Below are some tips to help establish effective communication between teachers and a young person with symptoms or a diagnosis of ADHD.
- Instructions should be clear and explicitly stated so that the child knows and understands what is expected of him/her.
- Ensure the classroom and learning environment is structured with as much one onone help as possible.
- Instructions should be stated in the positive to avoid ambiguity. For example, “Please raise your hand and wait until you are asked to speak”.
- The number of rules or instructions should be minimal, usually fewer than six and should be rehearsed frequently so as to improve automatic recall.
- Rules should be posted within the child’s sight; they should be enforced and consistently applied.
- Positive behaviour should be praised to promote reinforcement and rewards given to persistent positive behaviours accordingly. This includes behaviours they struggle to regulate such as remaining seated, raising their hand, paying attention and so on. Most of these behaviours are met with difficulty for children with ADHD.
- Rewards should be real/concrete (e.g., certificates/stickers etc). They should also be immediate as opposed to delayed.
- Refrain from social exclusions where possible e.g., from school trips/after-school activities. Exclusions will only reinforce the child’s own negative self-image and feelings of inadequacy.
- Encourage self-esteem by including the child in as much as possible in the classroom (e.g., participation in active discussions/debates and opportunities to answer questions or take the lead in activities or presentations.
- Apply sensitivity. Try as much as possible to avoid negative phrases such as “If only you would try harder / sit still / pay more attention”.
- Teach the child organization skills. Encourage the child to keep a notepad at all times and write a things-to-do list every day; scoring and crossing off as appropriate.
- Eliminate distractions where possible by sitting the child at the front of the class as opposed to next to a window.
- Encourage the young person to wear a watch or to tell you the time with the classroom clock every now and then. If possible, invest in a large, stop-clock / timer which can sit on their desk. Children with learning or behavior differences often have little or no concept of time. Stating in “In 30 minutes, you must have finished X,Y, Z” is too general. Encourage awareness of time; give them reminders in short-intervals. For example, remind them in 10 minutes how much time they have left to complete the task.
- Ask the child or young person to make a list of things they enjoy doing and find a way to build on these interests both in and outside of school.
- Be aware that children with ADHD often mis-interpret what others say and do which can be a cause of great conflict.
- Be aware that children with ADHD often have a poor concept of others peoples personal space and will often, unintentionally, invade the space of others.
- Children with ADHD often seek the attention of a teacher and may act the “class clown” to impress peers.
- They are prone to talking excessively and can be highly animated. For example, they may act out their narrative as a result of an overactive motor system – try to refrain from criticising their movements if possible and remain focused on the story they are trying to tell you.
- When dealing with an angry outburst avoid reacting with anger also. If possible try to give the child time and space to calm down. Speak to them in a firm voice with short instructions. Remind them to breathe, stay calm. Children with ADHD really struggle to regulate their emotions and are prone to extreme outbursts. This is often coupled with anxiety which may develop into aggression.
- School can be a very stressful environment for children with ADHD and they are at risk of involuntary entering into the “fight/flight” mode. At this moment the child is going to find it extremely difficult to think about his or her behaviour. Remind yourself they need help to calm down and are extremely vulnerable at that moment. Above all, keep calm and if possible, try to diffuse the situation.
- Ideally, the school should provide a safe place for the child to go before they reach this point and the teacher will need to recognize potential triggers and be proactive.
- A school-counsellor should provide on-going support for the duration of the child’s school life and not just in 6 week stints. They should also help the young person develop coping strategies and assistance in managing their emotional outbursts.
- Remember that teaching a child with ADHD can be incredibly challenging and that your efforts will take time, persistence and patience to pay off. Children with ADHD can’t control many of these low level disruptive behaviours and so empathy and patience are required at all times.
- It is a tough job caring or educating for a child with special educational needs so do give yourself credit and take good care of yourself. Children with ADHD will grow to recognize your great efforts, patience and respect your firm boundaries – the reward is a respectful bond and relationship with the child in question. . Above all, remind yourself that your input to this child’s education has the potential to be life-changing. It may mean the real difference between the child reaching his or her potential or not.
I am good at lots of things especially drawing. I prefer drawing to writing as it helps me unwind. When I’m angry I draw pictures of really, scary monsters and aliens from other planets. Or I invent characters like those from my Marvel comics. One of my favourite characters is the Hulk. I think I understand how he feels because he doesn’t want to get really angry and change into the Hulk although he can’t seem to stop himself.
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