ADHD: friend or foe?

ADHD: friend or foe?

One sentence sums up “John” perfectly: He’s a class all by himself.

Possessing a great deal of energy, John is a bright, intense, young man with strong opinions, an off-beat humor, and obsessive interests. John can be polarizing, but he’s quick to stand up for others and what he believes is right. On a rare bad day, his silence puts a damper on the classroom atmosphere; usually, he is actively engaged and talkative. Though he frequently needs redirection, he usually leads class discussions. John is a powerful, positive presence in the class.

John is also one of the increasing number of students I have who have been diagnosed with ADHD.

Many students with ADHD have accommodations with 504 or IEP plans; others, like John, do not. That’s why it’s so important that teachers not only comply with 504/IEPs but also be aware of how to help students with ADHD be successful in a classroom setting.

Here are some suggestions for supporting students with ADHD.

  1. Knowledge is Power: It’s important to educate ourselves about what ADHD is and how it affects each individual student. Understanding ADHD helps me remain patient when students exhibit some of the associated behaviors, such as blurting out comments, being distracted, forgetting important items, and being very defensive. I know that their behavior isn’t intentional (usually) and focus on helping them rather than correcting them. Some excellent resources for teachers who would like to learn more about ADHD include adhdaware, humansnotrobots, and Idonline.
  2. Emphasize organization: I always pick up plastic file folders when I see them in the dollar section at Target. Most of my students, with ADHD in particular, love these folders for organizing work. I invite my students to attend tutorials and I help them periodically organize their notebooks, folders, and determine what they can throw away and what they can file. I also them time in the beginning of class to write down the work due for the week.
  3. Redirect and channel that energy: Often students with ADHD have a great deal of energy, which we can help them channel into positive activities.  One student, who frequently finishes his work early, becomes an adept peer tutor, assisting others with their work. Another student is an excellent helper, distributing handouts and running small errands. A third student likes to lead group work. Here are some excellent tips for how to redirect and channel excessive energy from intervention central.
  4. Make accommodations: Though 504 and IEP plans dictate any modifications students are entitled to, there are many students who do not have these plans, but benefit from some simple accommodations. I encourage them to privately share with me any conditions they may have and what I can do to make them more comfortable and productive. For example, I provide copies of class notes to students with ADHD (as long as they are engaged and take their own notes as well). They appreciate having a printed copy, as many of them have poor handwriting and difficulty keeping up with taking notes. Also, I always seat students with ADHD in the front of the room so that it’s easier for them to stay on task. Here are some helpful suggestions regarding accommodations from attitude mag.
  5. Embrace differences: On the first day of school, I tell my students that I have ADHD and explain how it affects me as a teacher. I may talk too quickly or jump from topic to topic. I ask for them to let me know and help me stay on track. But I also explain that people with ADHD often have gifts or a “superpower”, from speed reading to acting ability.

Encourage students to discover and cultivate their gifts! It’s amazing to see how confident students with ADHD become when they learn to embrace who they are and emphasize their positive attributes. Here is a great article about the benefits of ADHD from healthline.

At a parent/teacher conference, I met John’s mom. She thanked me, saying that her son had told her that he had finally accepted his ADHD and liked himself. She had tears in her eyes, and so did I.