Essential ADHD Accommodations and Support Strategies for Children at School
Every child’s journey with ADHD is as unique as they are, with the spectrum of ADHD’s impact varying widely. Recognizing the diversity in ADHD presentations – inattentive, hyperactive, and combined – is crucial. While each family and teacher should tailor strategies to their child’s needs, there are some universally effective accommodations and support strategies that I frequently recommend, especially for those new to the ADHD diagnosis. Today I am sharing all of my favourites that I recommend to my 1:1 clients.
Frequent Breaks: A Cornerstone of ADHD Support
Essential to every ADHD support plan, breaks offer a chance to recalibrate. They serve multiple purposes: processing information, sensory adjustment, movement, and self-reflection. A structured yet flexible break system can significantly enhance an ADHD child’s learning experience.
Practical Example: Implement a private signal system where the child can signal when they need a short break. This could involve stepping away from the desk for a brief walk, a quiet moment with a book, or a few minutes of deep breathing exercises.
Embrace Movement and Sensory Tools
Movement isn’t just a preference for children with ADHD; it’s a cognitive aid. Their instinctual fidgeting and movement are more than just physical actions; they’re strategies aiding attention and learning. Incorporating movement and sensory tools into their routine can profoundly affect their focus.
Practical Example: Allow the child to use a wobble seat or chair band on their chair and/or have access to fidget tools. These can help channel their energy positively and increase concentration during tasks that require extended periods of sitting.
Reduce Quantity, Not Quality
The cognitive load of ADHD can make large assignments daunting. Reducing the number of questions or the volume of work, especially when practicing repetitive content, can be beneficial. The focus should be on mastering concepts, not struggling through an overwhelming quantity of work.
Practical Example: If a math assignment has 20 problems, reduce it to 10 but cover the same concepts. This approach helps maintain the child’s focus without overwhelming them, ensuring that they grasp the essential elements of the lesson.
The Power of Positive Feedback
Children with ADHD often encounter more criticism than their peers. Positive feedback can be transformative, building connections and boosting motivation. Regular praise for efforts and achievements, no matter how small, reinforces positive behaviour and self-esteem.
Practical Example: Take note of areas of struggle for a child and find ways to praise and reward great effort. For ADHD I always recommend praising the process over the final product.
Prioritize Recess for Holistic Development
Recess is not just playtime; it’s a critical component of a child’s educational journey. Studies indicate that recess can significantly enhance focus, social skills, and emotional regulation, thanks to the movement and interaction it entails. Unfortunately, recess is often used as a time for students who are behind to catch up or as a bargaining chip for behaviour.
Practical Example: Ensure that the child has full access to recess without it being taken away as a punishment. Encourage participation in activities that involve both social interaction and physical movement. I recommend having a note about prioritizing recess in every IEP.
Providing alternative environments with fewer distractions and allowing extra time during exams can be crucial. These accommodations acknowledge the unique challenges faced by children with ADHD, offering them a fair opportunity to demonstrate their understanding without the added pressure of a conventional exam setting.
Practical Example: Arrange for the child to take exams in a quieter room with fewer distractions. Provide extra time to complete tests, allowing them to process questions thoroughly and reduce the pressure of time constraints. I also recommend having a clock visible to any child with ADHD taking an exam so that they can pay attention to the time without feeling stressed about the unknown.
One-on-One Check-ins: Ensuring Understanding
Given the challenges with focus and working memory, students with ADHD might miss crucial parts of instructions. Regular one-on-one check-ins help ensure they understand the tasks at hand, providing an opportunity for clarification and guidance.
Practical Example: After whole class instruction is delivered the teacher or aid will connect with the child to go over instructions and assignments. This ensures they understand the task and provides an opportunity to address any confusion or questions.
Support to Start: Overcoming the Initial Hurdle
Initiating tasks can be overwhelming for children with ADHD, often due to executive functioning challenges. Tools like graphic organizers, sample assignments, or initial guidance from a support teacher can act as a scaffold, helping them overcome the initial inertia and gain momentum.
Practical Example: Use visual aids like graphic organizers to break down assignments into smaller, manageable steps. Starting the task alongside a support teacher can also provide the necessary initial push, gradually leading to independent work.
A Note on Deadlines: Why Pushing Them Back Isn’t Ideal
I want to close today by sharing a common strategy that I don’t recommend for students with ADHD, based on research and my experience. Often IEPs will recommend flexible deadlines for students with ADHD. While extending deadlines might seem helpful, it can inadvertently reduce the motivation power that a firm deadline brings and lead to overwhelming backlogs. Instead of pushing deadlines, consider reducing the workload, reassessing assignments, or offering one-on-one assistance. This approach maintains the momentum and structure necessary for academic success.
Our goal is to avoid situations where students with ADHD get so far behind that it is actually impossible for them to catch up by the end of a term or school year, there is always an eventual final firm deadline.
Practical Example: Instead of allowing constant deadline extensions, consider shortening assignments or offering targeted help. For instance, if an essay is due, reduce the word count requirement or provide an outline to guide the student.
These strategies are just starting points, adaptable to each child’s unique needs. Remember, the goal is to create an environment where children with ADHD can thrive, discover their strengths and overcome challenges with confidence and resilience. As we continue to learn and grow in our understanding of ADHD, our approaches will evolve, always with the child’s best interest at heart.
If you would like more detailed support on supporting ADHD at school, check out my downloadable ebook for $9 USD here: