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The Teacher’s

Guide to Common
Learning Challenges

From the ADHD Experts at


A trusted source of advice and information for families touched by attention-deficit disorder—
and a voice of inspiration to help people with ADHD find success at home, at school, and on the job.

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The Teacher’s
Guide to Common
Learning Challenges
Children with ADHD may struggle with writing, math, or even
public speaking. Here’s how teachers can help them learn and
thrive.

By the editors of ADDitude

Children with ADHD are not any smarter or slower than their class-
mates — they just think differently. Unfortunately, “different” some-
times causes problems in school — particularly in the critical areas
of reading, writing, math, and language. Thanks to working memory
deficits, attention problems, and organization difficulties, daily read-
ing assignments or math problems may become stumbling blocks for
students with ADHD — particularly those with comorbid learning
Early Signs of LD
disabilities. Learn what teachers should
How can teachers help? By maintaining patience and by using look out for in their students
ADHD-specific tricks to build interest, engagement, and inclusion. If a http://additu.de/red-flags
student in your classroom struggles with reading, writing, calculating,
or speaking, try these tips to help her succeed.

Reading
Some children with ADHD — particularly those also diagnosed with
dyslexia — struggle to maintain focus or interest when they’re reading.
These students must feel engaged and entertained during the reading
process — or they will struggle with comprehension and fluency. To
transform reluctant readers, try these strategies:

Ask students to rephrase. When a student must explain a topic sen- from the editors of

ADDITUDE
Strategies and Support for ADHD & LD
3
tence or main idea in her own words, comprehension and understand-
ing of the topic soar.

Allow annotating. Provide small Post-its so students can make notes


as they read. Ask them to illustrate scenes, define unfamiliar words, or
make predictions about how the book will end. No matter how messy,
the notes will help keep students engaged and allow them to remember
key points.

Teach students to ask questions as they read. Asking — and an-


swering — questions like, “Where does the story take place?” “What will
the character do next?” or “What’s the main idea?” will help the student
think critically about the book as he goes.

Allow students to vocalize, when possible. Even just whispering Rethink Homework
the words to themselves can help children with ADHD stay focused as How teachers can make
they read. If the noise is distracting to other students, try playing soft nightly homework simpler
and more effective
instrumental music in the background to drown it out. http://additu.de/rethink

Encourage students to use tools to track their place on the


page. Covering up half of the page with a piece of paper, or tracking the
line with a strip of cardboard, can help a student with ADHD visually
focus on the text. If the student is reading on a computer, install
BeeLine Reader, a tool that uses color gradients to make online text
easier to read and track.

Writing
The sequence of listening, processing information, and then writing it
down is extremely challenging for students who struggle with working
memory, planning, and execution. They frequently struggle with word
retrieval and language processing, so they may know an answer but still
be unable to recall it and write it down. These students often need more
time with language-based tasks than do their peers. Unfortunately, due
to the fast-paced nature of today’s education system, they aren’t always
given adequate time — which can lead to incomplete or lackluster work.
To help students with writing assignments, teachers can:

Shorten them. It’s no secret that abbreviating a task makes it more


manageable, and gives students a sense of control. Don’t require stu-
The Teacher’s
dents with ADHD to answer all 20 questions on a homework assignment; Guide to Common
assign 10 problems that will allow them to demonstrate knowledge with- Learning Challenges
out causing them unnecessary stress. from the editors of

ADDITUDE
Strategies and Support for ADHD & LD
4
Provide extended time. If the full assignment must be completed in
one sitting — like a test — extend the time to allow the student to better
organize her thoughts and fully tackle each question. If it’s a long-term
assignment to be taken home, give the child an extra day or two to com-
plete it.

Simplify note taking. Children with ADHD are often unable to listen
to the teacher and write at the same time. Allow the student with ADHD
to share notes written by another student, or to record your lessons, so
that he can focus on what is being said.

