Ask Dr. Blank: What are some creative ways for children with ADHD to better manage in the classroom?

Despite living in the high tech 21st century, it is amazing how much classrooms continue to employ the patterns set up over a century ago. Many of the difficulties that ADHD children display are grounded in these patterns.

Here are some of the components that we would do well to offer.

Reduced sitting time: the health industry today is replete with advice about the dangers to our health from long periods of sitting. That information has barely penetrated the school scene. The risks of a sedentary lifestyle include poor cardiovascular health, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. The recommendations steadily call for getting up, moving, walking, sit-stand desks, etc. The key is to implement them, while combining the reduced sitting with physical activities that improve posture, movement, strength and coordination.

Mindfulness: one of the hottest public health concepts today is the idea of mindfulness, which is somewhat akin to meditation (but not the same). “Mindfulness” refers to a psychological state of awareness and it can be cultivated through a variety of practices such as yoga or tai chi. If done regularly, its effects can be impressive. The benefits include stress reduction, boosts to working memory, greater focus, greater cognitive flexibility and a range of other desirable outcomes. Teachers, and other school staff, would of course need to be trained in this area—but training is readily available. In my experience, once they understand what is involved, most kids enjoy the practices and happily carry them out. This is a win-win situation. It provides breaks from the traditional academic tasks and it yields more alert, calm and cooperative children.

Use of hands on materials: ADHD is almost synonymous with a lot of movement. This naturally does not lend itself to sitting in front of books and quietly attending to the dry material. Hands-on activities provide a very different context. One of the promising developments in schools today is the introduction of organic gardens that the children are taught to use. Along with providing appealing, hands on activities, a solid academic curriculum can be incorporated into this work—including but not limited to math (costs, budgets, etc.); science (comparison of organic and non-organic foods, diets around the world; comparison of diets, etc.) and health (value of good nutrition; problems of poor nutrition; etc.).

These are but a few of the changes in the school day that can make a huge difference in the lives of children with ADHD. Others include peer teaching, shorter periods of instruction, more and better use of visual aids, reduced demands for rote memory, and shorter school days (the U.S. is one of the countries with the longest school days. Other nation such as Finland have shorter days and far better outcomes.)

It is interesting –and important to note—that these suggestions would be beneficial for all students. In a sense, children with ADHD are “the canaries in the coal mine.” Their behavior makes them more sensitive to and less tolerant of the difficulties that keep classrooms from realizing their full potential. Instead of viewing ADHD children as different, it is far more useful to evaluate the changes that would benefit them—and in so doing, empower all children to achieve better levels of performance.

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