Teaching ADHD Students At Home: 19 Effective Strategies

Whether you are a new or veteran homeschool mom, harnessing the attention of the ADHD brain can be a challenge.  But, not impossible.  When teaching ADHD students at home, moms need to know how to work with the grain of their unique child. Understanding this makes all the difference.  Promise.

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Signs Of ADHD In Kids

What are the signs of ADHD in children?  The reality is that it’s different for everyone.  Some signs indicating that you’re teaching an ADHD student in your home are:

  1. Trouble paying attention to whatever is not inherently interesting to your child,
  2. Difficulty taking turns or making transitions,
  3. A bedroom, backpack, or binder that is always messy no matter how many times it has been organized,
  4. Impulsivity

You get the idea.  For more info on ADHD in kids and how to most effectively harness the power of the ADHD brain, check out Homeschooling The Distracted Child.

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Traditional Teaching & ADHD Students: Set Up To Fail

When we try to teach our ADHD students at home using the traditional teaching approach, kids are set up for failure.  Insisting on teaching our kids with a sit still, listenand do what I say mentality is a recipe for disaster.

Academic Growth Won’t Happen If The Brain Can’t Receive

For example, students with ADHD often struggle to maintain attention if they are forced to spend their cognitive energy trying to sit still.  Academic growth stalls while frustrations and tensions between child and mom grow.

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How To Teach ADHD Students At Home

So what does the homeschool mom do to more effectively teach her ADHD-wired student at home?  More importantly, how does she maintain a healthy relationship with her child?  To answer these questions, I’ve partnered with an amazing pediatric occupational therapist to provide you with 19 of the most effective strategies to use when teaching an ADHD student at home.

Occupational Therapy Helps With Learning

A good occupational therapist has a deep understanding of the brain, the body and how to optimize them both for effective learning.  Think of this optimization as the key to unlock the door to effective learning.  Alicia Matthews, MS, OTR/L, has been a key player in my journey to support our outside-the-box thinkers.  

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19 Tips For Teaching ADHD Students At Home

1. Movement Is A Must

Any learning that requires a child to sit and pay attention can be tough.  Many kids with ADHD are wired to thrive through movement.  Physical movement releases feel good chemicals that stimulate the brain and relax the body.  So when teaching to the ADHD brain, we need to get kids moving strategically!  Alicia and I always recommend the RIGHT sensory input before we have our children sit.

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2. Vestibular Input When Teaching ADHD At Home

Vestibular input refers to the sensory system that allows us to know where our body is in space. That tickle we feel when on a swing or riding a roller coaster is the brain’s way of understanding that you’re not on solid ground, for example. This movement releases histamine, which increases attention.

Vestibular Input To Improve Learning

Outside vestibular activities include:

  • going down a slide,
  • swinging high in the air,
  • or riding a scooter.

Indoor vestibular activities:

  • log rolls,
  • spinning in an office chair,
  • or performing inverted yoga poses

In my home, we love these Yoga Pretzel cards. Just have your child grab one or two and easily incorporate these movement breaks into your homeschool routine.   Oh no!  Yoga Pretzels are way too expensive on Amazon.  Try these instead.

3. Proprioceptive Input For The ADHD Brain

Proprioceptive input refers to movement and changes in joint position.  This movement releases serotonin, which decreases hyperactivity levels and “calms” the body and mind.  Think deep-tissue massage.  Wouldn’t that be heavenly?

Outside Proprioceptive Activities To Prime The ADHD Brain:

Inside Proprioceptive Activities To Prime The ADHD Brain:

  • pushing/pulling a heavy bin of toys,
  • deep pressure with a sofa cushion,
  • or climbing up stairs on hands and knees.
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4. Time Is Essential

When working on a difficult activity, always start with small increments of time. Even 5 minutes can seem like forever.  Set the short time expectation ahead of time.  This will allow your child confidence that they can do it. And whatever you do, stick to your word.  If you say 5 minutes, stop at 5 minutes.

5. Your Words Matter

Kids with ADHD and other executive functioning sturggles are continually receiving messages from the world that tell them they’re not enough.  Our words matter.  When laying out expectations, I usually preface it this way,

I just need your best effort for 5 minutes.  I know you can do it.

Slowly increase time when skill and confidence develops. Remember, small chunks of intentional teaching over time will yield fruit. 

