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5 Unexpected Ways Students with ADHD Struggle in Class

Teaching is a journey that challenges us to adapt, understand, and support every learner in our classroom. As we create inclusive environments, we need to shed light on the diverse needs of our students, including those with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). 

While we often associate ADHD with typical symptoms like hyperactivity and inattention, there are lesser-known struggles these students face within the classroom setting. Here are five unexpected ways students with ADHD may struggle in class and practical strategies to support them.

1. Difficulty with Transitions

Imagine the chaos of shifting from one activity to another—whether it's moving from math to reading or transitioning from recess back to class. For students with ADHD, these transitions can be overwhelming. They may struggle with abrupt changes in routine and find it challenging to refocus their attention.

What can you do? Implement visual schedules or timers to help students anticipate transitions. Utilize tools like picture cards or a digital timer to signal upcoming changes. By providing a structured transition plan, you can ease anxiety and promote smoother shifts between activities.

2. Organization and Time Management

While organization is a skill we often take for granted, it can be a hurdle for students with ADHD. Keeping track of assignments, materials, and deadlines may be an uphill battle. These students may frequently misplace homework or struggle to prioritize tasks.

How can you help? Introduce organizational aids such as color-coded folders, assignment notebooks, or checklists. Teach specific strategies for time management, such as breaking tasks into smaller steps. Learning organizational skills empowers students to navigate academic challenges more effectively.

3. Emotional Regulation

Emotions can run high in the classroom, and for students with ADHD, regulating these emotions can be challenging. They may experience intense feelings of frustration, impulsivity, or even rejection sensitivity, leading to outbursts or meltdowns.

What can you do? Foster a supportive classroom climate where students feel safe expressing their emotions. Implement mindfulness exercises or deep breathing techniques to promote self-regulation. Encourage open dialogue about emotions and model healthy coping strategies. You can create a nurturing environment where students thrive academically and socially by nurturing their emotional resilience.

4. Executive Functioning Skills

Executive functioning is a range of cognitive abilities, including planning, organization, and self-monitoring. Students with ADHD often struggle with this, making it challenging to initiate tasks, follow multi-step directions, or sustain attention over extended periods.

How do we tackle this? Break tasks into manageable chunks and provide step-by-step instructions. Use graphic organizers or visual aids to break down complex concepts and reinforce learning. Incorporate activities that engage multiple senses, promoting active participation and retention.

5. Peer Relationships and Social Interactions

Navigating social dynamics can be daunting for any child, but for students with ADHD, it can pose additional challenges. They may struggle with impulse control, turn-taking, or maintaining friendships, leading to feelings of isolation or rejection.

How can you help? Foster a culture of empathy and inclusion within your classroom. Implement joint learning activities that promote teamwork. Teach social skills through role-playing or social stories, emphasizing listening, compassion, and conflict resolution. By nurturing positive peer relationships, you develop a sense of belonging where every student feels valued and supported.

Building a Supportive Network

Teaching is not a solitary endeavor—it thrives on collaboration, shared insights, and collective support. As educators, we have the power to create transformative learning experiences. However, we also recognize that addressing the needs of our students requires an effort from all stakeholders involved.

Collaborate with Colleagues

Foster a culture of collaboration within your school by sharing best practices, brainstorming strategies, and learning from each other's experiences. Use team meetings, professional learning, and peer observations to exchange ideas and build collective expertise.

Tap into Professional Development Resources

Seek professional development opportunities that deepen your understanding of ADHD and equip you with evidence-based strategies. Attend workshops, conferences, and webinars on ADHD awareness, classroom accommodations, and behavior management techniques.

Collaborate with Parents

Establish open lines of communication with families, inviting them to share insights into their child's strengths, challenges, and individual needs. Collaborate on personalized interventions, behavior plans, and home-school strategies, reinforcing consistency and continuity across settings.

Advocate for Inclusive Policies and Practices

Collaborate with school leadership, policymakers, and community stakeholders to promote awareness, allocate resources, and implement evidence-based interventions that foster equity and accessibility for every learner.

Embrace the Unseen Challenges, Empower Every Student

Supporting students with ADHD goes beyond addressing the stereotypical symptoms. Every small adjustment we make in our classrooms has the potential to create a profound difference in the lives of our students.

Written by Brooke Lektorich
Education World Contributor
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