Working with ADD

ADD permeates my life. My husband and daughter are both ADD, and I frequently teach students who also have ADD. I think I have a higher tolerance for ADD behavior than many people do; I have noticed, for instance, that others frequently seem to be irritated by a student’s behavior while I am scratching my head in wonder at their irritation. In fact, I feel awkward when things in my classroom are too focused or quiet. It has become glaringly obvious to me over the last few weeks just how little tolerance most teachers have for ADD behavior in their classrooms.

ADD, whatever its causes, is a reality of teaching school. How to deal with students who have ADD is the question.

I think perhaps this question is more difficult for elementary school teachers. I have my students for 90 minutes in a day at most. It can be exhausting when several display signs of ADD in just that short period of time, so I imagine it is difficult if the time is stretched out over a whole day. I’m sure its frustrating. I think it’s easy to forget that children with ADD truly have trouble controlling impulses, and it’s easy to blame them for behaviors that they have trouble controlling. And frankly, maybe it’s easy not to like them.

When you’ve worked with a child of your own, struggling because she just can’t seem to please no matter what she does or trying so hard to pay attention but failing, maybe you see things a little differently.

I have a little more patience than a lot of teachers I know, so some of the things that have worked for me might not work for others, but for what it’s worth, I have successfully used the following strategies in working with students who have ADD:

  • I don’t punish for calling out, but sometimes I acknowledge that a certain person has his/her hand up, so I want to call on him/her first, then the child that calls out can have a chance to speak.
  • If a student needs to get up and stand in the back of the room, go to the restroom, or get a drink of water, I let him/her.
  • If a student needs something to play with — a squeezy ball or some other kind of fiddle toy — I let him/her. I do better myself when I have one.
  • If a student is drawing in his or her notes, I don’t assume he/she isn’t paying attention. I doodle in my notes at meetings all the time. It actually helps me focus as I listen to details that I don’t need to write down. I have also been known to doodle while on the phone so I can focus on the conversation.
  • I frequently use a child’s name in lecture or discussion in a non-punitive way. For example, “Did you know that F. Scott Fitzgerald had the last lines of The Great Gatsby engraved on his tomb. Isn’t that interesting, Carol?” or “I don’t now about you, Jake, but I think Mercutio is kind of smart.” The student whose attention is drifting is brought back into the conversation, but not in a way that puts him or her on the spot in a negative way. Most of the time when I do this, they smile at me.
  • I have tapped desks and written sticky notes — “Stop talking” — to students on occasion, too, but those moves are not in the top of my repertoire.

It can be really draining to be surrounded by ADD, but I have found that I like dealing with students who struggle with attention. I prefer working with students who have struggles in general. I guess I like a challenge, or maybe I just like the way it keeps things interesting.

How do you deal with ADD in your classroom?

[tags]add, adhd, classroom, education[/tags]

4 thoughts on “Working with ADD”

  1. I teach at the high-school level and have found that offering a variety of options that appeal to different learning styles helps (differentiated instruction or Kathie Nunley's layered curriculum). Since I'm the art and computer teacher, I even encourage doodling đŸ™‚

    I try to observe when kids are having bad days and don't demand too much (except asking them to take a break if they are too noisy) and on good days, spend a little more time on catch-up.

  2. Those were some great reminders of helpful ideas, Dana. It gets pretty hard in some of our big classes to be able to tell which behaviors are caused by which problems. I teach all the ninth graders (100) and half of the sophomores (50). I have two young men diagnosed at different "ends" of the autism disorder.One who had a grandma who worked with him for 14 years before she died, and who helped him develop skills with concentrating, appropriate social responses, etc. The other guy goes home to an older brother who doesn't help him at all, makes his life miserable, and whose mom doesn't get home until after 7:00 most nights. This poor kid operates about like a 2nd grader in most academic and maturity areas and is having a tough time adjusting to high school. To top it off, instead of the individual aides to help them, they share one aide. This means that they have to take the same electives even if they don't want to. The boys don't get along, and should be put into different sections.

    (We are a total-inclusion school.) Their IEPs call for separate aides, and I have quietly told the one mom that I think she should think of due process and get the higher functioning young man a separate aide so we can put him in a section where he can thrive.

    Now, all this is happening in classes of 25-26 kids, there are kids who have been in juvenile detention, expelled numerous times in middle school for bullying and destructive behaviors, and threats against teachers and students, and then all the kids with ADD or other difficulties! Our special ed teachrs stay in their rooms, and we have to send kids to them out of our classes if they are to get help. My ninth graders HATE to go to the resource room because it makes them "feel dumb" and set apart-their words.

    I love my kids and each one is important to me, and I am very patient, but I often feel that public school teachers are expected to be miracle workers when the truth is that I often go home feeling overwhelmed by the load of work and the needs of the kids.

    Add NCLB and state graduation test requirements, and it gets almost more than one person can do!I need a magic mirror to tell me which behaviors are ADd-related, and which are just ninth graders testing the waters to see what is allowed, or kids just being normal ornery human beings, lol!

  3. I found your blog linked on I feel encouraged knowing that there are teachers who are aware of and attempting to work with students who have ADHD. I have a 14yo son with ADHD, just diagnosed. He is having a hard time, even on meds. He is feeling discoraged right now, with some bad grades and not knowing how to improve. He also feels ridiculed by one of his teachers. He had a situation in middle school that was so bad, he wound up very depressed and angry. Teachers have so much power over our young people's lives. It is heartening to read your blog!

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