Supporting pupils with ADHD

Pupils with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can cause disruption in the classroom. Dealing with pupils who have, or are suspected to have, ADHD can be tricky. A few pointers are provided here.

Causes and symptoms

The causes of ADHD are unknown. It is believed that more boys suffer from it than girls. Even if pupils have not been diagnosed by a full specialist assessment, they may display some of the symptoms, which include:

  • restless over-activity
  • being easily distracted
  • being inattentive
  • impulsive behaviour
  • impatience
  • having learning difficulties, particularly key skills like reading and writing
  • poor memory
  • limited social skills
  • very low self-esteem
  • frequent bad discipline
  • loss of control and violent outbursts
  • being forgetful and disorganised
  • poor coordination.

Even if there is only one pupil in the class with these behaviour patterns, it can make the class as a whole difficult to teach. There needs to be support in place and, if possible, space outside the classroom where pupils with ADHD can go with a member of support staff if necessary.

How you can help

If you have responsibility for a pupil with ADHD, the following tips may help:

  • Try not to single out the child publicly, since this will reinforce their differences and underline their low self-esteem.
  • Sit them close to you and away from other pupils who may distract them. You could try sitting them near pupils who are very rarely distracted, so that they can act as role models.
  • Diaries, notebooks, lists, notes to parents/carers, reminders about equipment, etc can all help pupils become more organised.
  • Keep instructions simple and sentences short.
  • Make them look at you when you are talking to them and maintain eye contact.
  • Repeat instructions and ask them to say the instructions back to you.
  • Change activities often and allow for short breaks between activities. Support staff could take them for a quick walk around the school for a few minutes on a regular basis.
  • Repeat rules frequently. ‘Dos’ will work better than ‘don‘ts’.
  • Praise and reward good work and good behaviour.
  • Avoid confrontations where possible and stay calm.
  • Pupils with ADHD need the security of routines and patterns, so give them warnings when changing activities in the classroom, eg “In five minutes, we will be going into the hall for PE”.
  • Use SEN support to provide work at the right level.
  • Use sanctions and behaviour management strategies that work – keeping them in at break time, for example, will be counter-productive because all their excess energy will then come out in the classroom rather than the playground.

Where to find out more

For more information, see The Newly Qualified Teacher‘s Handbook, by Elizabeth Holmes, Kogan Page, 2002. Alternatively the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) may provide you with useful information.

NAPTA, 10 Hills Road, Cambridge CB2 1JP — tel 01223 224930 — email