The classroom is a challenging place for a child with ADHD. A school classroom is teeming with potentially stressful activities, difficult-to-ignore distractions, unfamiliar social situations, and new experiences. For a child with impulse-control limitations, the expectations of a classroom environment can be almost impossible to navigate.
Fortunately, if the teacher designs the environment with effective ADHD intervention strategies in mind, the classroom can be a place where your child is encouraged to blossom.
A 2016 study of the effectiveness of classroom intervention strategies for children with ADHD looked at a variety of intervention techniques in regard to their success at improving academic outcomes and reducing classroom disruptions. The study considered antecedent-based strategies (which focus on the conditions preceding the problem behaviors), consequence-based strategies (which focus on what happens after the behavior), self-regulation strategies (which give the student tools to help control his or her own behavior), and combined approaches.
The study found that all types of intervention strategies were helpful in keeping children with ADHD focused on tasks and preventing them from being disruptive. The most effective intervention types, however, seemed to be consequence-based and self-regulation strategies.
Most encouragingly, the use of these intervention techniques seems to consistently improve academic outcomes, both for the child with ADHD and for his or her peers in the classroom.
When we consider the idea of consequences for children who engage in problematic behavior, we might be tempted to think, first, of negative consequences or discipline for bad behavior. However, with children affected by ADHD, intervention strategies should involve positive reinforcement of desired behavior, too. Only after a system of positive feedback and reinforcement is in place should gentle disciplinary techniques also be applied.
With that in mind, consider these consequence-based approaches:
- Verbal Feedback. Children with ADHD often respond best when they are given frequent, immediate, and specific verbal feedback. That means praising them quickly when they do things well, being sure to call out exactly what they’ve done right. They can also benefit from consistent guidance and redirection to remind them of what they should be doing.
When the child engages in problematic behavior, verbal feedback can also be helpful, but it should be gentle and focus on the specific desired behavior. “Please raise your hand before speaking” is preferable to “Don’t disrupt the class!”
- Token or Reward Systems. Sometimes an organized system of rewards for good behavior can be effective in helping children with ADHD to be better at controlling their impulses. In these systems, children are given some sort of token or points when they behave positively, and they are ultimately able to use these tokens to “buy” a reward or privilege. The system can be used in the other direction, too, with the child losing points for disruptive behavior.
The challenge with token systems is that rewards tend to lose their value to the child over time, and to remain effective, the system must be updated often.
- Discipline Strategies. When discipline for problematic behavior is necessary, it should be specific and immediate. Any disciplinary action that is delayed, such as being required to stay after school, is unlikely to work for a child with ADHD. Instead, the consequences should come immediately following the disruption, and they should be clearly and directly linked to the behavior.
Children with ADHD are usually best able to control their impulses when they are comfortable, when they know what to expect and what is expected of them in the classroom, and when they know when things are going to happen. Consequently, a classroom that is well-organized, with a clear-cut and explicit set of rules and a consistent schedule is a place where a child with ADHD is most likely to flourish.
To help children regulate their own impulses, try these strategies:
- Post Rules Prominently. Classroom rules need to be clear and specific, and the consequences for not following them must also be clear and specific. Rules should be posted prominently in the room so that children with ADHD have consistent visual reminders of what’s expected. Frequent in-class review of the rules can be helpful, as well. For some children, posting rule reminders on their personal desks may help, too.
- Keep a Consistent Schedule. The classroom day should follow a consistent, predictable schedule. It can also be helpful to schedule the most rigorous academic work earlier in the day when children with ADHD typically are best able to stay focused and on-task.
- Keep Academic Activities Structured. Strive for structure and predictability even within academic lessons. Children with ADHD are more likely to be able to stay focused on an academic task when they have a clear idea of where the lesson is headed. For this reason, many children can benefit from an outline of each lesson that clearly spells out the lesson’s structure.
No One-Size-Fits-All Solution
The most important thing to remember in developing intervention strategies is that no one strategy or set of strategies works equally well for all children with ADHD. Some of these strategies will work for some children but not for others, and the needs of an individual child may change over time, as well.
Research has also shown that communication and coordination between teachers and parents is the key to successful intervention. Reinforcing good behaviors at home goes a long way toward helping a child to be successful in the classroom, and feedback from parents can help the teacher find the most effective intervention strategies at school. With a consistent, coordinated, supportive plan for intervention, any child with ADHD can improve his or her behavior in the classroom.
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