ADHD in the Classroom

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ADHD in the classroom is a not just a challenge for teachers - it is for the child as well.  But there are specific strategies that are successful in working with these students that do not involve heading off to the doctor.


Teaching children with ADHD takes a lot of patience and excellent classroom management. Often we forget about the struggles the child has with social skills. School is the most significant place a child has for socializing, outside of the family, and this can lead to many problems.

Educators need to know how to best help these students develop positive social skills.

This is just as much a part of teaching children with the disorder as the academics are, particularly in students with the hyperactivity component.

adhd in the classroom


A sign of ADHD in the classroom could be that a student has significant difficulties in producing acceptable behaviors in social situations.

Producing the expected behavior is the deficit, as they do know what is right and what is wrong.



We know that children with social difficulties are statistically at risk for developing more behavioral and emotional problems. In fact, we can easily observe this happening as students move from primary to intermediate grades.

These students are often disruptive, non-compliant and restless. In other cases, when inattentiveness is the primary component of the disorder, students are often left out because they struggle to be active participants due to lack of attention. This limits positive opportunities for them in one of the most important social settings.

A lack of positive social interactions is often what makes both parents and teachers first take notice. Eventually the symptoms of ADHD in the classroom can make their way onto the playground and in less structured activities where the consequences are heart-breaking for both parents and teachers to watch.


Why Can't the ADHD Child Just Behave Appropriately?


Children with AD/HD have great difficulty picking up on non-verbal cues, such as facial expression and body language.

They just don't "get it," and often continue the disruptive behaviors without realizing they are doing something wrong.  It really is not their fault most of the time.



The teacher provides the first model for acceptable social behavior in the classroom.

Children learn by imitation - through watching the actions of adults and peers. A teacher uses verbal cues and has affective skills and body language that students pick up on (or not).


Research and ADHD statistics show that students with positive social behaviors will get more positive teacher attention, behavior improves and the students have a higher rate of success.  

Conversely, those who have attention issues run the risk of dropping out, committing crimes and struggling through school if no interventions are given.

So let's improve how we deal with ADHD in children.


Improving Social Skills


1. Instruction

Verbally teach the student to recognize social behaviors. Participation, cooperation and communication are vital skills that are used in school. Teach them what different body and facial expressions mean.

These children benefit from immediate feedback through strong affective gestures, such as a thumbs up, frown, etc. Once these students are taught how to "read" emotions, their peer interaction improves.


2. Modeling

Point out positive behaviors in the classroom. Noticing appropriate behaviors escapes the ADHD child unless it is made specific note of by the teacher.

This is not to suggest that you say, "Look at Joe over there? See how he is working? Why can't you be more like him?" What you should say is, "Well done, Joe. You are working very hard," and say it loud enough for the class to hear.

Place value on effort, not on quantity.


3. Practice Appropriate Behaviors

Involve your school counselor to provide role playing for certain social situations. Include instructional activities that encourage student interaction and class discussions, and use the opportunity to model behaviors.


4. Evaluate and Feedback

Take the time to sit with the student and discuss what went well and what did not during group or individual work time.

Ask the child to evaluate him or herself and to be specific about what was correct and what could be improved. Give specific suggestions for what could be done differently and why.


Behavior Interventions for ADHD in the Classroom

  • Bothering or pushing others in line? Address the class and explain the behavior you want. Play a quick game to redirect attention, such as calling out a math fact to each student in line.
  • Not waiting for a turn while working in a group activity: Employ the "response cost" system, as explained on the behavior intervention plan.
  • Not raising hand: Ignore the behavior and model what you want the student to do.
  • When a student runs into the room and begins to talk to you without waiting for a turn, try to slowly acknowledge the child, ask how he or she is, wait for a response, then ask how you can help.
  • If necessary, create a behavior contract for just one specific behavior with immediate rewards and consequences.



I have four of these balancing "cushions" from Isokinetics. It isn't a behavior intervention - it's a behavior management tool.

They are actually sold as an exercise disc but I've found that they are just as effective as the balance balls we use in our classrooms to help steady our kids with attention issues.






The great price doesn't hurt either: One 14 inch disc is only $13.00, compared to the cost of a stability ball or chair that start at $60.00 or more.

These are also terrific for floor time and to put on the seats of students who cannot manage to stay in their chair.




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