Support students with ADHD through play-based coaching.

On 4 December 2021, I’m hosting an online workshop called “Classroom-possible & evidence-based supports for children with ADHD.” Because students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are frequently misunderstood and often struggle in typical classroom environments, learning more about what ADHD is (and isn’t) as well as what kinds of classrooms, schools, and tasks are likely to be supportive for students with ADHD is a really good idea.

After reading dozens of articles on classroom-based interventions for students with ADHD, the strategies in the workshop are there because

  1. The ideas work.
  2. The effects are lasting.
  3. The strategies are feasible.

Of the four strategies, the one that I’m most excited about is play. Read more below or click here to schedule a call to learn more.

What happened:

  1. Researches invited a students with ADHD and friend without ADHD to come to a clinic and play. 
  2. When the kids did something that supported their interactions with peers, the adult in the room told them what they did and let them know it was good.
  3. When the kids did something unexpected or unhelpful, the adult in the room suggested a positive alternative.
  4. The adult in the room began by asking the children with ADHD to remember what they did last week that “made playtime fun.”
  5. Parents scheduled weekly playdates with kids and offered positive feedback on specific skills.

The result was a big decrease in unhelpful/unexpected behaviors so significant that parents noticed the difference well before the end of the study. Most importantly, even after the play sessions ended in the clinic, the effects seemed to last, even 18 months later. So, if you try something like this, and it works, you won’t have to keep at it forever. FYI, six sessions of 20 minutes a piece seem to be enough.

Options to make this classroom possible:

  1. Do exactly the same thing: If your school has an occupational therapist, play-based therapy is a tool that they already know well. 
  2. Do it, but just do it medium: When students work in partners, give space for mistakes and be available for feedback.
  3. If you have access to a paraprofessional, either train them to provide positive feedback during group work or have them supervise the larger group while the you provide the intervention.
  4. Recruit parents to help. Give parents a step-by-step guide to the skills you’re looking to develop. Even better, use this free K-12 website to download and print pre-made skills cards.
  5. Keep it small: The key to this intervention is let students with ADHD know when they do something right. Your school / classroom likely already has a system for positive feedback. Using that same system to support students with ADHD might be the easiest way to get started.

Playing and working with friends is a powerful strategy for students with ADHD. Combined with in-the-moment feedback and support from families, schools can create exceptional learning environments for all students while offering students with ADHD effective and respectful support.

To be clear, replicating the exact same conditions of any research study is impractical. What I encourage my clients to do is to take the key elements of what seems to work and think through ‘classroom possible’ ways to incorporate what is most promising and realistic for them. In this case, positive feedback, clear expectations, peer modeling, and specific instructions for parent support are the key components of success. Trying any of them is likely better than doing nothing, and may even prove to be easier and more effective than trying them all.

If your school is implementing some aspect of a play-based support that includes peers, please let me know how it’s working out! And, if you’d like help getting started, click the link below and we’ll schedule a call. There is no charge to chat, and it would be my pleasure to help if you’d like.

Click here to schedule a time to talk about classroom possible, evidence-based supports for students with ADHD.

Wilkes-Gillan, Sarah, Anita Bundy, Reinie Cordier, and Michelle Lincoln. “Evaluation of a pilot parent-delivered play-based intervention for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.” AJOT: American Journal of Occupational Therapy 68, no. 6 (2014): 700+. Gale Academic OneFile (accessed November 9, 2021).

Leave a Reply