Learning Challenges

Teach Your Child, the ADD Way

Your child with attention deficit processes information differently. These specialized strategies will make the most of her abilities to maximize her learning and retention.

ADHD at School: Specializing Strategies to Boost Your Child's Learning
ADHD at School: Specializing Strategies to Boost Your Child's Learning

Children diagnosed with ADD have various learning styles, but they are primarily visual learners. The thing that makes ADDers creative, spontaneous, and off the wall — their right brain — makes it hard for them to do things in sequence, slowly, or reflectively. That’s why ADDers find school challenging. They are right-brained individuals in a world geared to left-brainers. They have trouble following step-by-step directions, taking timed tests, and writing essays that require sequential processing. I should know. I have ADD.

So how can a parent or a teacher improve a child’s ability to learn? I have taught more than 2,000 children with ADHD and learning disabilities over the last 20 years. Here are several approaches to teaching children with ADHD that have worked wonders for my kids:

Math Made Easier

ADDers learn best when they do mental math. Try these tips:

Start with an arbitrary number — say, 6 — and ask your child to double it twice and then add one. You, not your child, should write the numbers on a piece of paper. When he arrives at 25, ask him to take the square root of it, writing down options for him, such as 3, 4, or 5. Continue the process, asking your child to add 5 or subtract 4, and so on. Running a string of numbers down a page, using subtraction, addition, multiplication, and division, helps a child develop mathematical flexibility and readies him for the important skill of estimating answers.

Have him solve long addition problems, such as “301 + 201 + 104 + 111,” in his head. Remember, right-brained children are good at holding images in their brain, so use this skill as much as you can.

Reading Better

Teaching reading using a phonetic approach is almost always disastrous with ADD children. The slow left-to-right progression of placing sounds in phonological order is the opposite of the way the ADD brain processes. What the teacher or parent should do is just pronounce the hard words, getting them into their visual brains correctly the first time.

[Use This Free Handout: Solving Challenges in the Classroom]

First, read the material to your child while placing your finger under the words as you go along, or instruct the child to read only the words that he can read, and read the hard words to him.

As soon as your child is ready, read to him while instructing him to visualize, or make pictures of, the words. When you read to your ADD child, he probably has a movie running in his head. The goal is to have that same movie running in his head when he reads to himself.

Have him read an age-appropriate section of a book, telling him the hard words beforehand and asking him to read rapidly to himself. Have him go just fast enough to visualize the material as he did when you read it to him.

Spelling Better

Spelling can be taught visually, and the activity can be started as early as five or six years of age, if done in an ADD-friendly way.

[The 3 Rs of ADHD at School: Routines, Rules, Reminders]

Take a word, such as “color” or “rapid” or “cargo,” and write it in several different colors on a piece of paper. Ask your child to look at it until she can shut her eyes and see the letters in her head.

Ask her to spell the word forward and backward.

Highlight the vowels by making them bigger and bolder than the other letters. Rapid-thinking children do not hear the subtle vowel sounds in words.

As your child becomes skilled at this, point to words and ask the child to visualize letters as they appear in the spelling book. Eventually, she’ll learn to see the words in her mind while writing them on paper.

Getting Homework Done

Schools that work exclusively with ADD students usually give no homework. This is a model that is catching on nationally, as more students show ADD-like symptoms and the misery index of doing homework increases. However, if you must do homework, try this:

Do it in a short, confined period, no longer than 40 minutes at a crack.

Place a large digital clock or watch in your child’s workspace, so she can refer to it easily and figure out how much time is left in the session.

Provide some form of white noise, such as a large fan, or let her wear headphones. Remember that it is not noise itself that causes ADDers to lose concentration; it’s unpredictable noise that is upsetting.

Have your child do her homework at the same time every day.

If your child has a problem getting started on math homework, do the first problem or two for her, and ease your child into the activity. Be available for assistance if she requires it. Your child should see you as her “assistant,” and you should leave when she tells you your help is no longer needed.

Whenever you can, ask your child’s teacher to allow her to do minimal amounts of repetitious homework. She can show steps in math on every second or third problem, instead of doing it on every one. Speak to the teacher about eliminating any unnecessary writing, such as restating the question, and allow the students to compose short answers only. Better yet, write down his answers for him.

Share tips for handling school challenges with other parents in the ADHD Support Group for Parents.