Helping ADD/ADHD Students Learn Effectively

Article by Elizabeth “Beth” V. Freemanhomeschool, school at home

Licensed Independent Social Work – Clinical & Advanced Practice

Much has been said about the diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Many parents and teachers seek new ways to teach children with deficits in focusing for extended periods of time and attending to tasks. Additional deficits occur in some children and youth that also struggle with impulsivity in their actions, thoughts and behaviors.

Auditory and Repetitive Learning

Often children and youth with ADD/ADHD are very intelligent and compensate for their inability to focus for extended periods of time through auditory and repetitive learning.  However, as the child/youth is required to learn more difficult subjects they are no longer able to compensate for their inability to focus on tasks.  This has been a major challenge for the adults who are trying to teach them and for the parent who is trying to help them with homework or home-school assignments.

Hands-On and Technological Learning

Children and youth with ADD/ADHD do not learn well in the traditional classroom setting and require more hands-on-learning approaches such as role playing, visual stimulation, technology aids, science projects and application of subject to real life situations.

Life-long Process to Learning

The major problem that decreases a child’s ability to learn is a short attention span. I am going to list some suggestions below that will help build their capacity for learning. However, before I do–a word of encouragement for you. Remember helping your child learn is a life-long process; so don’t be discouraged if they don’t accomplish these skills quickly. Think of it this way: a child without ADD will learn by repetition in sequences of three to five; a child with ADD will need twice as much repetition in sequences of six to ten.  For adults, breaking a habit takes repetition of 300 times to create a new habit. I’m glad that it doesn’t take that long for children and youth!  After all they are not entrenched in old habits that have developed over thirty or more years.

Here are some hints toward success:

  • Choose one item to work on at a time.
  • Choose the item that you think your child will be most likely to accomplish at this point in their life.
  • Once they are successful they will be willing to try a harder task. Patience and consistency is the key to success.
  • It usually takes three weeks or longer for a child to accept a new concept and feel a sense of some success.
  • Don’t give up.
  • All your efforts will pay off and you will see progress.

Developing Your Child/Youth’s Attention Span

*Choose one or more of these suggestions to practice multiple times daily (as a routine).

  • A child’s attention span can be held longer if he is comfortable with the temperature, lighting and seating.
  • Make sure the child is well rested. Determine what time of day they are most attentive.
  • Allow the child to work in short intervals depending on their developmental age.
  • Choose a topic that the child is interested in. Experiences you want to share can be easily adjusted to fit in the realm of their interest level.
  • State directions in short sentences (preferably 3 to 5 words only). Then ask the child to repeat the directions you gave him.
  • Have the child actively participate in the learning experience.
  • Visual and auditory distractions should be minimized.
  • Reward the child for paying attention. This can be done with verbal praise for the specific task you have desired them to do. Remember the child must hear praise for success in the specific task six to ten times more often than a child without ADD.
  • Establish eye contact before talking to your child to assure they are listening and learn when to listen to you.
  • When talking to your child, say their name frequently. This helps pull attention back to focus.
  • Physical contact is important. Touching or holding hands while talking helps poor attendees remember what you are saying.
  • Speak in a quiet voice. This makes children listen more closely.
  • Set a good example by paying attention yourself.
  • Prepare your child for listening by saying, “listen carefully” and letting him know what you are expecting of him.
  • After hearing a song, ask the child to describe the story behind the song
  • Read a story with the child and then have the child act out the story with puppets, make a play, role-play the story together, etc. Ask them to tell the story to you just like they were watching a movie.
  • Ask the child to sit quietly for a few minutes and tell you all the sounds he hears.
  • Ask the child to close his eyes. You make sounds and ask him to identify the sounds he hears.
  • Read books which are familiar to the child and then get the child to tell you what the next line in the story is.
  • After reading a story to your child ask questions about the order of events in the story.

Creating Successful Learning Environments

The three characteristics of ADD/ADHD are distractibility, impulsivity and/or hyperactivity. The full article contains some ways you can create a learning environment that will enhance your child’s abilities to be successful, as well as information on color coding, reading tricks, problem solving skills (5-step problem solving process), and parental strategies for daily living with ADD/ADHD.

Create a support network of other parents who are parenting children with ADD/ADHD. Often it takes a team to help you raise your child and a team of support to keep you encouraged as well.  The training you give to your child today will carry them through a lifetime of living with ADD/ADHD. I wish for you many blessings as you discover the strengths in your child and in yourself.


See also:


Struggling with whether or not to medicate? Please read this post by a fellow blogger:

Making the Choice to Medicate Your Child – The Chaos and the Clutter

Education, Homeschool, Gap Year


4 thoughts on “Helping ADD/ADHD Students Learn Effectively

  1. Pingback: Music Therapy and ADHD | The Education Cafe

  2. Pingback: ADD and Things Kids Say | The Education Cafe

  3. Pingback: ADD and Things Kids Say | The Education Cafe

  4. Pingback: Homeschooling Children with ADD/ADHD and/or ODD « The Education Cafe

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