Helping Children with ADD Focus in the Classroom
by Jan Zeiger
As I type this article, the dryer is running and the washing machine is spinning. My husband is snoring in the next room. In the backyard, my dachshund is barking at a squirrel, another dog, or something else that he thinks I need to know about. The cars on the street outside are rushing by my house. My fingers are tapping the keys as I write this sentence. My computer is thinking and making a humming sound…
Many believe that Attention Deficit Disorder is the inability to pay attention. In actuality, people with ADD don’t have a problem paying attention. Our problem lies in the fact that we pay attention to EVERYTHING around us. We don’t have the ability to tune things out the way other people do without even thinking. As I type this article, I hear every sound around me. Every time my dog moves, I turn and look. I try to focus on the article, but I continue to see and hear everything, no matter how insignificant, that is going on around me.
Going to a restaurant with a friend can be a frustrating experience for me. It usually starts out fine, but within 10 minutes or so, I have checked out of the conversation. This isn’t because I don’t care. This is because I hear the people at the next table talking. I see the hostess showing a couple to their booth. Of course, I also hear the music that is playing throughout the restaurant. As my friend talks, I keep reminding myself to listen and to look at her. I respond by nodding my head as my mind drifts even farther away from the conversation. I get frustrated with myself as the evening goes on. There are so many distractions in this room! How is anybody supposed to have a decent conversation with all of this stuff going on?
Last year, I realized that I had a lot in common with one of my students, so I did some research on ADD. As I read the books about ADD, I felt like I was reading about myself. There were others like me! I was diagnosed in October of 1999 with Attention Deficit Disorder.
Bill of Rights for Children with ADD
Finding out about ADD has been a life-changing experience for me. I finally understand why I need to have complete silence in order to get any papers graded or lesson plans done. My husband understands, too. He doesn’t get as frustrated when we go out for dinner anymore. He just says, Jan? Are you listening to me? As a teacher with ADD, I have a unique understanding of how these children feel in the classroom. This really captures the special needs of children with ADD:
HELP ME TO FOCUS …
Please teach me through my sense of touch.
I need “hands-on” and body movement.I NEED TO KNOW WHAT COMES NEXT …
Please give me a structured environment where
there is a dependable routine. Give me an
advance warning if there will be changes.WAIT FOR ME, I’M STILL THINKING …
Please allow me to go at my own pace.
If I’m rushed, I get confused and upset.I’M STUCK, I CAN’T DO IT! …
Please offer me options for problem solving.
If the road is blocked, I need to know the detours.
IS IT RIGHT? I NEED TO KNOW NOW …
Please give me rich and immediate feedback
on how I’m doing.
I DIDN’T KNOW I WASN’T IN MY SEAT! …
Please remind me to stop, think, and act.
AM I ALMOST DONE? …
Please give me short work periods with short-term goals.
Please don’t say “I already told you that.”
Tell me again, in different words.
Give me a signal. Draw me a symbol.
I KNOW IT’S ALL WRONG, ISN’T IT? …
Please give me praise for partial success.
Reward me for self-improvement, not just for perfection.
BUT WHY DO I ALWAYS GET YELLED AT? …
Please catch me doing something right and
praise me for the specific positive behavior.
Remind me–and yourself–about my good points
when I’m having a bad day.
In this first article of a series, let’s explore some ways to help the ADD student stay focused in the classroom.
I NEED A SPECIAL PLACE TO WORK
Children with ADD need specific help when it comes to focusing. For them, the classroom can be very much like that crowded restaurant. Many teachers isolate children with ADD in order to reduce distractions. (While it is true that moving a child with ADD away from the group can help them focus, it should not be seen as a time-out or punishment.) If they are sitting in the middle of the room where people are constantly walking by, they will definitely have trouble staying focused on the assignment. Instead of moving the child’s desk, give that child a special place to work. Make it a choice for them to get up and move. Let them keep their regular desk, but give them a safe haven somewhere else in the room. Make sure that there are no windows or walkways nearby. I have also heard of some children who can stay in their regular spot when they wear earplugs that keep the noise out.
I NEED A CLASSROOM THAT IS FREE OF BUSYWORK
Children with ADD are not the only children who need to feel that their assignments are meaningful and relevant to their lives. Think about your favorite teachers. How did they get their students excited about learning? Think back to your experiences as a student when you are writing your lesson plans for the week. Seriously consider the written assignments that your students complete each day. Are they all necessary? Meaningful? Worthwhile? Be a reflective teacher. If a written assignment isn’t truly necessary, don’t assign it. Use that time for more engaging activities and collaborative group work. Instead of a worksheet on plants, have them do grow their own! Instead of doing that worksheet on adjectives, give them magazines and ask them to cut out all of the adjectives they can find! Even the most traditional activities can become more engaging with a little bit of extra thought. If you aren’t sure how to do this, the WWW is a great place to start! Remember that children, even children with ADD, will be more engaged when they are encouraged to play active roles in the learning process.