September is National Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Awareness Month and as we get back into the swing of the school year, what better time to talk about this group of children so prevalent in our classrooms and in our homes? Approximately two million children are living with ADHD in the United States. This means there is likely a child with ADHD in your classroom, your home, or your neighborhood.
You know the child with ADHD has difficulty focusing on one task, is impulsive in his words and actions, and often has trouble sitting still. What you may not know is that if a child with ADHD does not receive appropriate and positive interventions, he is more likely to develop low self-esteem, have trouble establishing and maintaining positive social relationships, and may exhibit poor academic performance. This is not because he is less able than his typically developing peers; it's because his ADHD is misunderstood.
As a special educator I embrace the alphabet soup of letters we encounter on a daily basis. In an effort to celebrate my friends with ADHD, my tips for working with these bright children are clear and concise and focus on the letters ADHD!
Accept who she is. If I had a dollar for every time someone said "I wish she could just sit still!" I'd be a rich woman. The truth is, a child fidgeting in her seat during class or at the dinner table isn't always disruptive to her learning or to others in her environment. Sometimes it just bothers us. Let go of the picture-perfect image of a child sitting at attention at her desk or at the dinner table and enjoy her creativity and unique point of view. Learn to listen while she's bouncing up and down- she's got lots of great things to share!
Differentiate your expectations. You thought when you got your first class you would have twenty four sweet faces staring at you, hanging on your every word. You thought when your children started school they would sit quietly at the table and work diligently on homework. Well change your expectations and learn to go with the flow! Expect that there will be times when you want everyone sitting down, but he needs to go for a walk. Expect that there will be times when you want everyone's hands on their laps, but he needs to fidget with something in his hand. Children with ADHD need to learn strategies to live in our quiet world and it is a process that takes time. Just like he's learning new math skills, he's learning new "student" skills and it takes time.
Help her understand ADHD. Explain that this is the way her brain works and be patient as she learns to utilize the strategies you provide for curbing impulsiveness or increasing focus. Though ADHD has become more commonplace over the years, there are still people who don't understand it. I once told a student to tell others "My brain tells my body to keep moving, so I have to tell my brain to be quiet!" This simple sentence made a young child feel empowered and accepted. Not only did she understand her own ADHD better, she was able to communicate with those around her and explain that she was doing her best to stay on task. Help her understand that everyone's brains are different and that's what we love about our friends!
Discuss strategies for living with ADHD. In addition to using picture prompts, written schedules, and clear and concise language, offer opportunities for all children to get up and move around the room- not just the student who really needs the break. Make sure some tasks are expected to be completed while standing up and writing on paper that is taped to the wall. If the student with ADHD feels isolated, he will shut down, or worse, act out. Start to talk about how it feels to fidget or be distracted and offer solutions for these difficult times. Talk about how taking a walk can make her body feel better but it's also good for everyone in the class to stretch once in awhile!
Jennifer Cerbasi teaches at a public school for children on the autism spectrum in New Jersey. As a coordinator of Applied Behavioral Analysis programs in the home, she works with parents to create and implement behavioral plans for their children in an environment that fosters both academic and social growth. In addition to her work both in the classroom and at home, she is also a member of the National Association of Special Education Teachers and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Follow Jennifer on Twitter: twitter.com/JenniferCerbasi.