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Accessibility: Supporting Students with ADHD

October 28, 2022

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurodiversity that affects people’s ability to concentrate.

Students with ADHD may have difficulty focusing when there are many things happening at once. For example, background noises or movements while completing an assignment or quiz may be overwhelming and distracting.

Alternatively, students with ADHD may have difficulty focusing when there is too much silence. In this case, white noise can be helpful for them. For example, having a fan on, playing quiet music, or providing the student with headphones that play white noise.

Some learners with ADHD may also appear hyperactive. They might have lots of energy, be very talkative, or act impulsively.

Whether you're teaching English to children, teenagers, or adults, students with ADHD often find it more difficult to do well in school. So how can we as teachers better support them in their language learning journey?

From understanding your student's daily challenges to implementing accessible classroom strategies, here's what you need to know about supporting students with ADHD.

Understand what students with ADHD struggle with

Students with ADHD may have difficulty with...

  • timekeeping
  • organization
  • listening to and following instructions
  • sitting still for long periods of time
  • task completion
  • focus
  • stress management
  • assessing risky situations
  • forgetfulness and misplacing items

8 strategies for teaching learners with ADHD

Use these eight accessible classroom strategies to help you overcome common challenges and help your students with ADHD reach language learning success.

1. Teach the individual

Every learner is different, so it’s important to talk to them (and their parents) to find out what works for them. Learn what they find challenging and how you can help.

2. Give clear instructions

Try to keep instructions as short as possible. Breaking large tasks into smaller tasks and then giving each instruction one at a time can make learning more accessible to all learners.

You may wish to give your instructions in a variety of ways: orally, written, as a diagram, or with a drawing. You could also ask students to repeat or rephrase the instruction to check they have understood.

3. Build confidence

As with many learners, students with ADHD can often have low confidence or self-esteem. Praise their achievements and support them to look back on their learning journey. Reward them as they develop new skills.

4. Minimize distractions

Students with ADHD may find noises such as phone notifications, background chatter, or music distracting. They may be able to focus better in quiet places. Allow them to choose a seat somewhere that has fewer distractions or let them wear noise-canceling headphones for tasks that require concentration. For added focus, you can set the noise-canceling headphones to play white noise or soft instrumental music.

Visual distractions such as what’s happening in the corridor, out the window, on a screen, or even in other group discussions may also reduce focus. Discuss with them the best place to sit in these situations.

5. Allow movement and fidgets

Sitting for long periods of time can be challenging and demotivating. Getting students up and moving around the class is a good way to energize the whole class.

Activities such as Find Someone Who…, running dictations, role-plays, Pictionary, or Charades are great ways to do this.

You may also wish to let students make sketchnotes as they listen or play with a fidget toy. These can reduce anxiety and aid focus.

6. Train students to take their time

Students with ADHD may complete tasks quickly and need support to check their work for errors.

Encourage learners to read instructions carefully or multiple times. Proofread their work and aim for quality over speed.

7. Practice mindfulness

Some learners may also benefit from practicing mindfulness. This has been found to help people with ADHD focus on the present task and identify their emotions. However, it can be challenging for some to do this for extended periods of time, so short meditations or impromptu breathing exercises may be a good starting point.

8. Use study planners

To support students to develop their timekeeping and organization skills, try creating study timetables together and practice writing "to-do" lists.

You could also support them by helping them identify which daily tasks to prioritize and how to minimize distractions from their study schedules.

Share your thoughts

What experience do you have with ADHD? What has worked for you or your learners? Every situation is different so we’d really love to know. Share your thoughts in the comments!

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