For Teachers

Tuning Out Distractions, Zeroing In on School

Children with ADHD experience a lower level of brain arousal, which means they are easily distracted by internal and external stimuli. Use these school and home strategies to improve focus and comprehension.

Girls with ADHD not paying attention in class and passing notes instead
Girls with ADHD not paying attention in class and passing notes instead

The problem: “My child doesn’t listen.”

A student with ADHD might not seem to be listening or paying attention to class material. He may be daydreaming, looking out the window, or focused on irrelevant noises or other stimuli. As a result, he misses lessons, instructions, and directions.

The reason: ADHD is not just an inability to pay attention — it’s an inability to control attention. Children with ADHD have a lower level of brain arousal, which in turn decreases their ability to screen out distractions like noise in the hallway, movement outside, or even their own inner thoughts and feelings. Children with ADHD have an especially hard time tuning out distractions when an activity is not sufficiently stimulating.

The obstacles: Children with ADHD struggle to stay focused on lectures or any tasks that require sustained mental effort. Sometimes, this distractibility can appear intentional and annoying — which then works against students with ADHD in getting the help they need. Remarks such as “Earth to Amy!” or “Why don’t you ever listen?” will not correct this attention deficit. If children could pay better attention, they would.

Read on to discover classroom and home solutions to end distractibility.

Solutions in the Classroom

— Select seating wisely. Keeping kids with ADHD close to the teacher and away from doors or windows will help minimize potential distractions and provide the best stay-focused results.

— Allow all students to use distraction-blockers. In order to prevent singling out children with ADHD, let everyone try privacy dividers, earphones, or earplugs to block distractions during seat work or tests.

— Keep things interesting. Alternate between high- and low-interest activities and when possible, keep lesson periods short or vary the pacing from one lesson to the next.

— Accommodate different learning styles. Use a variety of strategies and teaching techniques to accommodate the multitude of learning styles in the room so all students have the opportunity to approach lessons the way they learn best.

— Include visual, auditory, and kinesthetic facets to all lessons. Also, give students opportunities to work cooperatively, individually, and with the group.

— Redirect rather than reprimand. Instead of scolding a student who becomes distracted, redirect him in a way that doesn’t cause embarrassment. Sometimes, asking the child a question you know he can answer, or giving nonverbal cues, such as standing close and patting him on the shoulder, can bring the child back into focus.

Solutions at Home

— Establish a daily homework routine. Some children need to take a break between school and homework or may need frequent breaks between assignments. Figure out what works best for your child in order to help her avoid distractions and procrastination.

— Help your kid with ADHD “set up” in a distraction-free environment. Sometimes the best learning environment can actually be the kitchen table with music playing in the background. Experiment until you find the ideal learning spot.

— Get her started. Sit down with your child and make sure he understands what is required for each assignment.

— Supervise as needed. Most children with ADHD need significant adult supervision to keep on task. As situations improve and the child matures, you can move away from constant supervision to frequent check-ins to make sure your child is on task.

— Allow short breaks between assignments. Have your child stretch or have a snack once one assignment is complete. This can help make his workload seem more manageable.

— Break down large assignments. Divide big assignments into “bites,” each one with a clear goal. If your child feels like a task is manageable, he’ll be less likely to become distracted.

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