Alley Dezenhouse Kelner
Strategies for learners with ADHD - Part 1
ADHD is not, generally speaking, a deficit in focus--it's a possible deficit in the ability to attend to, or focus on, a particular idea, stimulus, or task. Often times, individuals with ADHD actually focus "too well"--just not on what you want them to focus on (not always ideal). If you haven't already, check out this post on hyper focus! For this reason, and many others, telling someone with ADHD to "just focus" is not a good plan (but you probably already know that because in a moment of frustration you've tried it--how'd that go?!). Don't beat yourself up, we've all been there. When you know better, you do better right? So let's do better together!
ADHD can impact learners in a multitude of ways but 2 commonly noted areas of impact are impulsivity and hyperactivity. Impulsivity and hyperactivity can impact learning at school, at home and engagement in the community. Impulsivity impacts social skills, self regulation and behaviour management, and even development of academic or cognitive skills. Hyperactivity impacts all the same domains, and then some! A common misconception is that hyperactivity exists only insofar as observable behaviour; in fact, some kids can appear (to an outside observer) to be calm and relaxed, but be experiencing extremely high rates of hyper active thoughts which causes the same or greater distraction than a hyperactive body. Picture a computer with too many tabs open at once--it can slow the whole computer/processor down and make it difficult to get through a single one-step task. As we work to improve our ability to support neurodiverse learners, we can use the following strategies to maximize engagement, accommodate needs, and respect the strengths and needs of the learner in a way that addresses hyperactivity and impulsivity from a place of compassion and understanding.
-Display a schedule; this applies to [home] school, social plans, daily "must do" chores--if it has to get done, it should be scheduled and referenced consistently. Why? Teaching your learner how to use a schedule/calendar is an easy way to embed an important life skill into day to day operations that will carry the learner into adulthood and provide a reasonable accommodation to stay organized. It's concrete, non stigmatizing, and provides visual cues.
-Be overt about the rules; this applies to [home] school, social plans, daily "must dos"--if it happens regularly, you should spell out the behvaioural expectations concretely and reference them consistently. Don't assume that your child will generalize rules or expectations from one context to another; be explicit, be clear, be consistent. Why? As adults we have a whole history of lived experience to help us figure out how to act in certain situations; we can "read the room" (generally speaking). Our kids, especially those with ADHD, need our help in determining (concretely) what the rules are and most importantly, why they are the rules. Reason with your learner--rationalize and explain (without being patronizing) without requiring blind cooperation "because I said so."
-Get in the habit of clearly outlining if/then behavioural expectations (if you [break the rule] then I/you will…) and be consistent! It's important to set out rules and boundaries, but they mean nothing if they aren't consistently referenced before they are needed. Why? Sometimes, we forget to review the rules and then we do it contingent on (as in just after) we see a behaviour that doesn't meet our expectations; when we do this, we miss the opportunity to teach before our kiddo has the chance to make a mistake. Unintentionally, our rules become a correction procedure rather than a tool used proactively to teach. Our kids can perceive this feedback as punitive, which misses the mark!
-Impulse control and hyperactivity of thoughts can make it hard to move on from an idea without sharing it; for our learners, this occur in off topic comments, long winded explanations or stories, or just objectively "out of the blue" ideas that they feel compelled to share. While often times we can gain a lot from these creative or outside the box ideas, the truth is that some times are better than others for sharing them! Sometimes, in class or during a conversation, our learners need reminders to stay on topic (or to transition smoothly to a new topic), to follow social norms for conversation (raising their hand in class before speaking, waiting for a pause in the conversation, or changing topics at the right time). A Blurt-Book is quite literally a notebook intended to store the big ideas as a way to "get them out" without interrupting the flow of learning or conversation but in a way that "saves them for later" and allows us to teach our learners that their ideas are best when shared, but at the "right" time so that they can be received with gratitude and appreciation rather than being dismissed and redirected constantly. Why? We miss a lot by not allowing our learners to lean into their "big ideas" but it's important to give them a concrete way to set the ideas aside (without the risk of forgetting them) when the timing isn't optimal. (Like say, when your kiddo has an extremely pressing [long winded] thought while you're trying to make a 3-point turn or parallel park). As adults we learn to differentiate the right and wrong times to share ideas, but even still many of us (especially those of us who become adults with ADHD) have to develop habits that align with our needs. Do you have a notebook by your bed that you write your night time thoughts in? A note page in your phone where you jot down random thoughts or good ideas? A working document on your computer where you track to-do items or next steps? These are all examples of ways we, as adults, use modified versions of a Blurt Book!
-Explicitly teach expectations in social situations by teaching your learner to assess “body cues”; what does body language/behaviour tell you about whether the other person is ready to receive engagement/social interaction? Am I sleeping? I am not ready. Am I alert and playing with you? I'm ready. Am I talking on the phone? I'm not ready. Am I looking at my computer and typing? I might not be ready. Sometimes, body language can be confusing or easily missed--in these cases, or other untrained situations, how do we problem solve? Teaching your learner to ask for attention "hey do you have a second" or "excuse me" can go a long way in helping them trouble shoot if it's difficult to read the body cues swell as giving them a way to ask for the attention they need when someone's body language says "unavailable". Why? Our learners can often have tunnel vision on communicating their ideas--which is, at times, awesome! It is also, at times, troublesome for mastering basic social conventions and ensuring their ideas are well received. We can help our learners navigate how to know when someone (mom, dad, nana, teacher, peer) is ready to engage (and reciprocate social engagement) by teaching them both (1)how to analyze body language and (2) how to trouble shoot or check in if they aren't sure or the body language seems to signal "unavailable". This will save your kiddo from having a complete (one-sided) convo with someone absorbed in a task who then looks up and says "were you talking to me?"