Students with ADHD can be highly successful in school, especially when they learn in schools ready to understand them. Below are three classroom-possible strategies for supporting students with ADHD.
Play-based learning through curated sensory toys.
I love sensory boxes. They are full of novel opportunities to engage the senses and capture attention.
Typical sensory boxes, however, can be too cluttered for students with ADHD to use. Frequently, too many choices can lead to poor decisions. Another problem is that students with ADHD are often motivated by novelty and can get bored with even the largest box of sensory toys over time. Therefore, instead of presenting students with ADHD with a box full of toys, create a smaller box with no more than two sensory toys. Then, when the toys in the small box lose their novelty, you can replace them with new toys.
The ‘gold-medal’ level of sensory toys is designing instruction incorporating sensory toys. Some examples that I’ve seen are:
- Math manipulatives
- Creating felt puppets based on stories
- Collecting data using paper airplanes, spinning fidgets, or pop-up bubble toys
- SEL / PBIS lessons using stretchy, sticky, or slimy toys
- Writing prompts involving scents (i.e., Choose an essential oil that brings back a memory. Write about it.)
Physical movement / “Heavy” work
Recess is one of the most effective non-medicinal interventions for students with ADHD….and typically doesn’t happen until a few hours into the school day. Consider scheduling morning recess right after attendance and see if you notice a change in engagement.
Another great option is heavy work. This might involve moving books or desks. Older students might have access to a weight training class or bodyweight exercises during physical education. Obviously, movement is never a punishment, and we’ll want to tailor the task carefully to each student’s readiness. Nevertheless, improving physical wellness often enhances focus.
Sometimes, schools provide students with ADHD solitary places to work to reduce distraction. However, “body doubling” can often work better for students with ADHD. Body doubling is when a student with ADHD works on potentially tedious tasks alongside another person. The body double doesn’t need to engage with the person with ADHD…just work quietly.
People with ADHD (including me) report that having a body double calms anxiety and reduces negative feelings about tasks. While body doubling doesn’t yet have the same level of research as other strategies, a growing body of voices from the ADHD community has convinced me that body doubling is a strategy worth exploring in schools.