School is a really difficult place for people with ADHD, like me. A high percentage of special brains (as I call us) get in trouble or suspended, some of us even expelled. It’s pretty easy to see why. Nobody I know gets on the school bus thinking, “Man, I really want to get the worst grade possible on my quiz today.” But sitting in a desk, learning about things that may not be interesting, and not being allowed to goof around are constricting for any kid—especially for someone with ADHD.
Teachers made a big difference for me in school. I had a U.S. History teacher who really believed in me and encouraged me. She recognized my minor outbursts and squirminess as passion. It was the first class I got an A in and it was because I was interested in the subject and I had someone believe in me and who knew my capabilities—which, in turn, made me want to excel and not let her down.
Here are some ways I think you can help kids with ADHD excel in your classroom:
If you have a seating plan, place special brains toward the front of the classroom. (We’ll thank you later.) In my high school days, I wanted to sit in the back of the class with all the cool kids, but it was too hard for my brain to focus on the teacher. There was so much stuff for my brain to notice from the back of the classroom! I could check out the posters, other kids’ sneakers, the teacher’s desk. Oh, and don’t get me started on staring out the classroom windows. My brain loves staring out the window and watching people cross the street. It’s the same thing with watching ants (they’re always doing stuff, it’s really entertaining).
Give specific directions and be clear about your expectations. I hate when someone gives me a task that’s not very clear. If my mom tells me to clean my room, that’s pretty vague. Does she mean pick up the dirty clothes? Does that include emptying my trash can? Am I supposed to vacuum the floor? Does she want me to move everything out, clean it with Windex, and then put everything back? Should I get crazy with cotton swabs and turn my room into a sterile chamber? It’s the same thing with assignments at school. I don’t do well with directions that are open to multiple interpretations. Either I assume way too much, and go above and beyond what is expected (bumming me out), or I assume way too little (bumming out whoever assigned me the task).
Allow flexibility in assignments. Sometimes, writing an essay or taking a test isn’t going to inspire the same hunger or desire for excellence as doing an art project, writing a screenplay, or making a comic strip. I know it’s not always possible, but occasionally allowing alternative ways to demonstrate learning is a great way to get a special brain excited about school. Also recognize that being able to memorize and parrot back information doesn’t always mean you’re intelligent, it just means your mind is good at being filled with other people’s information.
Relate school to life. Find ways to make the material more accessible for kids with ADHD. I’ve always found that watching a medical drama or crime scene show makes science seem much cooler than listening to a lecture on paramecia. I never really got down with physics, but when I learned how important physics is to improving my cannonball technique, it made it seem a lot more relevant and interesting.
What other ideas do you have for reaching students with ADHD? Please share your techniques and success stories in the comments!
Jonathan Chesner was diagnosed with ADHD at age 9, and since then he has tried to use his special powers for good (like being creative and energized) instead of evil (like getting sent to the principal’s office). He started acting at age 18, and appears in national commercials, including a campaign for Jack in the Box that aired during the Super Bowl, and in television shows such as Veronica Mars and Bones. Jonathan grew up in San Diego, California, and lives in Los Angeles, California.
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ADHD in HD: Brains Gone Wild by Jonathan Chesner
The Survival Guide for Kids with ADD or ADHD by John F. Taylor, Ph.D.