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Teaching A Child With ADHD?
Do you have or are you teaching a child with ADHD?
Whether you are a homeschool mom or a teacher in a classroom, you have likely experienced the challenges that come from teaching a child with ADHD symptoms.
You know the signs:
- Trouble paying attention to non-preferred activities (think math, reading, chores… whatever is not interesting)
- Hyperactivity (the wiggle worms)
- Difficulty taking turns
- Difficulty transitioning from one activity to another
- Academic struggles
- Emotional meltdowns when time to do seat work
- A bedroom that is always messy no matter how many times it has been organized…
- You get the idea…
ADHD Symptoms Can Lead to Tension
As homeschool moms know, when our children show symptoms of ADHD while we are teaching them, it can be challenging for mom and child alike. The child struggles to maintain attention and becomes bored and distracted. Mom becomes frustrated with her inability to teach her child effectively. Academic growth stalls out while frustrations and tensions between child and mom grow.
So what does the homeschool mom do to more effectively teach her child with ADHD? After all, her child’s engagement is critical to retention and understanding.
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My favorite OT
To gather some useful tips for teaching a child with ADHD, I sought out the advice of an amazing friend and occupational therapist.
Alicia Matthews, MS, OTR/L, has walked alongside my family for years. She has been a wealth of support for my family.
It is no wonder that I would seek out her advice and tips for teaching a child with ADHD.
Occupational Therapy for Learning?
Occupational Therapy is not a new area of intervention. However, more and more parents are just now learning of its effectiveness in addressing ADHD symptoms in children.
Sensory: 5 Senses + Two More Senses
Get up and move!
As an OT, Alicia starts with sensory strategies to improve all learning challenges.
When teaching a child with an ADHD brain, any learning that requires a child to sit and pay attention can be extremely tough. These kids have been wired to need physical movement to thrive.
Therefore, Alicia always recommends sensory input right before the child sits. When you can incorporate movement into a lesson, go for it!
Movement is a Must for Sensory Needs
While you’ve probably heard that getting up and moving can “wake up” the body, you’ve probably never been told why. When we move our bodies, our brain releases feel good chemicals that stimulate the brain and relax the body.
Tips for Teaching a Child With ADHD
1 – Vestibular Input
The vestibular sensory system involves changes in head position. This movement releases histamine, which increases attention.
Outside “vestibular” activities include going down a slide, swinging high in the air, or riding a scooter.
Indoor vestibular activities may include log rolls, spinning in an office chair, or performing inverted yoga poses.
2 – Proprioceptive Input
This refers to movement that incorporate changes in joint position. This movement releases serotonin, which decreases arousal level and “calms” the body down. (Think deep-tissue massage.)
Outside, activities include climbing a rock wall, maneuvering through monkey bars, or jumping on a trampoline.
At home, activities may include pushing/pulling a heavy bin of toys, deep pressure with a sofa cushion, or climbing up stairs on hands and knees.
3 – When Teaching A Child with ADHD Consider Time
When working on a difficult activity, start with small increments of time (5 minutes can seem like a day for some kiddos).
Set the shorter time expectation ahead of time so your child has confidence that they can do it. Whatever you do, stick to your word.
Increase time when accuracy and skill confidence develops.
Remember, Friend: “Small chunks of intentional teaching over time will yield fruit.”
4 – Obstacle Course
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.
5 – Seating
Varying your child’s seating option can be helpful.
For our more fidgety kids, these tools allow them to make small movements without being distracting.
These seating options can also be very helpful for kiddos that need to increase attention. For the child that seems to day dream (this is a gift as well), offering them these small ways to stay alert, can help.
Remember, these children have been wired to move. Don’t fight it. Use it to your advantage.
In the end, we all know that every child is different! If something doesn’t work, try another option.
Warm up your eyes!
Why is it important to warm up the eyes?
When reading and writing, your eyes perform a variety of movements. When these skills are not present or automatic, your 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.
Because the brain has had to expend extra cognitive energy just to control small eye movements, the child with ADHD has less mental capacity to control behavior and attention.
Here are some easy eye warm-ups you can do at home to best equip your child.
6 – Toss a Ball or Balloon
Hit a balloon or toss a large ball back and forth 10 times.
For older kids, you may vary the height and speed of the object.
7 – Tick Tocks
Complete “tick tocks” by looking up and down 10 times in a slow pattern. Follow with looking right and left.
You can add music and and increase efficiency by following the rhythm.
8 – 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!
9 – Teaching A Child With ADHD Includes The Environment – 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.
While it might be great to sit beside a window, it may be difficult to “tune out” distractions from outside.
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.
10 – Slanted Desk
When teaching your child with ADHD, try offering a slanted desk area. The left and right eye must work together to focus on text both near and far.
Many children struggle with this (termed eye convergence). This often explains a child’s complaints of headaches and lack of desire to read.
You can decrease eye stress by using a slanted board or large binder under your child’s paper or book.
11 – Reduce Amount of Clutter on Page
Full pages of text can be overwhelming for children, particularly with non-preferred activities.
We mommas become overwhelmed when we walk into a messy and cluttered house.
For kiddos with ADHD or any anxiety, too much at once increases stress. When overwhelming stress hits, forget effective learning.
When there is too much on a page, the likelihood of skipping words or full lines of text increases. This can often explain reading comprehension issues.
Let me emphasize that skipping words or lines of text is not always a willful choice or sign of laziness. This is an indication that something else is going on behind the behavior.
Quick tips to reduce visual clutter:
- Use a piece of paper to cover half of a page,
- or it can be used as a line marker when reading or referencing
- Purchase a page “window.”
- Use a white board and write one math problem on it at a time.
When Teaching A Child With ADHD – In Doubt Get An OT Evaluation
All in all, if you think your child may have ADHD and is struggling with learning and 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 teach your child with ADHD.
Even if you are concerned about the financial and time commitment involved in occupational therapy, I highly recommend at least getting the OT evaluation.
You will be shocked at how much you can learn about how your child is wired, where there may be weaknesses and how to best teach your child with ADHD.
Thank you to my sweet friend, Alicia Matthews, MS, OTR/L for her collaboration on this post. She has been a blessing to me and my family and I cannot more highly recommend her!
Alicia 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