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Margaret V. Austin, Ph.D., edited by C. E. Zupanick, Psy.D.

Supports are additional resources, techniques, or modifications that help people to improve and grow. Like a structural support beam in a building, supports provide folks with additional strength so they build success. For children with ADHD, supports are provided by both schools and families.

Educational Supports for ADHD children

school buildingSchool success may require a range of supports. Problems at school or work are the most universal, and arguably, the most troubling symptom of ADHD. Performing poorly at school can harm a child's sense of self-worth, and negatively affect their future well-being.

Fortunately, many children with ADHD can be taught in a regular classroom with minor modifications. Some children will benefit from additional assistance using special education services. This service may take place within the child's usual classroom, or it may take place outside of the regular classroom. This decision is based upon a child's unique learning needs. The exact type of service, and where it is performed, will be decided by the school. However, caregivers certainly have input. Therefore, caregivers can act as advocates for their children.

Many of the same techniques that are helpful to children with ADHD often benefit their classmates as well. For example, children with ADHD frequently have trouble with organization. Teachers can help by establishing a predictable classroom routine. This would include a consistent schedule and a neat and orderly storage of classroom materials. This support helps kids with, and without, ADHD improve organizational skills.

The teacher's use of visual cues and consistent design elements, such as color-coded learning tools, can provide external structure. Overtime these cues become familiar and internalized, which facilitates learning. PowerPoint slides with pointers, arrows, and markers can help the student with ADHD learn to organize information, and to stay on track. Another helpful technique is to divide larger projects into several smaller tasks. Teachers may list the tasks that need to be completed, and mark off tasks as they completed. In this way, students can see their progress. Older children may benefit from learning how to take notes, and other specific learning skills.

For many students, these modifications to the regular classroom are sufficient. However, some others may require additional special educational services to maximize their learning opportunities. Typically, regular classrooms have a large number of students with a broad range of abilities. As students move to higher grades, more independent study is required to accommodate the wide range of abilities. Most children with ADHD benefit from more individualized attention. This extra attention is only possible with smaller, more structured classrooms that have fewer distractions. In special education classrooms, there is more direct supervision. The teacher-student ratio is much smaller. This makes individualized attention possible. The most successful special education settings would also include medication management, and a consistently applied behavioral program.

Typically, a behavioral plan would be developed. A behavioral plan for the classroom not only teaches desired behaviors, but also provides each child with a structure that helps them to perform well.

Here are some examples of additional supports provided by a special education teacher:

  • Provide immediate feedback about behavior.
  • Consistently and immediately reward positive behavior.
  • Actively and directly engage with each student.
  • Limit distractions.
  • Provide extra reminders about deadlines, or extending time frames.
  • Develop curriculums that center around the interests, abilities, and needs of each student.
  • Adopt a more permissive approach to mobility about the classroom.
  • Avoid large quantities of worksheets.
  • Organize collaborative learning projects.
  • Minimize formal tests.
  • Make accommodations for tests. For instance, allow children to go to the bathroom during the test, or to take breaks during testing.
  • Regularly and frequently communicate with caregivers as team members.
  • Make learning fun!

A discussion of a child's specialized needs does not discount the child's many strengths. People with ADHD are often verbal and creative thinkers. They are frequently the "idea people" who can see the "big picture" without getting lost in the detail. They tend to have good long-term memories. They can learn complex material by understanding the gestalt or how the different elements fit together to create the whole concept. In contrast, the areas of challenge for students with ADHD often include rote learning (memorization of lists of facts), organization, sequencing, and short-term memory.

Family supports

It cannot be emphasized enough. Families are the key ingredient for successful ADHD treatment. Without the help and support of their families, children with ADHD cannot take advantage of the therapies, medications, and educational supports. Therefore, we've devoted the entire next section to discuss this central role of families.