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Characteristics of ADD/ADHD Students: Classroom Strategies That Work

Updated on February 25, 2012

He Just Won't Sit Still......Aaaah!

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Characteristics of The ADD/ADHD Child

Copyright 2008, Jennifer Tyler

The concept of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and attention deficit disorder (ADD) has been plaguing professionals for many years. When ADHD/ADD first came into light it did not present much of a controversy. However, over the course of the last decade ADHD/ADD has become the center of a debate between parents, teachers, and professionals. In fact, many people question the validity of such a disorder, citing that way too many children are assigned a diagnoses of ADHD/ADD (Kauffman, 2005; Freed & Parsons, 1997; & Williams, 1983). The fact remains, however, that ADHD/ADD is a true disorder in which all professionals must face. With that said it is important to distinguish between the true characteristics of a child with ADHD/ADD and ones which are merely a child being a child.

According to Freed and Parsons (1997) children with true ADD present with a difference in the way their brain processes information, thus they use a different side of their brain than those without ADD. Freed and Parsons (1997) indicate that these children function using the right side of their brain. Of additional notation is that although children with ADD use the right side of their brain to process information, they appear to be different even from those children who are not ADD and use the right side of their brain. For instance, one of the most distinct differences is the fact that the child with ADD appears to suffer from sensory overload (Freed & Parsons, 1997). Simply what that means is that they tend to be hypersensitive in one or more areas of the sensory areas. An example would be the child who has a very keen sense of hearing as compared to the child with average abilities in the senses. This child may hear things at normal conversational tone but to them that tone is magnified.

Freed and Parsons (1997) indicate, however, that these are not the only characteristics of the child with ADD. For instance, children with ADD tend to have strong memories, are generally perfectionists or competitive, impulsive, inattentive, have delayed motor skills, and may even be intuitive (Freed & Parsons, 1997). The difference between the ADD child and the child with ADHD however lies in the component of activity levels. The child with ADHD tends to be more hyperactive and restless than the child with ADD (Kauffman, 2005 & Lathbury, 1997). Although this may be the case, children with both ADD and ADHD require a great deal of educational adjustments in order to be successful in the school setting because of these implications.

Classroom Specific Strategies

The question has been pondered many a year by teachers as to what can be done in the classroom for the child with ADD/ADHD. What might seem like an easy question to some can inherently present challenges to others. However, the two skills which needs to be exerted when working with the ADD/ADHD child is patience and persistence (Freed & Parsons, 1997; & Williams, 1983). This group of children tends to present the most challenges teachers. Due to their high level of activity and inattention finding out what works with each child holds the key to success with this group.

Freed and Parsons (1997) suggest that there are several things which can be done both in the home and in the classroom to help children with ADD/ADHD. First, do not exert a tremendous amount of pressure on these children as it will tend to lead to their downfall. It is obvious that children with ADD/ADHD already feel pressured by the stimuli in their environment.

Next, the use of positive reinforcement is vital to creating and maintaining a strong sense of self and their abilities. Children with ADD/ADHD are more apt to suffer from lower levels of self esteem than other children, therefore rewarding their efforts and using positive reinforcement are vital to their success .

Third, modify the instructional environment for these children so that it has as little distractions as possible (University of Maryland Medical Center, 2002 & Freed & Parsons, 1997). Children with ADD/ADHD are very easily distracted and trying to teach them in situations which contain too much stimuli will only hinder their ability to tune into what is being taught.

Fourth, many teachers fail to realize that being in one place for too long is a difficult feat for these children. It is important for teachers to provide opportunities for children with ADD/ADHD to constructively move around the classroom (Freed & Parsons, 1997; University of Maryland Medical Center, 2002; & Williams, 1983). Teachers can not expect that a child with high levels of inattention and activity sit in one place for an indefinite period of time. Therefore, it is essential to offer them short breaks between lessons and give them ample time to move around.

Fifth, teachers should alter their instruction so that material is both stimulating and novel to the child (Freed & Parsons, 1997; Williams, 1983). Children with ADD/ADHD need a great deal of variance in their instruction and simply using lectures and worksheets will not be effective with these children. Teachers need to incorporate multiple methods of instruction into the curriculum to ensure that their needs are being met.

Overt and Covert Behaviors In ADD/ADHD Students....What Are the Differences?

Although there are certain implications for educating the child with ADD/ADHD it is evident that children can present with other disorders or problems such as overt and covert behaviors. The characteristics of children with overt disorders vary greatly from those with covert disorders (Kauffman, 2005). For instance, a child who presents with overt behaviors is more likely to be aggressive and violent than a child with covert behaviors. Children with overt behaviors generally tend to be aggressive, stubborn, result to fighting, tease others, swear, are disobedient, and argue.

