What do you need to know?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can cause children to have trouble focusing, to not be able to sit still for long periods of time and to act before they think. A lot of children have trouble with these things, but in children with ADHD, this behaviour is extreme and has a big impact on their daily lives and their ability to meet the expectations of different learning environments.

ADHD is considered a neurological disorder. Research shows that ADHD is likely to be caused by biological factors that affect chemical messages (neurotransmitters) in certain parts of the brain. Because the different parts of the brain don’t ‘talk’ to each other in a typical way, children can have trouble thinking, learning, expressing their feelings or controlling their behaviour as well as other children of the same age.

The Raising Children Network explains that there are three types of ADHD:

  • ADHD combined type: children with this type tend to have trouble concentrating, are fidgety or restless and are always on the go. They often act without thinking.
  • ADHD inattentive type or attention deficit disorder (ADD): children with this type tend to have trouble concentrating, remembering instructions, paying attention and finishing tasks.
  • ADHD hyperactive and impulsive type: children with this type are always on the go, have trouble slowing down and often act without thinking.

Signs that a child has ADHD

As well as having difficulty keeping focused and controlling impulsive behaviour, children with ADHD can:

  • have unpredictable mood swings
  • make careless mistakes because they haven’t been paying close attention
  • seem not to listen to instructions or directions
  • be easily distracted
  • fidget a lot and not be able to sit still
  • be on the go all the time
  • talk a lot and often quickly
  • be impatient, not wait for their turn and interrupt others’ conversations or activities
  • have trouble remembering everyday things
  • often lose things.

Children with ADHD can also be creative problem solvers, good public speakers, and be energetic and enthusiastic.

Even if a child has symptoms like the ones above, it doesn’t always mean they have ADHD. There are other things that can cause behaviour that looks like ADHD such as age and maturity, problems with health, emotions, sleep or school. This is why a child needs careful diagnosis.

Teaching a child with ADHD

Students with ADHD are, of course, not all the same. The nature of the student’s ADHD and how it affects their learning varies significantly.

You could try some of these strategies to see what works best with your student:

  • divide tasks into smaller chunks
  • encourage students to sit near the front of the classroom to reduce distractions
  • try stimulating a range of senses using things like visual material and hands-on experiences
  • make a visual checklist of tasks that need to be finished
  • allow extra time to finish tasks
  • repeat and emphasise important information
  • link subject material to personal stories, images and sounds
  • organise more difficult tasks in the mornings or after breaks
  • make test and exam times longer to help with focus and concentration.

Teachers will also often work together with a child’s parents to develop an individual learning plan that will work for that student. As well as goals and learning strategies, the plan might include a daily routine for the child, so they know what to expect and that takes into account what their needs are throughout the day.

To find out more about ADHD and teaching a child with the disorder, visit the Raising Children Network and Australian Disability Clearing House – on education and training websites.