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6. Obstacle Courses For ADHD Kids Improves Learning

When movement can be incorporated within a lesson, try utilizing an obstacle course.  Place lesson materials throughout the course or incorporate a “writing/reading/math” obstacle within the course. Have your child help create the course for increased motivation.

7. Check The Seating

A sensory cushion, therapy ball, or chair band can help a child who needs to sit.  For our more fidgety kids, these tools allow them to make small movements without being distracting.  On the other hand, they can be very helpful for kiddos that need to increase attention.  For the child that appears to daydream (this is a gift as well), offering them these small ways to stay alert can help.

8. Stop Fighting Against ADHD

Remember, our kids have all been designed differently on purpose.  Don’t fight it.  Use the ADHD wiring to your student’s academic advantage.  If something doesn’t work, try another option.

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 9. Look Behind The Behavior

There is always a reason behind the behavior.  And despite the predominant attitude that kids are lazy, there are often valid reasons for academic struggles.  For example, when the brain has to expend extra energy just to control small eye movements, it has less cognitive fuel to focus on controlling behavior and attention. 

10. Warm Up The Eyes When Teaching A Distracted Student

When reading and writing, the eyes perform a variety of movements. If these skills are not present or automatic, the brain has to work harder to compensate.  Understandably, this negatively affects a child’s ability to focus and sit still for a number of reasons.  Here are some easy eye warm-ups you can do at home to prime the eyes and the ADHD brain for optimal learning.

11. Toss a Ball or Balloon

Hit a balloon or toss a large ball back and forth 10 times.  You can change it up by varying the type, height and speed of the object.

12. Eye Tick Tocks: Improve Learning 

Complete “tick tocks” by having your child follow an object with their eyes.  Try up and down movements 10 times in a slow pattern.  Follow with looking right and left. You can add music and and increase efficiency by following the rhythm.

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13. Play “Eye Movement” Simon Says

Mirror eye movements made in the 4 corners of your visual field. Start with 1 movement and increase until someone loses the pattern!

14. Natural Lighting Is Best

Fluorescent lights can quickly cause fatigue, especially with intensive reading activities. Use natural light when possible, and try to limit visual distractions. When natural light is not possible, you can remove the amount of light bulbs in an overhead light or position your child with their back facing the light source.

15. Slanted Desk & Eye Convergence

Many children struggle with eye convergence (See tip #10).  Meaning the left and right eye working together to focus on text both near and far.  This often explains a child’s complaints of headaches and lack of desire to read. When teaching your child with ADHD, try offering a slanted desk area. Try offering a slanted board or large binder under your child’s paper or book.

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16. Visual Clutter Drive Us Nuts For A Reason

Full pages of text can be overwhelming for children (and adults… ahem… me).  We mommas become overwhelmed when we walk into a messy and cluttered house, right?  Too much visual input at once increases stress and shuts down a child’s ability to receive and process information.  When there is too much on a page, the likelihood of skipping words or full lines of text increases.

17. Visual Discrimination & Reading Comprehension

 Skipping words or full lines of text is not a sign of laziness.  It may be a sign of visual discrimination or other eye tracking issues.  Quick tips to reduce visual clutter:

18. When In Doubt, Get An OT Evaluation For Your ADHD Student

If you think your child may have ADHD and is struggling with schoolwork, I cannot more highly recommend an OT evaluation.  An occupational therapist can provide you with so much insight and clues to how to best support your child.  If you are concerned about the financial and time commitment involved in occupational therapy, the OT evaluation alone is so helpful.  You’ll be shocked at how much you can learn about how your child is wired.

19. Teaching ADHD Students At Home: The Training That Can Change It All

Does your child meltdown and cry every time they even think about schoolwork?  Refuses to do anything asked of him or her?  I’ve been there and I get it.  And I’m here to help.  

Homeschooling The Distracted Child Available Now

Sign up for the newly released workshop Homeschooling The Distracted Child.  I presented this workship at the 2020 NCHE Summit For Teaching Exceptional Children.  If you missed it, here’s your chance to access the training for 50% off!  Make the change today by investing in one solid hour of in-depth training for you, the homeschool mom.  You’ve got this!

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Alicia Mathews is a pediatric occupational therapist with 8 years of experience in North Carolina. She has a Master of Science Degree in Occupational Therapy from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  She developed OT Avenue, LLC in 2017. Alicia currently works in home health and private practice.

Homeschool ADHD Cheat Sheets

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