Don’t take off points for poor handwriting or grammar. If the


assignment specifically measures these areas, allow wider latitude.
Writing Wizardry
These students are expending enormous effort to communicate and Help your students find the
remember, so it’s best to let some things slide — as long as they’re dem- words
onstrating their knowledge and trying their best. http://additu.de/flow

Allow students to shine in other ways. Sometimes students with


ADHD struggle with writing, but excel at visual presentations. Children
who have trouble completing a written test may do fine when allowed to
respond orally to the questions. Whenever possible, allow the student
to express knowledge using his or her strongest skill.

Math
Math requires multiple processes and brain functions, and is difficult
for many students — with or without ADHD. Children with ADHD face
additional challenges; working memory deficits, executive function
challenges, or comorbid learning disabilities can make math feel impos-
sible and overwhelming. Instead of just dismissing these students as not
being “math-minded,” teachers should provide extra support and direc-
tion, like the following:

Keep a model of a problem on the board, when possible, listing


all the steps taken for solving it. Some students with ADHD have work-
ing memory challenges and can’t hold the problem in mind as they look
back and forth from the board. Write the same problem in the same spot
every day. Number (don’t use letters) the steps in the order they are to
be completed.

Simplify word problems. Word problems are tough for everyone, The Teacher’s
but especially for kids with ADHD. Make word problems more concrete Guide to Common
Learning Challenges
and visual to help them meet the challenge. Have them circle needed
from the editors of

ADDITUDE
Strategies and Support for ADHD & LD
5
facts,
for instance, or underline the key strategy or phrase like, “How
much did she spend?”

Use mnemonics. Acronyms can help students remember the order


of math operations. Use Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally (PEMDAS)
to help them solve problems with parentheses and other operations
(Parentheses first, Exponents next, Multiply or Divide from left to
right, Add or Subtract from left to right). Dumb Monkeys Sell Bananas
(Divide, Multiply, Subtract, Bring down) can make long division much
easier.

Provide frequent checks. Students feel understandably frustrated


when they complete a full assignment, only to be told they did every
Solve for X
problem wrong. Check their work every four or five problems, so you Making algebra easier —
can catch mistakes early and put them back on the right track. even with ADHD
http://additu.de/algebra
Again, shorter assignments are better. Avoid overtaxing focus by
assigning a child with ADHD every second, third, or fourth math prob-
lem, not all of them. Make sure that the problems you do assign help to
improve the specific skills you want her to master.

Language
Children with ADHD may have delayed language skills. They may
struggle to remember words, to express themselves, or to organize their
thoughts, which can make answering a teacher’s off-the-cuff question
difficult.
When a student can’t answer a teacher’s queries, it’s easy to assume
he simply doesn’t know the answer. But in many cases, this isn’t true —
the child may just need more time (and a little guidance) to retrieve the
information and formulate an answer. Telling the child to hurry up, or
moving on to the next child when he pauses, can damage self-esteem —
and stops the child from fully demonstrating what he knows. Use these
strategies instead:

Help the student demonstrate his knowledge whenever pos-


sible. Educator Richard Lavoie suggests this technique: Tell your
students to write down three causes of World War I. Pause for a minute,
then ask your student with ADHD to give you one — it’s likely he’ll have
at least one, but he may not have all three yet. After he answers, move on
The Teacher’s
to other students for the remaining reasons so he’s not too pressured. Guide to Common
Learning Challenges
Speak slowly, and break down information into smaller units. from the editors of

ADDITUDE
Strategies and Support for ADHD & LD
6
When teachers rattle off ten critical pieces of information in one sen-
tence, a child who struggles to process oral language may become con-
fused. Provide information in small units — and check in frequently to
make sure you’re being understood.

Combine verbal and written instructions to reinforce your


message. Writing key points on the blackboard during a lecture, for
instance, can help a student keep track of the main ideas.

Allow children to write instead of speak, when possible. Asking


a child to write an answer on the blackboard, or on a personal white-
board, can be helpful for children who are nervous to speak in front of Break Through
their classmates. How teachers can reach
and support students with
Be creative — and understanding. No two children with oral lan- ADHD
guage delays will respond to the exact same interventions. Work with http://additu.de/reach
the child to figure out what works for her.

The Teacher’s
Guide to Common
Learning Challenges
from the editors of

ADDITUDE
Strategies and Support for ADHD & LD
7
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