ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders affecting children. It is often associated with being unable to control impulsive behaviors, being overly active, and having trouble paying attention. However, the increase in social anxiety, lower self-esteem, over/under stimulation, and difficulty maintaining relationships is often missed. Despite these challenges, those with ADHD often excel in areas where their peers will struggle, such as problem-solving, creativity, compassion, humor, perseverance, keen sense of observation, multitasking, hyper-focusing, and more! When you are able to combine their strengths with their schoolwork, that is when you can see them succeed. As someone who has ADHD and just finished their Ph.D. I have compiled my tried and true tips as well as suggestions from the ADHD community about their favorite ways to succeed in school. Here is a list of suggestions that could help your ADHD child succeed in school. *
*Note: Every child is different, and due to the different ADHD subtypes, these suggestions might not work as well for others. Feel free to reach out for more suggestions if you are feeling stuck!
Table of Contents
Play music or allow the TV to stay on in the background during homework time
While being overstimulated can cause a meltdown, being understimulated is just as dangerous an enemy to those with ADHD. If we are understimulated, we will find ways to stimulate our brain, even if that means taking our focus away from our schoolwork. Many students find that having background noise allows them to focus on their work. I highly suggest you find a playlist on Spotify or youtube of background soundtracks from movies or video games, or Mario Kart music. Bonus points if you are able to give them noise-canceling headphones to help them laser in on their hyper-focus!
Find a system that allows your students to remember their assignments and test dates
If your student is older, they can utilize a wide range of planner apps on their smartphone such as Google Calendar, MyHomework Student Planner, and My Study Life. For younger students, I would recommend using colorful markers on a whiteboard to help teach your student how to know what is an important assignment and the importance of deadlines! For more ideas check out this blog post: Alternative Planners for Students
Parallel “play” is a game changer
Parallel play is the term used for doing things next to each other but they can be very separate things. Having siblings do homework next to each other, or even doing your weekly grocery list next to your student will help them do their own work. This phenomenon is called body doubling, and it can help students do a wide range of things such as doing homework to cleaning!
Invest in some fidget toys or a bouncy ball chair
When ADHDers are fidgeting, it could be because they have too much energy, or because they are actually “stimming”. Stimming is a term used in the neurodivergent community to speak about the movements we do to self-soothe or help regulate our nervous systems. Those of us with neurodevelopmental disorders such as ADHD are taking in a lot more information about our surroundings than the normal individual, which can stress our minds and bodies. Overstimulation is as dangerous to our productivity as understimulation, and by stimming, we can regulate our nervous systems to prevent overstimulation from occurring. Fidget toys or a bouncy ball chair can allow your student to stim while working effectively. If this technique is successful at home, it can likely be implemented at school as well! It can help them pay attention in classes, during lecture material, accommodations can be made so that your student can fidget during class, and there are many quiet and non-distracting fidgets for this reason.
Find ways to tie materials to their hyperfixation or passion
Learning subjects that they aren’t interested in can be exceedingly difficult for ADHD students. Finding ways to tie their classes’ subject matter into what they already love makes it much easier! Is your student struggling with physics but loves space? Use rocket ships as an example to explain gravity, force, etc. If you are located next to a museum, you can also show them how their favorite topics utilize all subjects in school! You can also talk to the teacher about after-school tutoring or get your student a tutor to help them get specialized help on their work. Good teachers and tutors will be able to bring school topics to life!
Be your child’s biggest advocate
Your child knows their ADHD better than anyone else. Listen to their concerns and what they are struggling with, and help them however you can. Most teachers will be more than happy to help accommodate your student’s needs if you can tell them. Don’t expect your student’s teachers to know how to accommodate students with ADHD, tell them exactly what your student needs. This allows for fewer chances of miscommunication and will help the teacher work with you instead of guessing how to help. Being an advocate for your student also teaches them how to be their own advocate! Advocating for their own needs in future situations will allow them to continue their success.
ADHD brain works differently; embrace your child’s differences
ADHD brains are amazing, but because they are different from neurotypical brains, they can be seen as loud, rude, impatient, etc, when in reality they are just excited, passionate, and trying to understand the world around them. Society teaches us that differences are bad and that we should conform to the world around us. Allowing your student to unmask their “neurotypical mask” when they get home will allow them to feel at peace, destress, and help regulate their systems. Maintaining a mask for long periods of time can cause anxiety disorders, exhaustion, and debilitating self-esteem issues. Embrace your ADHD student for all of their wacky traits, and help them understand that while they are different, they are still capable of amazing things.
Written by Jenna Wiegand