Teaching Children with Attention Deficit/
Hyperactivity Disorder: Update 1998
ERIC EC Digest #E569 - September 1998
Defining Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention
Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD)
Attention deficit disorder is a syndrome characterized
by serious and persistent difficulties in the following three specific
- Attention span.
- Impulse control.
- Hyperactivity (sometimes).
ADD is a chronic disorder that can begin in infancy
and extend through adulthood, having negative effects on a child's life
at home, school, and within the community. It is conservatively estimated
that 3 to 5% of our school-age population is affected by ADD.
The condition previously fell under the headings,
"learning disabled," "brain damaged," "hyperkinetic," or "hyperactive."
The term attention deficit disorder was introduced to describe the characteristics
of these children more clearly.
Diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder/Hyperactivity
According to the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical
Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed., rev.) (American Psychiatric Association,
1994), to be diagnosed as having ADD/ADHD, the clinician must note the
presence of at least 6 of the 9 following criteria for either Attention
Span or Hyperactivity/Impulsivity.
Attention Span Criteria
Pays little attention to details; makes careless
Has short attention span
Does not listen when spoken to directly
Does not follow instructions; fails to finish tasks
Has difficulty organizing tasks
Avoids tasks that require sustained mental effort
Is easily distracted
Is forgetful in daily activities
Fidgets; squirms in seat
Leaves seat in classroom when remaining seated is expected
Often runs about or climbs excessively at inappropriate times
Has difficulty playing quietly
Blurts out answers before questions are completed
Has difficulty awaiting turn
Often interrupts or intrudes on others
Establishing the Proper Learning Environment
- Seat students with ADD near the teacher's
desk, but include them as part of the regular class seating.
- Place these students up front with their
backs to the rest of the class to keep other students out of view.
- Surround students with ADD with good role
- Encourage peer tutoring and cooperative/collaborative
- Avoid distracting stimuli. Try not to place
students with ADD near air conditioners, high traffic areas, heaters,
or doors or windows.
- Children with ADD do not handle change well,
so avoid transitions, physical relocation (monitor them closely on
field trips), changes in schedule, and disruptions.
- Be creative! Produce a stimuli-reduced study
area. Let all students have access to this area so the student with
ADD will not feel different.
- Encourage parents to set up appropriate study
space at home, with set times and routines established for study,
parental review of completed homework, and periodic notebook and/or
book bag organization.
Giving Instructions to Students with ADD/ADHD
- Maintain eye contact during verbal instruction.
- Make directions clear and concise. Be consistent
with daily instructions.
- Simplify complex directions. Avoid multiple
- Make sure students comprehend the instructions
before beginning the task.
- Repeat instructions in a calm, positive
manner, if needed.
- Help the students feel comfortable with
seeking assistance (most children with ADD will not ask for help).
Gradually reduce the amount of assistance, but keep in mind that these
children will need more help for a longer period of time than the
- Require a daily assignment notebook if necessary:
- Make sure each student correctly writes down
all assignments each day. If a student is not capable of this,
the teacher should help him or her.
- Sign the notebook daily to signify completion
of homework assignments. (Parents should also sign.)
- Use the notebook for daily communication with
- Give out only one task at a time.
- Monitor frequently. Maintain a supportive
- Modify assignments as needed. Consult with
special education personnel to determine specific strengths and weaknesses
of each student.
- Develop an individualized education program.
- Make sure you are testing knowledge and
not attention span.
- Give extra time for certain tasks. Students
with ADD may work slowly. Do not penalize them for needing extra time.
- Keep in mind that children with ADD are easily
frustrated. Stress, pressure, and fatigue can break down their self-control
and lead to poor behavior.
Modifying Behavior and Enhancing Self-Esteem
Providing Supervision and Discipline:
- Remain calm, state the infraction of the rule,
and avoid debating or arguing with the student.
- Have preestablished consequences for misbehavior.
- Administer consequences immediately, and monitor
proper behavior frequently.
- Enforce classroom rules consistently.
- Make sure the discipline fits the "crime," without
- Avoid ridicule and criticism. Remember, children
with ADD have difficulty staying in control.
- Avoid publicly reminding students on medication
to "take their medicine."
Other Educational Recommendations
- Reward more than you punish, in order to build
- Praise immediately any and all good behavior and
- Change rewards if they are not effective in motivating
- Find ways to encourage the child.
- Teach the child to reward himself or herself.
Encourage positive self-talk (e.g., "You did very well remaining in
your seat today. How do you feel about that?"). This encourages the
child to think positively about himself or herself.
- Educational, psychological, and/or neurological
testing to determine learning style and cognitive ability and to rule
out any learning disabilities (common in about 30% of students with
- A private tutor and/or peer tutoring at school.
- A class that has a low student-teacher ratio.
- Social skills training and organizational skills
- Training in cognitive restructuring (positive
"self-talk," e.g., "I did that well").
- Use of a word processor or computer for schoolwork.
- Individualized activities that are mildly competitive
or noncompetitive such as bowling, walking, swimming, jogging, biking,
karate. (Note: Children with ADD/ADHD may do less well than their
peers in team sports.)
- Involvement in social activities such as scouting,
church groups, or other youth organizations that help develop social
skills and self-esteem.
- Allowing children with ADD to play with younger
children if that is where they fit in. Many children with ADD have
more in common with younger children than with their age-peers. They
can still develop valuable social skills from interaction with younger
American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic
and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., rev.) (DSM-IV-R).
Washington, DC: APA.
Bender, W. (1997). Understanding ADHD: A Practical
Guide for Teachers and Parents. Upper Saddle River, NJ:Merrill/Prentice
Fiore, T. (1993). Educational interventions for students
with attention deficit disorder. Exceptional Children, 60(2), 163-73.
Gardill, M. (1996). Classroom strategies for managing
students with attention deficit/ hyperactivity disorder. Intervention
in School and Clinic, 32(2), 89-94.
Hallowell, E. (1994). Driven to Distraction: Recognizing
and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder from Childhood through Adulthood.
Tappan, NJ: Simon & Schuster.
Hartmann, T. (1993). Attention Deficit Disorder:
A Different Perception. Novato, CA: Underwood-Miller.
Reeve, R. (1996). A Continuing Education Program
on Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Reston, VA: Council for
Rief, S. (1997). The ADD/ADHD Checklist. An Easy
Reference for Parents and Teachers. Reston, VA: Council for Exceptional
Robelia, B. (1997). Tips for working with ADHD students
of all ages. Journal of Experiential Education, 20(1), 51-53.
Schiller, E. (1996). Educating children with attention
deficit disorder. Our Children, 22(2), 32-33.
For more information on ADD, write to:
Children with Attention Deficit Disorder
1859 North Pine Island Road
Plantation, FL 33322
Contact your local school psychologist, examiner,
or personnel in charge of assessment and diagnosis in your school district
for specific information and local programs.
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Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement,
under Contract No. RI93002005. The opinions expressed in this report
do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of OERI or the
Department of Education.
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