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Teaching Children with Attention Deficit/
THIS DIGEST SUPERSEDES ERIC EC DIGEST #E462
The ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education
ERIC EC Digest #E569
Defining Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit
Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD)
Attention deficit disorder is a syndrome characterized by serious
and persistent difficulties in the following three specific areas:
- Attention span.
- Impulse control.
- Hyperactivity (sometimes).
ADD is a chronic disorder that can begin in infancy and extend
through adulthood, having negative effects on a child's life at
home, school, and within the community. It is conservatively
estimated that 3 to 5% of our school-age population is affected
The condition previously fell under the headings, "learning
disabled," "brain damaged," "hyperkinetic," or "hyperactive." The
term attention deficit disorder was introduced to describe the
characteristics of these children more clearly.
Diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder/Hyperactivity
According to the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual
of Mental Disorders (4th ed., rev.) (American Psychiatric
Association, 1994), to be diagnosed as having ADD/ADHD, the
clinician must note the presence of at least 6 of the 9 following
criteria for either Attention Span or Hyperactivity/Impulsivity.
Attention Span Criteria
Pays little attention to details; makes careless mistakes
Has short attention span
Does not listen when spoken to directly
Does not follow instructions; fails to finish tasks
Has difficulty organizing tasks
Avoids tasks that require sustained mental effort
Is easily distracted
Is forgetful in daily activities
Fidgets; squirms in seat
Leaves seat in classroom when remaining seated is expected
Often runs about or climbs excessively at inappropriate
Has difficulty playing quietly
Blurts out answers before questions are completed
Has difficulty awaiting turn
Often interrupts or intrudes on others
Establishing the Proper Learning Environment
- Seat students with ADD near the teacher's desk, but
include them as part of the regular class seating.
- Place these students up front with their backs to the rest
of the class to keep other students out of view.
- Surround students with ADD with good role models.
- Encourage peer tutoring and cooperative/collaborative learning.
- Avoid distracting stimuli. Try not to place students with
ADD near air conditioners, high traffic areas, heaters, or
doors or windows.
- Children with ADD do not handle change well, so avoid transitions,
physical relocation (monitor them closely on field trips), changes in schedule, and
- Be creative! Produce a stimuli-reduced study area. Let all
students have access to this area so the student with
ADD will not feel different.
- Encourage parents to set up appropriate study space at
home, with set times and routines established for study,
parental review of completed homework, and periodic notebook and/or book
Giving Instructions to Students with ADD/ADHD
- Maintain eye contact during verbal instruction.
- Make directions clear and concise. Be consistent with
- Simplify complex directions. Avoid multiple commands.
- Make sure students comprehend the instructions before
beginning the task.
- Repeat instructions in a calm, positive manner, if needed.
- Help the students feel comfortable with seeking
assistance (most children with ADD will not ask for help).
Gradually reduce the amount of assistance, but keep in
mind that these children will need more help for a longer
period of time than the average child.
- Require a daily assignment notebook if necessary:
- Make sure each student correctly writes down all
assignments each day. If a student is not capable
of this, the teacher should help him or her.
- Sign the notebook daily to signify completion of
homework assignments. (Parents should also
- Use the notebook for daily communication with
- Give out only one task at a time.
- Monitor frequently. Maintain a supportive attitude.
- Modify assignments as needed. Consult with special education personnel
to determine specific strengths and weaknesses of each student.
- Develop an individualized education program.
- Make sure you are testing knowledge and not attention span.
- Give extra time for certain tasks. Students with ADD
may work slowly. Do not penalize them for needing
- Keep in mind that children with ADD are easily
frustrated. Stress, pressure, and fatigue can break
down their self-control and lead to poor behavior.
Modifying Behavior and Enhancing Self-Esteem
Providing Supervision and Discipline:
- Remain calm, state the infraction of the rule, and avoid
debating or arguing with the student.
- Have preestablished consequences for misbehavior.
- Administer consequences immediately, and monitor
proper behavior frequently.
- Enforce classroom rules consistently.
- Make sure the discipline fits the "crime," without harshness.
- Avoid ridicule and criticism. Remember, children with ADD have difficulty
staying in control.
- Avoid publicly reminding students on medication to "take their medicine."
Other Educational Recommendations
- Reward more than you punish, in order to build self-esteem.
- Praise immediately any and all good behavior and performance.
- Change rewards if they are not effective in motivating behavioral change.
- Find ways to encourage the child.
- Teach the child to reward himself or herself. Encourage
positive self-talk (e.g., "You did very well remaining in
your seat today. How do you feel about that?"). This
encourages the child to think positively about himself or
- Educational, psychological, and/or neurological testing
to determine learning style and cognitive ability and to
rule out any learning disabilities (common in about 30%
of students with ADD).
- A private tutor and/or peer tutoring at school.
- A class that has a low student-teacher ratio.
- Social skills training and organizational skills training.
- Training in cognitive restructuring (positive "self-talk,"
e.g., "I did that well").
- Use of a word processor or computer for schoolwork.
- Individualized activities that are mildly competitive or noncompetitive such as
bowling, walking, swimming, jogging, biking, karate. (Note: Children with ADD/ADHD
may do less well than their peers in team sports.)
- Involvement in social activities such as scouting, church
groups, or other youth organizations that help develop
social skills and self-esteem.
- Allowing children with ADD to play with younger
children if that is where they fit in. Many children with
ADD have more in common with younger children than
with their age-peers. They can still develop valuable
social skills from interaction with younger children.
American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and
statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., rev.) (DSM-IV-R).
Washington, DC: APA.
Bender, W. (1997). Understanding ADHD: A Practical Guide for Teachers and
Parents. Upper Saddle River, NJ:Merrill/Prentice Hall.
Fiore, T. (1993). Educational interventions for students with attention deficit disorder.
Exceptional Children, 60(2), 163-73.
Gardill, M. (1996). Classroom strategies for managing students with attention deficit/
hyperactivity disorder. Intervention in School and Clinic, 32(2), 89-94.
Hallowell, E. (1994). Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit
Disorder from Childhood through Adulthood. Tappan, NJ: Simon & Schuster.
Hartmann, T. (1993). Attention Deficit Disorder: A Different Perception. Novato, CA:
Reeve, R. (1996). A Continuing Education Program on Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity
Disorder. Reston, VA: Council for Exceptional Children.
Rief, S. (1997). The ADD/ADHD Checklist. An Easy Reference for Parents and
Teachers. Reston, VA: Council for Exceptional Children.
Robelia, B. (1997). Tips for working with ADHD students of all ages. Journal of
Experiential Education, 20(1), 51-53.
Schiller, E. (1996). Educating children with attention deficit disorder. Our
Children, 22(2), 32-33.
For more information on ADD, write to:
Children with Attention Deficit Disorder
1859 North Pine Island Road
Plantation, FL 33322
Contact your local school psychologist, examiner, or personnel
in charge of assessment and diagnosis in your school district for
specific information and local programs.
ERIC Digests are in the public domain and may be freely
reproduced and disseminated, but please acknowledge your source. This publication
was prepared with funding from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational
Research and Improvement, under Contract No. RI93002005. The opinions expressed in
this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of OERI or the Department
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