On the contrary, children with covert disorders steal, lie, set fires, vandalize, and are often truant from school. Due to this, the educational implications for such children will vary according to their needs.

What can be done in the classroom for children who are diagnosed as having overt behavior?

First and foremost, teachers need to provide consistent and effective consequences for children who are aggressive with others (Kauffman, 2005). These children need to learn that aggression towards the self or others is not acceptable in any form.

Second, schools need to teach these children that there are appropriate ways to handle conflict and aggression is not one of them (Kauffman, 2005). One of the major features of children with covert disorders is that they do not know of alternate ways of handling conflict, thus they resort to violence.

Third, it is important for schools to restrict access to any item which may be potentially perceived as a weapon (Kauffman, 2005). This may entail labeling pencils and other school items to head off problems. Furthermore, schools can insist upon weapons checks prior to entering school.

Finally, teachers should be more apt to alter the instructional methods and strategies which they commonly use (Kauffman, 2005). Offering differentiated curriculum and options serve as a way to deter problem behaviors.

In contrast to the child with overt behaviors is the child who presents with covert behaviors. This group of children is probably more difficult to provide intervention for simply due to the fact that home factors need to combined with school factors (Kauffman, 2005). However, it is important to note that there are indeed things which can be done to alter the course of covert behaviors. For instance, one thing which can be done about stealing is to confront the behavior and assign consequences as necessary. Children need to know that such behavior is not acceptable, therefore they need to be given appropriate consequences.

Another intervention that can be used, especially in the case of the child who lies, is to reward honest answers. If a child is prone to lying teachers can give positive reinforcement when the child gives an honest answer. Finally, school vandalism presents the most unique of all covert behaviors because it often results in further punishment (Kauffman, 2005). Although this may be the case, schools can do something more proactive about such a problem. For instance, if schools were more willing to offer children the opportunity to express their artistic abilities within the confines of a school this might lead to the decrease in graffiti on and in schools.

Furthermore, schools can effectively curtail vandalism by making children more responsible for their schools. By including them in the cleanup effort it might actually lead to a decline in vandalism.

Classroom Arrangement Makes a Difference

You want to place them where they will experience the least distractions, which will allow for more on task behavior. Seating them near the teacher’s desk and away from windows, doors, or activity centers will help. Also, in groupings, seating them with well-behaved, attentive peers that they consider significant will contribute to positive behaviors.

Another way to assist these students, as well as others, is to keep the classroom well-organized and as uncluttered as possible. Set-up a separate quiet space, away from other areas of the room, such as corner behind partitions or bookshelves with the books facing away) for use when the child is still distracted. space may also be used to allow for large movement, i.e., jumping jacks, which also helps the student concentrate better.

Some children with ADHD need to move, so you need to plan for that. You can designate another desk or area that the student can move to when they need to get up and walk, but it’s important to establish the ground rules for this first. Be sure they understand that moving to their "second" desk isn’t an invitation to disrupt their work or the work of others.

Effective Classroom Strategies For ADD/ADHD Students....They Really Do Work!

Of all behavioral problems students exhibit educators most often refer to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as one of the most difficult to curtail. Although students with ADHD present numerous challenges to educators, there are indeed strategies which have proven to be effective. One such strategy is allowing productive movement in the educational environment (Brock, 1998; Cardman, 1994; Child Development Institute, 2005 & West, 2000). This can be accomplished in several ways, which are listed below.

1. Plan for structured classroom activities which promote movement in the classroom.

Vary the way instruction is delivered in the classroom. Instead of focusing solely on seat related activities, develop work stations and collaborative learning centers that focus on the lesson being taught. Students thrive when they are given the opportunity to apply what they are learning in a hands on approach. In addition, this allows for structured opportunities for the ADHD student to move around in the classroom.

2. Allow students to take frequent breaks.

Students with ADHD have difficulty staying on a task for long periods of time, especially if the class period is 40 minutes in duration. Therefore, educators should give these students frequent breaks from a task. Frequent breaks, however, do not have to be unstructured. Instead, teachers can allow students to take something to the office, take a note to another teacher, or simply allowed to get up to sharpen their pencil (or go to the bathroom).

3. Assign classroom responsibilities that allow movement and promote responsibility.

Educators can effectively structure movement for students with ADHD by assigning classroom duties for the students. Setting up a schedule that assigns each student a classroom job not only allows for structured movement, but also helps develop a sense of responsibility.

4. Choice making.

Allowing students the opportunity to make choices is often a particularly effective strategy for those students who display inappropriate behaviors that are related to the desire for control. In fact, teaching choice making involves teaching problem solving and students are then taught to take some level of control over their day.

This also allows them the opportunity to experience the consequences of their choices. Recent research and practice have emphasized choice making as an important developmental objective for personal control development and personal dignity (Newcomer, 2003, p. 398). This is important for all students, and more may prove to be critical for students with ADHD.

