Teaching a child with ADHD and Anxiety in the classroom

I have lost count of the number of times I have been in called in to meet with Sarah’s teachers. It began when she was just three years old and had bitten another child at Nursery. At four years old, I was called into the school as she wasn’t displaying any signs of empathy. 
Then when Sarah was five, I was called in again, as she would often not listen to the teacher and was unable to sit still. However, I don’t think anything could have prepared me for how often I would be called into school when Sarah turned six. At one point I was called in every week, sometimes twice a week.

Children aren’t born with a set of instructions, so as a parent you can find yourself in unfamiliar territory. Friends and family weren’t sure what to say either as their child wasn’t displaying the same behaviours, so suddenly ‘Google’ became a good friend of mine. I found advice on internet forums and Facebook groups, but it was often conflicting advice and sent my head into a spin.

Over the years I would sit in front of Sarah’s teachers and listen intently as they would describe Sarah’s inattentive and impulsive behaviour. I could see in their eyes that they had no idea how to manage this little bundle of effervescent energy.
I didn’t know either; we were struggling at home just at much as they were struggling in school. 

One of the things I get asked from other parents the most, is how they can help their child in school. I don’t personally have experience of dealing with ADHD children in the classroom, so I am hugely grateful for this week’s guest blog post from a teacher who has lots of experience in this field. It’s a fantastic read and will help so many parents and teachers who are struggling with these different little humans.

Let me know your thoughts; I would love to hear them!

Susy x


A Teachers View of ADHD and Anxiety in the classroom

More and more teachers are finding that the students in our care are coming to us with increasingly diverse and complex needs. I’ve been a primary school teacher both in the UK and Australia for just over 8 years now and the number of students with Anxiety (and/or depression) and ADHD is on the increase (or are being diagnosed in a timelier manner). Since moving to Australia 6 years ago there has not been a year go by where I haven’t had at least one student in my class needing support and help in these areas. Each child is unique in the way these issues manifest themselves but there are some commonalities. The following are just some thoughts and observations I have made in recent years. In no way am I an expert nor do I claim to have answers but I hope they are helpful to you wherever you are in this journey.

When it comes to any student, regardless of their needs, relationship is key to success with any student. It is the starting point for me with all my students. Earning trust and respect puts you in a position where students allow you in to their worlds and into a position where you can make a positive difference in their lives. It also allows you to put firm and clear boundaries in place. Many students, whether they are able to acknowledge it or not, feel much safer and more secure when there are strong routines, boundaries and clear expectations in place. For some students, relationship and trust comes quicker, for others it may take more time or effort on my part. One student I had cried every day for nearly a whole term, for others it took days. Either way, the investment was worth it.

Students who suffer from anxiety can experience a whole range of emotions in a day, depending on where they are at in themselves or socially. It can be a rollercoaster ride at times, depending on the kind of day or week the student is having. There are many times when you might come in to conflict with a student but when you know the child and how to read them then you know which battles to fight and which to let go. An inability for some students to think and process things rationally can cause issues both socially and emotionally. I have found that the fight and flight response can be quite confronting at times. When it comes to the flight response, being prepared for this and knowing the go to place for the students is important. Having an agreed spot with the student may be worthwhile to make everyone feel safer. When it comes to the fight response, there is no point engaging in an argument with a student, they will always seek to have the last word and it will only make the situation worse. They might say things they don’t mean in the heat of the moment but you can always revisit any inappropriate behaviour once emotions are less heightened. From experience, they will usually acknowledge any rudeness or bad behaviour and apologise.

In the classroom I have found various things helpful:

•    Wobble chairs help students to keep moving whilst working. 
•    A visual timetable so that the day is clear helps alleviate anxiety.
•    Headphones can be used to block out any distracting noise when working independently. 
•    Giving breaks and space for students to do a few laps of the monkey bars or run around the oval can get rid of any pent up energy. 
•    Allowing shoes and socks to be taken off can help students who are more sensory. For boys it can really help them feel grounded and secure.
•    Letting students listen to calming music with headphones on their device can also help. 
•    Having a separate, quieter area is also helpful if students want to use ‘talk to text’ apps to help them get their ideas down.

 I have found that offering these kinds of accommodations to students who struggle with focus or concentration can enable them to produce work which they might not have been able to otherwise. This is empowering and exciting for them and their parents. It can help improve their self esteem and motivate them. 

When it comes to testing (unit assessments, NAPLAN etc) it is not uncommon for some students to perform badly. Lack of focus during the test, lack of care, lack of understanding of its significance, stress, gaps in knowledge due to inattentiveness and so on can all be factors which impact upon test results. This can really impact on their self-esteem and be of concern to parents. For some students, monitoring their learning and understanding in other ways is important. Having a gauge of where they are at through oral questioning, work they have completed on a ‘good’ day etc helps give a more accurate picture of where they are really at. 

I will never forget the impact that medication had on a student in my care a few years ago.  This student had ADHD and was in support groups for Maths and Literacy. She was under performing in all areas of curriculum, according to testing. Her parents had tried many different options (diet, sport etc) and finally tried medication as a last resort. Within weeks, the writing we were seeing was like it was from a different child. She was able to access her work in a way she couldn’t before and we were able to see her true potential. In fact, her creativity and ability to write was beyond many of the other students in the class. I don’t think we would ever have seen this if her parents hadn’t made that tough decision. Along with medication there are many side effects and getting the dosage right takes time, but it can enable some students to access education in way they never would have been able to otherwise.  

It can be a tough journey at times for everyone involved but keeping discussions open and honest really helps. I hope that some of my observations and thought will be of help.

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