What Teachers Should Know About Recognizing and Treating ADHD

November 9, 2011

The National Institute of Mental Health says that 3 to 5 percent of preschool and school-age children have ADHD. So, if you are teaching a class of 25 to 30 children, you probably have at least one pupil with ADHD.

This means that all teachers need to be aware of the signs and symptoms of the disorder, as well as know techniques for helping children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD or ADHD) in the classroom.

First, teachers should understand that an ADHD diagnosis may take time, and, in fact, the input of the teacher may help to make the diagnosis earlier. For instance, if you have a child in your class who is particularly disruptive and disorganized, it’s possible that he or she is exhibiting some signs indicating a need for further evaluation.  At the other extreme, you may have a child in your class who seems very detached, looks out the window a lot, and seems to be ignoring you. This child may be having trouble focusing, and, again, may need to be evaluated to see if he or she has ADD.

Other things to look for are children who have a hard time sitting still, fidget a lot, and run around the classroom. Some children with ADD may not be able to wait their turn and just shout out answers instead of waiting to be called on. A good strategy is to document the behavior of a child you think may have ADD. This can be helpful in helping the parents to understand what is happening in the classroom, and for helping a doctor reach the correct diagnosis.

Once an evaluation is done and a proper diagnosis is reached, a child with ADD usually responds positively to a program combining medication and strategies to modify behavior. Children with ADD are much like other children with disabilities, in that teachers can be most helpful to them if they understand the disorder and are willing to modify the classroom program to accommodate them. This, of course, assumes that the teacher knows what problem the child has. You can work with special education teachers, school psychologists, and the parents to ensure that the child is diagnosed properly and then to put in place the assistance the child needs.

Most children with ADD are treated with medication. You may have seen good results in a child who starts ADHD medication (and conversely, negative results when a child forgets to take his or her medication). So, it might be tempting to suggest medication to a parent. However, a teacher should refrain from directly doing this. Instead, recommend that the parents take the child to a doctor for evaluation.

You should familiarize yourself with the side effects of ADHD medication. For instance, a child who is just started on the medication may be sleepy. However, after the first week, if the dosage is correct the child should not be sleepy or listless. You should notice that he or she is more able to focus and is not as distractible.

Teachers should understand that medication alone will not solve all of the issues a child with ADD has been having in the classroom. Specific teaching strategies will be helpful in maximizing the child’s potential in the classroom. Working together with the administration and parents is key to designing a successful education plan for the child.

While it is beyond the scope of this article to discuss teaching strategies in depth, there are a couple of simple and universal approaches. A structured classroom is best for students with ADHD. These students need to have clearly defined expectations. Breaking down assignments into smaller segments is another useful strategy. Students with ADHD may need more time to complete assignments, as well.

Mom’s Take

I always hoped that my daughter’s difficult behavior was something she would grow out of. I thought of her as a bright, lively kid who had a lot of energy. When the kindergarten teacher hinted that we should have her evaluated, I resisted the idea—and even blamed the teacher for her inability to control the class. So while we had some warning signs about our daughter’s problems in kindergarten, it wasn’t until her first grade teacher spoke candidly with us about her behavior that we woke up. It wasn’t easy to hear, but it was what we needed to get a diagnosis and start to help her.