Supporting Students with ADHD

  • Setting up the Environment/Classroom:

    • Make the rules very clear—post them and review often.
    • Position/move the desk to where there are fewer distractions, close to the teacher (to monitor, check in and encourage)—away from doors or windows.
    • Consider positioning a well focused/attentive student next to the target student and encourage this student to be a “peer helper”
    • Use privacy boards to limit distractions during seat work, but remember not to embarrass the student—they should not be used as punishment
    • For students with ADHD it is typically better to arrange in rows vs. table groups.Table groups can be distracting. Horseshoe shape can promote some limited distraction but still encourage cooperation and group discussion. Try to avoid having the target student’s desk touch other student’s desks.  Remember that ADHD students can be very distracted by noises and movement.
    • Headphones can often assist to block out noise—but remember to encourage the student to wear, do not force
    • Quiet corners can be adapted as “special” learning areas for quiet independent work. These spaces should be reviewed with the student—when and how they are used.  These spaces should not be used as punishment, instead the student should be encouraged to independently request and use
    • Use peer buddies/mentors when possible. These students will need to have some instruction about how to be good helpers
    • Ensure transition cues within the classroom are very salient (e.g a bell, a 3 clap signal, etc)
    • Interact frequently with the target student—it often helps to stand near the student during lessons and to assist them in regaining attention a hand on the desk can draw their attention.
    • Students with ADD/ADHD often NEED to move. If they move a great deal and distract others—special consideration will need to be given to allow for at least some movement.  For example,  a student sitting on the carpet during a large group lesson may roll around or spread out, therefore he will need some defined space away from peers, but remember that trying to “contain” this student will likely result in failure and more distraction.  Use tape or  a larger carpet square to identify the target student’s special space and review the expectations that he remain in the space.

    Scheduling and Activities:

    • The target student performs better when they can anticipate the day’s events. Use written or symbol/pictoral schedules to outline the day
    • Many students with ADHD perform better in the morning, therefore it may be necessary to modify the routines to ensure success—alter/amend schedule if possible to accommodate the student and capitalize on their abilities


    • Stand near the target student when giving directions or presenting a lesson
    • When possible use the target student’s worksheet or work as an example-to build confidence
    • If the student often brings little things from home, make sure that the classroom rule is very clear. It may help to provide a specific box/bin that the student can place the item into, and then have access at appropriate times. 
    • Provide outlines or cue cards to the target student during large group instruction.For example, a list of key vocabulary for a science project can be listed with simple definitions. 
    • Pacing of instruction can impact a student withADHD—they may become bored easily.Adding activities during verbal instruction can encourage attention.
    • Fidgets are almost always needed during longer verbal lectures/instruction. Don’t worry if the student is not attending visually, most ADHD students are still listening. 
    • Allow target student to make frequent responses throughout the lesson—if on topic.Choral responding can be helpful—to encourage responding on cue vs.blurting out.  Use hand signals to encourage waiting and quiet. Teaching the hand signal meanings to the entire class and reviewing and rewarding often can be very helpful. 
    • Hands on activities and using manipulatives are very beneficial for students with ADHD—use when possible.
    • Pair up students to check work
    • If giving multiple step verbal directions, be sure to have an additional visual for the target student
    • Having the student paraphrase the expectations is always helpful, but do so in a respectful manner
    • If the target student works quickly but makes many mistakes, it will be necessary to teach the student to check work once done, and/or raise hand to have teacher check
    • Teach the student to track reading with a pencil or index card
    • Most ADD/ADHD students become overwhelmed with larger assignments. Break down these assignments into smaller chunks—with short breaks in between.  Check on the student often and provide positive feedback and support for corrections

    Helping Organize the Student:

    • Use dividers and folders with clear labels
    • Have a schedule of desk organization for the entire class and teach the target student a system to help them learn to organize their own space
    • Schedule a time at the end of the school day for all students to organize their materials before they leave
    • Graph paper for math problems can help a student align numbers and not make simple mistakes
    • Modify amount of work when possible—as the target student will likely complete much less work than his peers. Have him do every other problem or every 3rd problem, cut a worksheet in half, etc. 
    • When possible, and age appropriate, teach the student to keyboard.
    • Most students with ADD/ADHD require specific communication with parents regarding assignments, homework, tests. This log/notebook should be managed initially by an adult, but over time the student will need to learn to document and deliver to parents independently
    • Having a tangible reward system for when a student is independent or successful with turning in homework, organizing self, etc can build strong skills for the future (e.g. “bucks” to trade in at end of week)
    • Provide a clearly defined area for turning in homework or other assignments.Provide stable times of the day for this to occur (e.g. in the morning).  Remember that a student’s homework if often completed and stuffed in their backpack—either teach them to look or have a specific folder they can take our—OR accept initial responsibility for getting the homework out yourself
    • Having an extra set of text books in the home can reduce the frequency of “forgetting” and thereby reducing work completed

    Targeting Behaviors:

    • Instead of confronting the student about inappropriate behaviors, point out and reward the positive alternate choices—“catch the student being good”
    • Teach the target student cues to change behavior. For example, if the student is blurting out, the adult can raise their hand as they are looking at the student and wait—this cues the student to raise hand vs. blurt out.  Visual cues can also be created.  All cues need to be taught and reviewed often
    • Using positive reinforcement (verbal praise, tangible rewards) will change behavior if applied at a rate that is meaningful. Work with your team to develop such a system and implement consistently. 
    • Try to listen to the student, they have important information to share that is often extremely valuable in further supporting them with success
    • Attempt to build a positive relationship that is predictable and trusting—this will further promote “instructional control”
    • Determine what the priorities are for behavior change –don’t pick every battle.Students with ADD/ADHD have executive function deficits—frontal lobes are under developed and this significantly impacts their ability to control impulses, maintain attention, initiate work, stay on task, ignore distractions, etc.  When they are younger they need lots of adult support to do all of these things—and need many reminders.  They are not willfully engaging in these behaviors to disrupt or cause issues, they have a neurological disorder.
    • Movement is often needed, allow for extra trips to the bathroom, standing or pacing in the back of the room, delivering messages to the office, etc.
    • Students with ADD/ADHD can experience many difficulties in the social area—especially with peer relationships They tend to have trouble picking up social cues, they act impulsively, have limited self awareness of their effect on others, display delayed role taking ability, and over personalize other’s actions as being criticism.  When possible encourage social interactions and pair students to build relationships.
    • Such students often repeat errors and do not learn from their mistakes, direct instruction is critical as well as guided practice and reinforcement
    • Conversation skills are also at a deficit—they may ramble and say embarrassing things—please guide them with positive feedback and models
    • Less structured time tends to be problematic for these students. Review the expectations with them directly before these times and check in frequently—with positive guidance and feedback
    • Recess may need to be guided and broken up into smaller segments (play, check in, play, check in)—larger blocks of unstructured time can be problematic for these students
    • Developing a recess plan and reviewing this plan before each recess can increase success


    Websites:  (this is a great article) article) paper)