online timers or an iPad.
Build energy breaks into your day so a student with ADHD has the opportunity to burn off nervous energy and regulate their emotions. Energy breaks can be as simple as a lap around the oval. To help soothe and calm students further, ensure that you give them access to sensory toys.
How can I connect with the student so I understand their needs? How can I help minimise anxiety for a student with ADHD. How can I build their emotional literacy?
What environmental changes can I make in my classroom to help support a student with ADHD?
What steps can I take to help a student with ADHD avoid distractibility and lack of focus?
How can I incorporate the use of technological tools in my classroom to help support students with ADHD when necessary?
How can I record the adjustments, the monitoring and review of these adjustments as part of the evidentiary requirements for the NCCD?