Young children with ADHD usually start off well in preschool. The play-oriented environment that encourages movement and is tolerant of self-control challenges and social deficits can be an ideal setting for them. When demands are placed upon a child to conform, develop language skills, and play cooperatively, the ADHD child begins to have problems.
The good news is that preschoolers with ADHD can be successful with the proper treatment plan and the right school environment. Ideally, preschool classrooms should provide lots of supervised playtime, frequent physical activity time, and many hands-on learning opportunities -- the perfect combination for preschoolers to learn.
ACADEMICS & ORGANIZATION
Preschool teachers will want to know about your child's ADHD. Parents should be prepared to explain the condition and to let teachers know what it looks like at home. Tell them the strategies and techniques that you use that can be used in school. Explain to the teacher that ADHD can be managed but not fixed. The more aligned family and teachers are in their goals and strategies, the greater the opportunity for the child to succeed. Here are some strategies that should be used by parents and teachers.
PLAN A VISIT. Some kids benefit from an advance visit to the child-care center or school to see the setting and to meet the teachers. The same goes for tae kwan do classes or Boy Scout meetings. A practice run to the venue will lessen anxiety when they start school or an activity.
USE A POSITIVE APPROACH. When your son does something inappropriate in the classroom or at home, before you chide, guide. It takes extra explanation for some young kids with ADHD to learn the routines and rules.
BE CAUTIOUS WITH "WE" STATEMENTS. "We share at school." "We don't hit." Egocentricity is developmentally appropriate. Young children don't know that "we" means "me."
CATCH YOUR CHILD BEING GOOD. Positive reinforcement gives a child incentive to keep going. Give a quick, specific compliment at the very moment you see your child start to do what you expected, not when it is completed. Say, "Ian, thanks for listening when I said it's circle time." This gives him incentive to go to the circle. After a few steps, give another positive statement. "Ian, are you going to sit here or there?" The reinforcement supports the behavior you desire of him.
RULES/PRAISE/IGNORE. Clarify rules in advance. Have only a few rules, make them to the point, and consider using pictures or drawings to illustrate them. Give praise. Follow the recommended three-to-one ratio of positive statements to negative ones. Ignore minor misbehavior, such as bouts of forgetfulness or disorganization. Target more serious behaviors.
TIME OUT IS OUT. Don't remove a child from, say, the puzzle area if he misbehaves. Use it as a teaching opportunity. Carefully explain what is expected during puzzle play, and then invite the child to go back to the puzzle, asking, "What do you plan to try to do at the puzzle table?" After the child has played for a few seconds, praise/affirm her effort. About a minute later, give similar praise. Frequent guidance and positive affirmation are important.
USE SONGS AND CHANTS. Children who sing as they do a task maintain focus. A couple of my favorites are "watch the scissor cutting, cutting up the paper" or "watch the crayon color, coloring the ..." You can create short songs or chants as cues for anything.
WRITE SOCIAL STORIES -- stories with photos that depict what is expected for a task, activity, or setting. Examples: getting dressed, riding in the car, story time.
TEACH ORGANIZATION. Form a "back-pack brigade" to teach what goes in and what comes out of the backpack each day. Photos can be cues to help with this.
ARRANGE THE PHYSICAL SPACE in the classroom and at home to clearly separate play and work areas.
LIMIT WORDS. When you talk too much, ADHD kids change the channel.
USE VISUAL MEASUREMENT TOOLS, such as Time Timer, to help your child understand that time passes and how long he has before going outside to walk the dog.
EMPHASIZE LARGE MOTOR SKILLS over fine motor coordination. Motor skill development will be delayed for about half of ADHD preschoolers, so teachers and parents should have them play games that use large muscles, such as soccer, Red Light, or swimming. To practice fine motor activities, allow students to tear paper into pieces rather than cutting it, and to trace within box lids to feel their shape and limits.
MAKE PLAY FUN. Put a blanket over the kitchen table to create a fort. Your child can pretend-play in the fort. Give her a flashlight to make it an adventure.
CREATE ENVIRONMENTAL ADAPTATIONS to help youngsters learn the steps, the routines, and the words. Use schedules that show the steps of routines and tasks for the day in pictures.
MARY N. WONDERLICK, M.A., is an early childhood special educator and a facilitator at the National Association for the Education of Young People. She is an author of the brochure “Finding an Appropriate Preschool for Your Child with Special Needs.”
This article appears in the Fall issue of ADDitude.
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