Supporting Students With ADHD

When you hear ADHD, do you immediately imagine a student out of their seat, blurting out, while a teacher tries to redirect them? Most of our teachers and caregivers do too.

What you might not know is that there are three recognized types of ADHD. While school counselors do not diagnose ADHD it is important for us to understand the difference between the three types.

Students with hyperactive- impulsive type feel the need for movement. These are students that constantly fidget, leave their seat or area, and have little sense of danger.

Students with the inattentive type (formally known as ADD) are students that may make careless mistakes, don’t seem to listen when spoken to, have difficulty organizing tasks, and avoid work that requires sustained mental energy.

Students with a combined type must exhibit 6 of the 9 symptoms listed for each sub-type.

It is also important to note that many of the symptoms of ADHD overlap with signs of trauma or a co-morbid diagnosis, like Autism. For example, disorganization and restlessness are symptoms of ADHD and trauma. When consulting with caregivers and school support staff it is important to consider these overlapping traits and specific student history.

ADHD is more than students who just “can’t sit still.” I like to use this brochure to help teachers and caregivers understand more about ADHD.

ADHD impacts executive functioning, which regulates, controls, and manages our thoughts and actions. Our executive function gives us the ability to plan, reason, and monitor our actions. It also affects our inhibition, attention, and be flexible in our thinking.

The Brown model identified how ADHD impairs our 6 areas of executive functioning. “Although the model above shows 6 separate clusters, these functions continually work together, usually rapidly and unconsciously, to help each individual manage many tasks of daily life” (“The Brown Model of ADD/ADHD | Brown ADHD Clinic | United States”).

Looking at each area of executive functioning more closely can help school counselors focus on specific areas of concern and develop specific interventions and support.

  • Activation: these are students that may struggle with prioritizing, getting started on their tasks, and estimating the time it tasks to complete tasks. For students struggling with activation consider using a “jump start.” Encourage the student to try the activity for 2 minutes and then give them permission to stop.
  • Focus: These students may become easily distracted by their surroundings or their own thoughts. To help students with focus consider using a Mini Hand Shredder Portable Paper Shredder (I found mine on Amazon). Before starting a task ask students to write down their thoughts that are distracting them. Then ask them to divide their thoughts into which ones they want to talk about later and which ones we can shred for now. Your students will get a kick out of shredding their thoughts!
  • Effort: These students struggle with staying alert, long-term projects, and processing speed. For students struggling with effort try a stamina chart to get them competitive with themselves. Each time they do the activity, set a timer, and then graph how long they were able to sustain their effort. Then encourage them to beat their last time and reward them if they do.
  • Emotions: These students may struggle with self-regulation and finding perspective. My favorite research-based intervention is Dan Siegle’s “Name It To Tame It.” “Name It To Tame It’ helps reduces the frequency and intensity of the emotion.” this is a great strategy because it helps get them out of the autopilot mindset. Using bibliotherapy is one of my favorite ways to help students identify their emotions.
  • Memory: These students may struggle with short-term memory and remembering multi- step directions. Using visual schedules or apps like “Can Plan”, can be very helpful for students struggling with memory.
  • Action: The students may struggle with impulsivity, understanding body language in others, and the implications of their behavior. These students may blurt out during class. Try giving them a personal dry-erase board for them to write down or draw out their thoughts during class. Then cue them to hold up their board for you to see instead of blurting.

One of the most common things I hear from stakeholders is “but they totally pay attention when they play video games.” We often misinterpret their focus in some areas as them being defiant when they can’t focus. However, it’s not.

Highly engaging activities like video games are tapped into their interest-based nervous system. “This state of undivided attention is activated only by a fleeting sense of Interest, Competition, Novelty, and Urgency” (William Dodson & Editors, 2022). So no matter which intervention you choose, make sure it’s interesting and important to the student.

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