How to Help Students with ADHD from Day One
Early childhood educators are often the first to experience or notice attention problems in young children. Often, this comes from a drastic change in their environment and typical routine such as starting kindergarten; switching from playing at home or in a preschool setting to a more structured kindergarten classroom with rules and routines can be overwhelming for any child. It can be extremely difficult for a child with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). While the acronyms ADHD and ADD (ADD is no longer used) have been ubiquitous in the education and psychology world for decades, there are some misconceptions about the disorder that teachers should be aware of. There is more to ADHD than just an “attention problem”. Many students with ADHD have difficulties organizing tasks, act before they think, have trouble focusing, and can't sit still a lot of the time. Knowing the characteristics of ADHD will help educators understand the reasons behind certain interventions and accommodations that are needed to help these students who struggle with attention problems.
Many of these children come to kindergarten not diagnosed or medicated, primarily because of their young age. They also haven’t had a full evaluation to rule out other diagnoses or they are possibly just an “active kid” and ADHD hasn’t even been considered. Either way, these students can sometimes be difficult to manage in a classroom and can make or break the overall flow and function of a class.
This blog post is the first of a 5-post series that will provide teachers, parents, and anyone else interested in helping children who display common characteristics and symptoms of ADHD, but may or may not be identified (yet). These strategies are research-based interventions for ADHD, however you will find they can be applied to many other learning disabilities or disorders.
We all know kids need structure and kids with ADHD need even more. But what exactly does that look like? The key to getting your students to complete tasks and achieve goals is planning out classroom routines and sticking to them long-term.
This strategy may be written in every ADHD intervention article, but the concept of what this should actually look like is not always obvious. In an early childhood setting, such as kindergarten, visual schedules are necessary for explaining the daily routines that the child will go through to accomplish the day. Check marks or smiley faces with velcro can be used to mark off what has been completed and what is still coming up. [Breaking these visual schedules down even further to specific tasks such as a particular assignment is what you could expect in a perfect world, however without an aide or another adult in the classroom, these schedules are unfortunately almost impossible to keep up with.]
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Many children with ADHD are lost when it comes to organization. Being surrounded by constant clutter can lead to further distraction. They need a clean, organized environment so that their minds have fewer opportunities to wander. edit:Use bins, shelves, or other containers to organize toys and books in the home.
Typically, students with attention problems have low executive functioning skills. This fancy word basically means they have difficulty with planning, organizing, strategizing, paying attention to and remembering details, and managing time and space. Someone with low executive function needs to know and be reminded what task they should currently be working on, what task is coming up next, and when on earth will these tasks end. Think about a task you are uninterested in, such as doing laundry. I loathe doing laundry. I’m horrible at it. The executive functioning happening in most brains acts as a “subconscious checklist” by planning out how many loads of laundry you have, how long each is going to take, and the amount of time you need to set aside to get it all done. If we didn’t organize this information in our minds, we would never get it done because of how dreadfully uninteresting it is. And not to mention how it sometimes feels never-ending. You mean I have to fold all of this now? This is the same feeling kids get when they have to sit at their seat and read for 10 minutes or work on a math problem they don’t know how to do. Visual schedules make up for that “subconscious checklist” and will aide in their desperate desire to know “when will this ever end?!” Once a schedule becomes understood, stick to it. If a visual schedule is all a student needs to remain on task, then do all that you can to avoid changes to that routine. Having something intrinsically motivating within the daily schedule helps gets students through difficult tasks, which I will talk about more in the next post.