Ask the Experts

Encouraging Equality in the Classroom

“Is it unfair to other kids when those with ADHD get special accommodations like untimed tests and shorter homework assignments?”

This question is one of the most frequently asked in my teacher workshops on ADHD. The answer requires understanding the distinction between fair and equal.

The dictionary defines fair as “just, even minded, non-discriminatory.” Fair is helping someone do their best they with the all the techniques a teacher can employ.

Equal means treating everyone exactly the same. When children have learning disabilities, treating them exactly the same as other kids is not fair. Accommodations level the playing field for kids whose challenges prevent them from being equal.

[Quiz: How Well Do You Know Special Ed Law?]

To illustrate the absurd comparison between fair and equal, think of telling a child with hearing aids: “Remove your aids during this listening test. I must treat you equally. It is not fair for you to have amplified hearing.”

One ADHD student told me, “With my disability I feel I am trying to play ball with one hand on the bat and everyone else has two. With an accommodation, it is like being told I can have two hands on the bat. Accommodations make me equal to my fellow players. I still have to keep my eye on the ball and hit it, I still have to run the bases, but now I have a chance because I can use two hands on the bat.”

The master teacher starts the year by informing the class about accommodations. The teacher describes informally his or her expectations for the year and lets the class know that modifications will be made for some students.

Example: “If John needs an accommodation that you don’t, I want you to know John will have that opportunity in this class, just like I will offer you every strategy you may need when you are struggling. My goal in this class is to help all of you learn. If that means John gets 10 math problems to your 20, so be it. We all work together, but we all learn differently. The question in this room is not ‘How did you learn?’ but rather ‘How well did you learn?'”

[Free Poster: What Every Teacher Should Know About ADHD]

You can further encourage healthy respect for individuals by choosing library books to read to your class that typify children who have had challenges and succeeded. This technique, called Bibliotherapy, uses literature to illustrate to your students that they are more alike than different.

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