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5 min read

What accommodations are available for students with ADHD?

A schoolgirl struggles to concentrate on reading her book.

There is a stigma in society that claims that children who have ADHD are disruptive, misbehaving pupils who refuse to play by the rules, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Without getting into all the technical details of neurobiology, it can be easiest to think of it as children with ADHD just needing different conditions in order to fulfil their potential. In reality, it’s a bit more complex than that, but it’s true that simple accommodations can help children with ADHD to have a more positive experience in the classroom and at home.

 

How to accommodate students with ADHD

 

As with any condition, not all accommodations will be appropriate for all students, so it’s important to think about how you best support individual students rather than children with ADHD as a whole demographic. Some things may also be easier than others to achieve depending on the resources available to you and your school. 

On top of that, it’s worth being aware that students who don’t have a formal diagnosis of ADHD may benefit from the below considerations, too. Whether they’re yet to receive a diagnosis or simply share some symptoms and behaviours, it may be worth trialling certain accommodations to see if they can be of use.

So, what can you do to help students with ADHD or similar neurological differences?

 

Seating position

ADHD is often typified by difficulties in staying on task and focused in distracting environments. Classrooms can be very distracting, but there are some things you can do that might help to make things easier for students with ADHD. 

Seating position is an important factor. Some schools seat children in alphabetical order, while others don’t have a set seating arrangement at all. But the place where a student with ADHD sits can naturally have a big impact on how distracting their environment is. Seats by the door or by windows can be problematic, as there is so much opportunity for distraction. A quiet corner may be a better choice. Alternatively, a seat where a nearby adult can support can work, as this allows the responsible adult to help with any questions or difficulties the student might have. 

However, it’s important to ensure that this doesn’t feel like a punishment to the child. If possible, discussing the situation with them and asking where they feel would be the best place to sit can be helpful, as it allows the child to have agency and feel like their seating position allocation is a helping hand and not a punishment. 

Other thing that can be helpful in reducing distractions include:

  • Noise-cancelling headphones to help when engaging in focused work
  • Pop up desk dividers or barriers to block out visual distractions
  • A quiet corner or room where children can go if their environment is too distracting

 

Dependable routines

Routines are important to most children, and students with ADHD may depend more intensely on schedules and clear instructions. This is because ADHD is often associated with forgetfulness and difficulties remembering complicated instructions. Children who have ADHD might also struggle with maintaining concentration and managing their time in order to complete the tasks.

Where this is the case, it may be helpful to include clarifying statements where rules or instructions are laid out. For example, a poster that outlines exemplary behaviour might point out that working quietly is good because it helps the student and their peers to concentrate on their work. It might also be beneficial to dedicate time towards discussing common rules or instructions with students to help them understand the reasoning behind them. 

However, not all children with ADHD will work as well when conforming to traditional rules of quiet working, not interrupting others or having to work without sensory aids such as noise-cancelling headphones. While noise during focus time might distract some children, others may thrive on it, so it might be best to group such children together so that as many as possible experience the sensory environment they need in order to learn well. 

It’s also vital to consider whether a child’s behaviour is affecting anyone other than themselves. Other children aren’t likely to be impacted by one of their peers using a desk divider or wearing headphones, for example - although they might want to try it out themselves! If this is the case, allowing them to diverge from the ‘norm’ is likely to be more beneficial than problematic. Then, once you’ve identified what works for each child, consistency is key.

On top of all this, it can also be distressing for students with ADHD to have routines disrupted. Sometimes, of course, this cannot be avoided - for example, if the fire bell goes off during class. Where possible, though, informing them of changes to the usual plan of events can help them to mentally prepare for the new schedule in a more productive way than having it sprung upon them at the last minute. For example, this could mean providing a temporary, highlighted schedule to inform students of when classes will be held in a different location to usual, when a teacher is taking leave, or when classes are changing order.

Where changes to the routine can be planned for, it might also be useful to provide students with a list of instructions to prepare them for what they need to do. For example, in the event of a fire drill, students might find it useful to have their own little card telling them where to assemble, how to get there, which teacher they need to find and other helpful information. On top of that, a dry run of the fire drill might also help.

Of course, in order to inform students of changes to the usual schedule, there must be a schedule to begin with. All schools employ some sort of timetable that tells students where to be and when, but it can also be helpful to provide a written summary of routine within classes as well. This could be done in the form of a breakdown of lesson structure given at the start of the class to outline what will be covered that day. For instance, this could outline when students will be working independently and when they’ll be in pairs or groups, or what tasks will be set during the lesson.

It’s also important that medication is factored into the schedule so that students with ADHD who take medication can do so at the same time each day. Medication can be tracked easily using electronic health record software so that members of staff can check that the right dosage has been administered at the right time. 

 

Respectful communication

Behaviour that might distract others can be difficult to deal with calmly, even if it’s caused by something beyond the student’s control. Whether the child has ADHD or not, it’s always important to treat them with respect and work with them to find a solution. In many cases, behaviour typecast as disruptive comes from a place of anxiety, distress or frustration - and the way teachers handle this can either calm down or escalate the situation.

All behaviour has a reason, whether it’s conscious or unconscious. It’s a method of communication, and while children don’t always know how best to communicate their needs with others, it’s important to try to understand where they’re coming from. Building a bond of trust is essential to create an environment where children feel safe talking about their problems and struggles without fear of punishment or judgement. All this encourages a focus on solutions rather than consequences, helping children to grow and develop instead of focussing on mistakes.

 

Social support

Another thing that some students with ADHD struggle with is social interaction. Often, impulsivity shows itself as interrupting conversations, being unable to wait in turn or seeming disinterested in what’s being said. Naturally, this can be off-putting for those trying to make friends, but it’s important to know children with ADHD can make and maintain secure friendships despite these struggles. 

Many children need help with their social skills, and a common way of tackling the problem is through encouraged interaction. This might mean tasks carried out in groups or pairs, for instance, which encourage teamwork and cooperation to get the job done. To take it further, you might consider a buddy system where a struggling child with ADHD is paired with another student (perhaps even an older student who has adjusted well to working with their ADHD instead of against it). This can be a learning opportunity for both parties.

Again, what works for one child with ADHD might not work for another. The best thing you can do to support students with ADHD is to take their needs into account and discuss with them what could help them to reach their potential. It might help to track mental health incidents with digital accident recording software so you can spot patterns and triggers for behaviour that is communicating a missed need.

 

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