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The key to helping teenagers with ADHD to revise for their GCSE exams is to understand how their very special brains work. Once you know this, you can help them with strategies.

Understand the teenager’s ADHD brain

Unless your teenager finds GCSE revision authentically interesting, chastising her won’t help. Encourage her to do something that she is interested in first. This could be anything from playing Sudoku to going to the gym. Physical activity is a great jump start.

Identify the best processing modalities

Your teenager will revise more effectively if she is using his preferred and dominant processing modalities. These will most likely be verbal, visual, auditory and kinaesthetic. She will revise best through discussing concepts and repeating information out loud to herself; creating colourful mind maps; highlighting notes; or typing them out and putting them on display where she can see them regularly. Practice papers will do more for her than reading over her texts. Help your child work out how she learns and processes information best and encourage her to use as many of these modalities as she can to keep her engaged. 

Encourage multi-sensory learning

Low level distractions can help to provide the stimulation that your teenager needs that she isn’t getting from her GCSE revision. Suggest that she listens to music, chews gum, uses fidget toys, revises while standing up or a combination of these things. Help her experiment. Be wary of sensory overload however as it can be a fine line between a help and a hindrance.

Inject some interest

Teenagers with ADHD generally find novelty, challenge, urgency, connection, contribution and meaning authentically interesting. Try to find ways of injecting these elements into GCSE exam revision. Set close deadlines, get her a tutor she genuinely likes, arrange a study partner and try to bring her lessons to life so that they have meaning and feel relevant to her. A child with ADHD is always trying to make sense of the world. If she can't see any point, well, there isn’t any point.

Eliminate the wrong kind of distractions

Whilst the right kind of low-level distractions will help your teenager to revise, the wrong kind won’t. Items and activities close by that don’t ordinarily appeal will suddenly become very interesting during GCSE exam revision. Remove temptation by creating the right study environment where there is basically nothing else for your teenager to do but revise. Waiting rooms and long train trips work a treat.

Keep rumination at bay

People with ADHD are prone to ruminate, particularly when bored. Negative thoughts are highly stimulating and much easier to conjure up than positive ones. To keep rumination at bay and reduce mind chatter, break up study time with exercise, mindfulness and being in nature.

Ask, don’t tell 

Telling your teenager to revise won’t be effective. She will be much more receptive and collaborative if you ask her questions. Help her to create her own GCSE revision schedule on a whiteboard or flipchart. To help her get started, ask:

  • When do you study best?
  • How long can you study before you start losing focus?
  • What can you do during your study breaks that will help you refuel?
  • What can you do to help you transition from a study break back to revision?
  • How are you going to remember this schedule and stick with it?

Teenagers with ADHD have a poor sense of time. Encourage her to create and consistently follow routines.

Manage your own ADHD

ADHD is highly genetic. If you also have ADHD, helping your son or daughter to revise for GCSE examinations is not going to be easy unless you are truly interested in the task. Think back to how you used to revise, particularly for subjects that you didn’t find interesting. Chances are what worked for you then may work for your child now.

Help your teenager tell a new story about themselves

Children with ADHD have probably been told many times that they are lazy or just not very clever. Nothing could be further from the truth. They are likely to be a creative and innovative thinker with more ideas than you could poke a stick at. When they are engaged in something that they are interested in they are likely to have an abundance of energy and perseverance that would rival an Olympic athlete. Praise your child’s efforts and celebrate her successes.

Prioritise fun

Revising for exams can be extremely stressful. Try to stay upbeat and plan activities and days out that your teenager can look forward to and enjoy.

With thanks to Stephanie Camilleri, an ADHD coach and trainer.

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