5. Creating highly predictable work environments.

Students with ADHD and/or behavioral disorders often profit from highly predictable work environments. Predictability and order is related to lowerlevels of stress-related behaviors. Schedules and routines provide students with ADHD the feeling that school involves a predictable sequence of events and activities (Newcomer, 2003).

6. Alternate difficult tasks with previously mastered tasks.

A strategy that works well for everyone, including students with ADHD, is to alternate more difficult tasks with those tasks that have been previously mastered. This strategy increases the motivation for students to continue the task and practicing an already mastered task increases the rate of new material acquisition (Newcomer, 2003).

7. Provide direct instruction.

Direct instruction components include the use of reinforcement and mastery learning principles, regular and direct assessment, breaking tasks into smaller components through task analysis, and teaching prerequisite skills. Studies have shown that direct instruction produces higher academic gains that other forms of instruction for students with special needs. The four components at the heart of direct instruction are 1. Explicit teaching of rules and strategies, 2. Example selection, 3. Example sequencing, and 4. Covertization (Newcomer, 2003). Making the steps in the thinking process overt and observable is key in providing direct instruction. This strategy is particularly helpful for students with ADHD who tend toward distractibility. It helps to keep them engaged and focused.

8. Positive teacher verbalizations.

Encouraging teacher remarks and comments have been found to promote independence, cooperation, and self-esteem. Language that is positive has proven to result in higher rates of student on-task behavior and increased compliance in the classroom (Newcover, 2003). Very often, students with ADHD spend their days under a barrage of negative verbalizations from staff and peers. Positive teacher remarks is particularly important for these students.

9. Response Cost

This can be a very effective method of behavior management, especial for those with ADHD and inappropriate behaviors. Response cost is the removal of positive reinforcement. For instance, if a student is rewarded by one point for every time s/he is on-task, response cost takes points away for every time the student is off-task. (Kauffman, 2005; Newcomer, 2003).

10. Contingency or Behavior Contracts

These agreements are written and signed by both the teacher and student. The contract outlines the consequence for both undesirable and desirable behavior (Kauffman, 2005; Newcomer, 2003).

11. Self-instruction

Through adult modeling, student imitation, and then independent use students can learn how to talk to themselves about what they are doing and what they are supposed to be doing, thereby learning how to monitor and direct their behavior in appropriate ways (Kauffman, 2005; Newcomer, 2003).

12. Self-monitoring

This is a technique in which a prompt, usually in the form a tone, cues the student to record on a self-evaluation sheet whether s/he was paying attention or on-task when the tone occurred. The student must first be advised about what is off-task and on-task behavior. Then the teacher shows the student how the method works by modeling the procedure and/or role playing (Newcomer, 2003).

The strategies presented here are not only effective teaching strategies for children with ADHD, but for most students. Good planning, consistency, organization, and patience are qualities and skills that will support all children, especially exceptional learners.

Behavior Management and Teaching Techniques

According to Vaughn, et al., about 65% of children diagnosed with ADHD will also "display oppositional and defiant behaviors," so behavior management programs that encourage acceptable behavior and support positive classroom citizenship should be put in place early. (Vaughn, et al. pg 56 (2003)).

The following techniques are helpful:

Establish a token economy

Use checklists and encourage self-monitoring

Tie response costs in to avoid inappropriate behavior

Encourage group cooperation with rewards

Avoid unstructured transitions

Emphasize time limits

Be consistent with discipline

Stay calm and don’t argue

State the problem and the consequence

Never ridicule or berate

Be patient.

Organization Skills Enhancement

Organizational skill development is a crucial area for many children with ADHD and they need support in this area both at school and at home. One way to encourage parent involvement is to use an assignment book. The assignment book should be filled out by the student, and checked and initialed by the teacher. The loop is closed when the parent initials after seeing work completed. The assignment book can also double as a communication tool.

Others ways to assist and support students with organization are to use in-class systems for books, folders, and papers. For elementary students, keeping books and corresponding work folders in a special area in the classroom will help avoid losing materials in desks. These can be color coded by subject, and folders can by alphabetized to make the system easier. "Mailboxes" can also be used to disseminate important papers, homework, and information. Incorporate checking them at the end of the day into the daily routine.

Teaching Techniques

As mentioned earlier, children with ADHD have different learning styles. They are individuals, and have individual learning styles. It is important to acknowledge these differences and teach with them in mind. Some other techniques that will help are:

1. Face forward while instructing, i.e., use an overhead projector instead of a blackboard

2. Use cooperative learning groups

3. Allow students to doodle, or use a manipulative, if not disturbing others

4. Allow alternatives to handwriting

5. Activate prior knowledge

6. Pre-read questions that will be answered

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