ADHD Teachers – 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 signal to speed things up. The common characteristic of childhood hyperactivity known as ADHD is an overall facilitated (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 modulate 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 OTs refer to this as palm acupressure.

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.


As an adult you know that the ability to pay attention and to control the content of your thinking is critical to a good life. When you pay attention, you feel good about reflecting who you are through your work, your relationships, and your contributions to this world.

What helps us focus?

Situations in which there are challenges, clear rules, and responsive feedback, tend to support the best environment for mental focus and flow of attention. Being challenged provides an experience for us to understand who we really are. When our mind is stretched to its limits in a natural effort to accomplish something hard but worthwhile, our level of focus maximizes.

But, how do I get my student with attention deficit disorder (ADHD) to focus?

A reasonable question when we’re talking about typical students. For the student with ADHD, however, focus is a multistep process and it can be super complex!

The components to achieving focused attention are in the body, not just the brain. Check if your student can do the following:

Correct head and neck posture – Whether we are talking about visual attention, such as looking as the front of the classroom, or auditory attention, such as listening to a story, the student must be strong enough to hold their head up against gravity for long periods of time and to position their eyes and ears for maximum function by facing forward.

Mature sensory system – The child’s ability to sense the world around them must be functioning well so that they are able to filter out inappropriate stimulation while zooming in and attending to very discriminate targets (looking at the teacher or listening to the story).

Memory intact – The child will need to relate this activity that requires their focus, to another activity relevant to the child. When a child appreciates the meaning of an activity, especially when it relates to the quality of their life, they are more easily able to flow into the new task and to focus on it because they remember a previous and similar meaningful event. Intelligence, problem-solving and memory need to be intact for good focused attention to emerge.

Strategies to try:

1. Gross motor exercises in PE and during recess that help strengthen the whole body for good head-on-neck posture.

2. Games emphasizing discriminative use of their sensory system to help develop the sensory system, such as I spy with my little eye for sense of vision, listening for different instrument in an orchestra for auditory sensation, etc.

3. Non-competitive games emphasizing memory for stimulation of memory and problem solving skills, reasoning and sequencing.

4. Strategies for mental flow to calm, focus, and attend. Lack of focus and distractibility are observed as a change in breathing rate. Breathing deeply and calmly can help managing thinking. Calm means restful alertness.

5. Humming can be an excellent strategy for focus when done at the right time and place.


When it comes to the student with attention deficit disorder (ADHD), it is not always poor behavior that causes the child to make errors while at school. More than likely, the child was already doing the best they could and applying their best effort based on their unique understanding.

As teachers, we want to encourage children to become independent problem solvers. Students with ADHD need to learn how to manage their thinking and to become logical and organized in their ability to sort out information. Teachers want these students to function in a manner that is overall productive in their life at school.

Teachers need to become aware of when the child is learning. Learning involves taking in information, weighing this information out in light of past experience, assessing alternative responses, and responding in a functional manner. Learning requires a vast amount of brain and body sensory processing. The steps leading toward productive learning are vital. Not learning is far more detrimental then not getting the question answered correctly.

Teachers can see when a student with ADHD is learning. Sometimes that evidence is different than merely getting the answer correct. When it does not result in the correct answer, the most accurate baseball toss or the most coordinated dance move, the teacher can still see when the brain is learning.

In learning to print words for example, the child’s first effort may show a slow pace of printing with care and excessive visual attention to the task at hand. The child’s second attempt may show that the child has mastered the shape of the letters and is able to print these at a faster pace with a steady hand. The third attempt may show this printed word in better relationship to the horizontal lines on the page and spacing between words.

When the student asks the teacher, “Which is the better?”, it becomes a difficult question to answer because each of the three work samples appear perfect in relationship to the knowledge and experience of the child at the time. The growth and development demonstrated through the improved performance demonstrate that truly the child’s brain is learning effectively.

Through this approach, the teacher will begin to see patterns in the child’s ability to focus, allowing the child’s performance to improve. The teacher can then identify certain environments and circumstances that promote the ADHD student’s ability to learn. At first, it is the adult’s responsibility to create a learning‑ready environment. Eventually, the child must become aware of those advantageous characteristics and implement them themselves. The child’s emotional response, their mood, will significantly affect their ability to learn. Initially the adult can help the child settle into the “right frame of mind,” but the child will need to do this independently very early in their school career.

For more help and information regarding ADHD you can read through my Treatment & Help ADHD section or read my blogs.  My book Unique Learner Solutions if also available to purchase by clicking HERE!






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