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Do children with attention deficit and Autism Spectrum Disorder feel too constraint in classrooms? The harsh reality is that this is true. If you look at it from the child’s perspective, staying put in a class for hours and trying to focus on lessons is hard, remember your school days? It upsets most such children. They find it difficult to sit still; give a quiet listening and concentrate on the subject. Is ADHD a learning disability? Not quite, but ADHD is a neurological issue and children with this condition find it difficult to concentrate and excel in academics.

Coping up with all that learning all through the day frustrates them all the more. But most among them, subconsciously, long to be like their peers. That said – is being able to learn and behave like their classmates, which is possible, if there are given specific goals with daily positive reinforcements. These could be meaningful rewards, far superior in their effects than a carrot hung on a stick. They get a child behave better in class.

How to Get a Child with Autism or ADHD Focus in the Classroom

Autism & ADHD in the classroom

Both parents and educators have a role to play in order to ensure that the child with ADHD or high functioning Autism are able to focus in classroom settings. Some of the strategies listed below can help, however please bear in mind that each child with Autism/ADHD is unique and what works for one child may not be as effective for the other.

Here are some of the helpful references that you can use. In this post however, we will talk about a specific strategy (more of that below)

One proven technique that you can use to immediately see some improvements is Positive or Differential Reinforcement. a key ingredient for that is to devise a plan that incorporates rewards that are proportional to the accomplishments.

The Problem that Kids with ADHD/Autism Have Classroom Settings

Autism in the classroom

Teachers must know the strengths and weaknesses of the children they have in classrooms. Look for anyone who’s staring out of the window when a maths lesson is given. Or, the one who can never sit still. Or, who answers a question with another question. All these symptoms (inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity) are exasperating to deal with. That’s because there’s brainpower you have to fight with. The problem with it is that focusing for a child with ADHD in the classroom is difficult.

That it disrupts the whole class and wrings time out for instructions to be explained properly. Still, they will demand attention in all the wrong ways (talking out of turn, moving around the room etc.), forget noting down what’s for homework or face difficulty noting down due to a lack of fine motor controls. Or, they might note it but not bring it completed to the school. Bad handwriting is also common among such kids. Read how to handle such behaviors in the classroom using circle of relationships.

Order is a problem with ADHD kids. Operations requiring orderly steps pose a big problem to such kids. Long divisions, lengthy equations, long-term projects without direct supervision – all are a part of it. They are lazy with their job and don’t let others accomplish their targets either. The kids may be are consistently bad with their grades; no amount of admonishing, detention, contempt or derision works. A low self-esteem often affects an ADHD child and complaints from their parents about the teacher not paying attention to their children are common. Download our Kit on Getting your child organized for school.

What you should do as an Educator or a Parent?

Patience. Creativity. Consistency. As a teacher (and parents also), you must have plennnnnntty of it. Your role is to take the child on a journey, act as a guide and an evaluator. Each child comes with his/her individual needs and strengths, without knowing which, developing a strategy is impossible.

Focus! Stay on Task! Learn to make use of their full capabilities!

Three Part Success Plan

The most important thing is a positive attitude. It is also the most effective tool. Once that is cultivated, then:

  • Accommodate all that you can to make learning easier for students with ADD/ADHD.
  • Choose the methods carefully that you’ll be using in teaching. In other words, create instructions carefully (refer to the Autism teaching strategy link above)
  • Devising interventions to ward off disruptions that distract concentration of the ADHD child and other students. Hand signals, sticky notes, unobtrusive shoulder squeezes – all work excellent! It’s better to ignore mildly inappropriate, unintentional behaviour that’s not distracting other students or disrupting a lesson.

Additionally, keep the following points in mind. These will help to minimize the distractions and disruptions even further.

Components of execution in Classroom Settings

Arrange a seat for the ADHD child away from the door and/or window, this will help contain his/her mind to the subject matter at rand rather than digressing outdoors. Best, if it is in the front desk and not disrupting your view of the student behind. Remember, preferential seating is a key component of the Individualized Education Plan (IEP). This will bring the focus on the teacher. Now to the rest:

  • Instructions to be delivered one at a time. Repeats could be necessary.
  • The most difficult materials are taught best early in the day.
  • Visuals like charts, pictures and colour-coding are very effective.
  • Create outlines for the notes you give. It should organize the information as it’s delivered.
  • A quiet area is the best.
  • Avoid long and timed tests. Frequent tests, with fewer items, work better. If the student prefers an oral test or a ‘fill-in-the-blanks’, it would be unwise to try changing his/her mind or forcing with another type.
  • Long-term projects, divided into segments with separate completion goals for each are more effective. Better, if the student is allowed to work it out on a computer.
  • Late works must not be reprimanded. Partial credits are fine.
  • Giving a student a master notebook to use (with separate, color-coded sections for each of the subjects) and inserts (homework assignments, completed homework, letters to parents). Make sure of not just the kid systematically writing down assignments and important dates but that he/she also uses it.

All these are beneficial, not only to the to a student with Autism or ADHD in the classroom, but also to the entire class.

Classroom Strategies to Maintain Focus and Concentration

  • Signal the start of a lesson with an audible sound – egg timer, cowbell, horn, gong – just anything. Subsequent signals may mark the remaining time. A list of the activities on the board is must.
  • Open the lesson by telling students the summary of what they are going to learn. Speak of your expectations out of them and materials they’ll need to keep up with the study. Keep the instructions simple and structured.
  • Establishing eye contact and holding while instructing ADD/ADHD students give great results. So does varying the pace of teaching and including other different but related activities to the main curriculum. They should be rapid and intense, like competitive games.
  • Frequent breaks are important if you want the child to learn well.
  • Squeezing rubber balls are a good physical outlet to let out inconstancy.
  • Questions must not be too difficult right at the first.

Ending a Lesson

A few points to keep in mind while ending any lesson:

  • Summarize the key points of the lesson on the board and make the students repeat it, starting with a few and then the whole class, in unison. Same when you give an assignment.
  • Be generous with specifics; not hints; even with the homework.

For more details, please refer to the post on Approaches for Teaching Children with Autism & ADHD in the classroom.


Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Gloria says:

    I have a 7 year old that has ADHD and Austim he is in 2nd grade and he is having so much trouble learning. He is running away from the teachers and just climbing the walls. He is having trouble paying attention in class. I need some expert information on what I should do. Maybe change schools or just keep him home for school all together. He loves school and wants to be a part of it but with his mind he cant.

    • Liza says:

      Personally, I found that doing some form of physical exercise before the day really started, well it helped me a lot. Going for a run or chasy type games. Anything that gets the metabolism pumping. It is a great way to focus.

  • Lily says:

    Hi i am lily i am 13 and i struggle with ADHD and asd

  • Sharon Shelton says:

    My name is Sharon Shelton and I am a graduate student. I would like to use the image under the heading – The Problem that Kids with ADHD/Autism Have Classroom Settings – in my thesis defense presentation. The image will be used for educational purposes only.

    Thank you.

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