ADHD Tools For The Classroom
Students with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) work at a different pace from their same-age peers. They are often speeding ahead without proper instruction or distracted and falling behind. Teachers will speak of problems with the student’s self-regulation abilities when they talk about students with ADHD.
To understand self-regulation, it is important to understand the manner in which the brain can be revved up and the manner in which the brain can be slowed down. We do it all the time when we talk about getting excited for participation in a school sport or calming down to get ready for bed. The brain does this by processing and fine-tuning signals that either inhibit and dampen the brain’s response or facilitate and excite its response.
For students with ADHD sometimes the brain sends out signals that inhibit the flow of messages resulting in the child being slowed down. At other times the brain sends out signals to speed things up. The common characteristic of childhood hyperactivity known as ADHD is an overall simplified (or excited) state of the nervous system.
In the classroom, students with ADHD must learn to self-regulate by finding their most optimal mode for learning, listening, and doing what is required of them. Learning occurs best somewhere in the middle through a balance between super excited and un-enthused. Correctly balancing the “speed up” and “slow down” messages, produces modulation. Modulation is the brain’s ability to self-organize and to self-regulate.
The brain modulates itself by increasing the energy of certain messages and reducing the energies of others in a similar way that we use to control the sound coming out of a speaker by turning the volume up or down. This modulation can be referred to as regulation. To self-regulate successfully, one must independently achieve this optimal learning-ready state of mind.
Some students, such as students with ADHD, lean toward a facilitated nervous system. Decades ago, these students would have been termed “hyper.” Individuals with ADHD will frequently have tense muscles and their voices will hold excitement and urgency. These students look awake, alert, and full of energy. The aim in a classroom for students with ADHD would be to balance out their natural hyperactivity by teaching techniques that calm the nervous system. This will foster a balanced and middle of the road state of mind.
When students are in a very facilitated/excited (or hyper) mode, brain inhibitory techniques are required. Think of how you settle down an infant. You create an environment for them to relax, because they are too young to do it for themselves. Think of these same strategies, but with classroom friendly methods:
1. Slow rhythmical rocking. Often this involves walking, but the use of a soft seat pan cushion on the school chair can allow some slow, gentle sway. If the child is willing, accompany with slow deep breathing.
2. Wrapping in a soft blanket and dimming the lights is ideal for calming. In the classroom, the use of steady and gentle pressure can be calming. Many teachers find that the use of weighted toys, lap pads, neck wraps and vests can promote calmness. Dimming the lights is hard to do for just one student, but you can consider tinted overlay sheets of paper that reduce white/black glare from worksheets and textbooks. Studies of college students reported increase visual endurance when less distracted by the stark white/black of typical text.
3. Gentle and slow push/pull action on palms can be taught and our Occupational Therapist’s refer to this as palm acupuncture.
4. Circumferential pressure or gentle hugs applied along the length of the arms, similar to palm acupuncture and these can be performed by the student independently.
5. Brushing – This involves the use of a standard scrub brush and is used for desensitizing the skin. Gently move the brush over the surface of the arms and legs 30-60 seconds duration. Do every two hours to minimize periods of extreme or hyperactive states.
Tools for the classroom when teaching students with ADHD incorporate a compassionate mindset toward the child functioning at his or her own rhythm. When too excited, calm down strategies are needed. The student with ADHD can advocate for their own self-regulation needs and become increasingly independent in managing their own classroom responsibilities. We all learn differently and, with support, the student with ADHD can become an effective student and potential cutting edge problem solver. A skill our society needs in spades over the next few decades!
For more information on students with ADHD and other unique learners, consider purchasing my book I wrote on this topic called Unique Learner Solutions. It is available through this website or on Amazon.com.