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Article published 9th June 2008

Educational support such as special help from a trained teacher outside the child’s class plus extra help within the class can enable a child to remain in mainstream school.

Sometimes needs may be best met via a statement of SEN.

One-to-one interaction generally results in improvements in concentration and behaviour (for a short duration). Importantly, the school should have an SEN department that has an understanding of ADD/ADHD.

The ideal teacher for a child with ADD/ADHD

They are the ones who are:

  • Thoroughly knowledgeable about ADD/ADHD and accepts the legitimacy of the disorder.
  • Tough as nails about rules, but always calm and positive.
  • Ingenious about modifying teaching strategies and materials in order to match the child’s learning style.
  • Tailors academic material to suit the child’s abilities and skills.
  • Creates assignments that require as much activity on the child’s part as possible.
  • Mixes high and low interest tasks in tune with the child's learning style.
  • Deals with homework in a pragmatic way.
  • Knows when to back off when the child’s level of frustration begins to peak.
  • Knows when to back off when the parent’s level of frustration begins to peak.
  • Speaks clearly in brief, understandable sentences.
  • Looks the child straight in the eye when communicating.
  • Runs an absolutely predictable and organised classroom.
  • Controls the classroom without being controlling.
  • Provides immediate and consistent feedback regarding behaviour.
  • Develops a private signal system with the child to gently notify them when they are off task or acting inappropriately.
  • Maintains close proximity without being intrusive.
  • Ignores minor disruptions; knows how to choose battles.
  • Has no problem acting as an auxiliary organiser.
  • Maintains an interest in the child as a person even after a trying day.
  • Willing to call and meet with parents.
  • Has a sense of humour you wouldn't believe.

Managing ADD/ADHD

‘Management of ADD/ADHD = SF3R’ translates as the core principles for successful management of children with ADD/ADHD: Structure and Flexibility supported by the 3Rs of Respect, Relationships and Role Models.

The overriding message is a structured learning environment, with differentiated work to address the children’s learning weaknesses and adaptations to fit their learning style.

Within this definition one of the letter Rs is often taken to mean Ritalin. Of course medication can have a major role to play in ADD/ADHD management. ADD/ADHD is a medical diagnosis and it therefore may require a medical strategy or option to complement (complement being the key word) the other principles of SF3R.

Useful strategies

Strategies for a child with ADD/ADHD must be individualised and involve both the whole-school approach and strategies for the specific child. Persistent difficulties, despite the implementation of reasonable strategies, suggest the need for a medical review. It must be remembered that the concurrent use of medication must not be seen as a threat to or criticism of teaching strategies, but as a necessary adjunct.

In reality, the most effective teaching of a child with ADD/ADHD arises from taking an open-minded view to using another option or adaptive approach to the teaching and management.

Whose fault is ADD / ADHD anyway?

There are two extremely important principles to understand when managing a child with ADD/ADHD. The first of these is that it is not the child’s fault, nor is it your fault. Working together with the school on behalf of the child is the most effective way of achieving success. And this will involve what I label the three Cs: Clarity, Co-operation and Communication. Secondly, support from other parents is vital.

Helping your child with ADD/ADHD at home

It is important that home and school work together on a child's behaviour management programme. If rules and boundaries are similar there will be fewer opportunities for the child to get 'mixed-messages'. 

  • Acknowledge and accept your child’s weaknesses and strengths, and design activities around their strengths to help their confidence levels.
  • Try to work out the times in the day when they work most productively, and ensure that a task begins and ends with an activity that they enjoy.
  • Bolster and maintain your child’s self-esteem, to help the ‘whole child’ develop.
  • School and the home must maintain close contact to ensure that your child receives consistent messages.
  • Don't personalise situations: it is the behaviour that you do not approve of, not the child.
  • Never discipline in anger: everyone says things in the heat of the moment that they later regret – you will say things you don’t mean and, more importantly, sometimes you can’t back up.

Have fun with your children. Look at specific situations not as problems but as opportunities for developing your relationship, as the father and son do in this little story.

'For Mr Bailey and Freddy, his 10-year-old son with ADHD, the big issue was that both of them were highly charged individuals who would not back down in the course of an argument. Each wanted the final word. When Freddy got the final word, this would send his father into a frenzy – he felt the last word was his by right as head of the family. It was suggested to Mr Bailey that perhaps he could pay Freddy 50p so that he, the father, could have the last word. Two weeks later the father called to say thank you. Things at home were calmer and he and Freddy were getting along fine. He said the sight of Freddy biting his lip in order to get the 50p was worth every penny and he would have paid £5 for the outcome ... I told him not to tell Freddy ... '' F O’Regan, How to Teach and Manage Children with ADHD (LDA Learning, 2002)

Fintan J O’Regan works as a behavioural/SEN adviser for Surrey LEA, tutor at Leicester University and external expert at Worcester University. He is the co-author of the Times Educational Supplement award-winning book Educating Children with ADHD (Routledge/Falmer 2000). Fintan is the current board member of the ADHD Global Network and Education Director of ADDISS Charitable Trust.

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