Teaching Children with Attention
Update 1998, ERIC Digest
E569, ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and
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Defining Attention Deficit
Disorder/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD)
Attention deficit disorder is a
syndrome characterized by serious and persistent difficulties in the
following three specific areas:
1. Attention span.
2. Impulse control.
3. Hyperactivity (sometimes)
ADD is a chronic disorder that can
begin in infancy and extend through adulthood, having negative effects
on a child's life at home, school, and within the community. It is
conservatively estimated that 3 to 5% of our school- age population is
affected by ADD.
The condition previously fell under
the headings, "learning disabled," "brain damaged," "hyperkinetic," or
"hyperactive." The term attention deficit disorder was introduced to
describe the characteristics of these children more clearly.
Diagnosis of Attention Deficit
Disorder/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
According to the criteria in the
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed., rev.)
(American Psychiatric Association, 1994), to be diagnosed as having
ADD/ADHD, the clinician must note the presence of at least 6 of the 9
following criteria for either Attention Span or
Attention Span Criteria
Pays little attention to details;
makes careless mistakes
Has short attention span
Does not listen when spoken to directly
Does not follow instructions; fails to finish tasks
Has difficulty organizing tasks
Avoids tasks that require sustained mental effort
Is easily distracted
Is forgetful in daily activities
Fidgets; squirms in seat
Leaves seat in classroom when remaining seated is expected
Often runs about or climbs excessively at inappropriate times
Has difficulty playing quietly
Blurts out answers before questions
Has difficulty awaiting turn
Often interrupts or intrudes on others
Establishing the Proper Learning
Seat students with ADD near the
teacher's desk, but include them as part of the regular class
Place these students up front with
their backs to the rest of the class to keep other students out of
Surround students with ADD with good
Encourage peer tutoring and
Avoid distracting stimuli. Try not
to place students with ADD near air conditioners, high traffic
areas, heaters, or doors or windows.
Children with ADD do not handle
change well, so avoid transitions, physical relocation (monitor them
closely on field trips), changes in schedule, and disruptions.
Be creative! Produce a
stimuli-reduced study area. Let all students have access to this
area so the student with ADD will not feel different.
Encourage parents to set up
appropriate study space at home, with set times and routines
established for study, parental review of completed homework, and
periodic notebook and/or
book bag organization.
Giving Instructions to Students
Maintain eye contact during verbal
Make directions clear and concise.
Be consistent with daily instructions.
Simplify complex directions. Avoid
Make sure students comprehend the
instructions before beginning the task.
Repeat instructions in a calm,
positive manner, if needed.
Help the students feel comfortable
with seeking assistance (most children with ADD will not ask for
help). Gradually reduce the amount of assistance, but keep in mind
that these children will need more help for a longer period of time
than the average child.
Require a daily assignment notebook
1. Make sure each student correctly writes down all
assignments each day. If a student is not capable of this, the
teacher should help him or her.
2. Sign the notebook daily to signify completion of homework
assignments. (Parents should also sign.)
3. Use the notebook for daily communication with parents.
Give out only one task at a time.
Monitor frequently. Maintain a
Modify assignments as needed.
Consult with special education personnel to determine specific
strengths and weaknesses of each student.
Develop an individualized education
Make sure you are testing knowledge
and not attention span.
Give extra time for certain tasks.
Students with ADD may work slowly. Do not penalize them for needing
Keep in mind that children with ADD
are easily frustrated. Stress, pressure, and fatigue can break down
their self-control and lead to poor behavior.
Modifying Behavior and Enhancing
Providing Supervision and
Remain calm, state the infraction of
the rule, and avoid debating or arguing with the student.
Have preestablished consequences for
Administer consequences immediately,
and monitor proper behavior frequently.
Enforce classroom rules
Make sure the discipline fits the
"crime," without harshness.
Avoid ridicule and criticism.
Remember, children with ADD have difficulty staying in control.
Avoid publicly reminding students on
medication to "take their medicine."
Reward more than you punish, in
order to build self-esteem.
Praise immediately any and all good
behavior and performance.
Change rewards if they are not
effective in motivating behavioral change.
Find ways to encourage the child.
Teach the child to reward himself or
herself. Encourage positive self-talk (e.g., "You did very well
remaining in your seat today. How do you feel about that?"). This
encourages the child to think positively about himself or herself.
Other Educational Recommendations
Educational, psychological, and/or
neurological testing to determine learning style and cognitive
ability and to rule out any learning disabilities (common in about
30% of students with ADD).
A private tutor and/or peer tutoring
A class that has a low
Social skills training and
organizational skills training.
Training in cognitive restructuring
(positive "self-talk," e.g., "I did that well").
Use of a word processor or computer
Individualized activities that are
mildly competitive or noncompetitive such as bowling, walking,
swimming, jogging, biking, karate. (Note: Children with ADD/ADHD may
do less well than their peers in team sports.)
Involvement in social activities
such as scouting, church groups, or other youth organizations that
help develop social skills and self-esteem.
Allowing children with ADD to play
with younger children if that is where they fit in. Many children
with ADD have more in common with younger children than with their
age-peers. They can still develop valuable social skills from
interaction with younger children.
American Psychiatric Association.
(1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th
ed., rev.) (DSM-IV-R). Washington, DC: APA.
Bender, W. (1997). Understanding ADHD:
A Practical Guide for Teachers and Parents. Upper Saddle River,
Fiore, T. (1993). Educational
interventions for students with attention deficit disorder.
Exceptional Children, 60(2), 163-73.
Gardill, M. (1996). Classroom
strategies for managing students with attention deficit/ hyperactivity
disorder. Intervention in School and Clinic, 32(2), 89-94.
Hallowell, E. (1994). Driven to
Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder
from Childhood through Adulthood. Tappan, NJ: Simon & Schuster.
Hartmann, T. (1993). Attention Deficit
Disorder: A Different Perception. Novato, CA: Underwood-Miller.
Reeve, R. (1996). A Continuing
Education Program on Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Reston,
VA: Council for Exceptional Children.
Rief, S. (1997). The ADD/ADHD
Checklist. An Easy Reference for Parents and Teachers. Reston, VA:
Council for Exceptional Children.
Robelia, B. (1997). Tips for working
with ADHD students of all ages. Journal of Experiential Education, 20
Schiller, E. (1996). Educating
children with attention deficit disorder. Our Children, 22(2), 32-33.
For more information on ADD, write
Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
8181 Professional Place
Landover, MD 20785
World Wide Web: www.chadd.org
Contact your local school
psychologist, examiner, or personnel in charge of assessment and
diagnosis in your school district for specific information and local
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