by Hope Fleece, M. Ed. Special Education
October 2023 is ADHD Awareness month. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is described as a persistent or ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that gets in the way of daily life or typical development (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Individuals with ADHD may also have difficulties with maintaining attention and executive functioning, which includes the brain’s ability to begin an activity, organize itself, and manage tasks. According to adhdawarenessmonth.org, this year’s theme is “Moving Forward with ADHD”. It is important for a person with ADHD to build skills to understand their emotional state and use appropriate coping strategies to address their needs. In this way, they are able to move forward and be successful in the classroom environment and their world.
A student with ADHD in the classroom may present as inattentive, hyperactive-impulsive, or both. Students who present as inattentive will appear not to listen, struggle to follow through on instructions, have difficulty with organization, lose things, and/or avoid tasks that require sustained mental effort. When presenting as hyperactive-impulsive, the student may have difficulty sitting still and be observed fidgeting or have difficulty remaining seated, may have difficulty engaging in activities quietly, interrupt others, and/or talk excessively.
With these behaviors, a student with ADHD who is expected to follow normal classroom structure may find themselves overwhelmed throughout the day. This may present itself through the student shutting down or acting out. Further, the student may be unable to identify their internal experience or name their current emotional state and its origin. This can prevent a student from identifying appropriate coping strategies to allow for success in the classroom.
Similarly, as the Attachment, Regulation, and Competency framework (ARC) notes, students’ ability to recognize and make good choices can be significantly impeded by their emotional state (ARC, 2016). The ARC model and strategies allow staff in the therapeutic classroom the opportunity to support the student in understanding how their feelings and choices are connected. Once the student learns skills to make a desired choice, the student can then act on them and accept support when needed.
A primary goal of ARC interventions is to let a student feel empowered and supported by the people around them, so that they can be successful. Teaching a student how to regulate their body, emotions, and behaviors means teaching regulation, or the ability to safely and effectively manage emotions, energy levels, and behaviors. Regulation involves knowing what feeling is being experienced and where it comes from, being able to tolerate what happens in the body, and being able to manage in safe ways all the different feelings a person is having. By bringing emotions and energy under control, learning coping strategies, and increasing tolerance for uncomfortable emotions, the student can take time to learn how to better understand what is going on and make good choices. Using strategies to check-in to start, and throughout, the day can build a foundation to recognizing emotional states. The hope is that a student will not have feelings drive their actions. Instead, the student will learn when to use tools to manage feelings, starting by being aware of and understanding what the feeling is, and then using that information about their emotions and/or behaviors to navigate the day.
Most students who are diagnosed with ADHD may also have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Part of that plan, the Specially Designed Instructions (SDIs), are implemented to address the student’s individual needs and encourage success in the classroom environment. Some typical SDIs are: extra time on tests, positive reinforcement and feedback, using technology to assist with tasks, allowing breaks or time to move around, limiting distractions such as a quiet area to take assessments, and extra help with staying organized. Each student is different, so it is important to recognize how a student responds to an intervention. If a student is motivated by extra time to walk around the gym, or by a 10-minute break with a video game, then the teacher should set clear expectations for the student to achieve the desired reward. Further, scaffolding assignments, or providing degrees of support, will provide the student the ability to recognize and build on progress over time. Establishing a routine and regularly addressing changes ahead of time will eliminate stress and help the student adapt and be more flexible. Also, giving a daily task card of assignments to keep the student organized can help chunk larger assignments into manageable smaller tasks. Lastly, celebrating progress regularly and providing feedback consistently helps maintain success made.
Utilizing ARC interventions and teaching a student with ADHD how to recognize and regulate feelings will empower the student within the learning environment. These learned skills and strategies also can be built upon as the student develops and grows. From there, skills can be used beyond the classroom environment and transferred into their adult lives. In this way, the student can learn to move forward with ADHD.
“ADHD in the Classroom.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 27 Sept. 2023, www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/school-success.html.
American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders
(DSM-5), Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association
ARC Framework. (2016). Retrieved from Arcframework.org website: https://arcframework.org\