Once you understand that an ADHD brain has very specific ways of perceiving and responding to information, particularly in the classroom, it gets easier to manage and get the best out of ADHD kids.
For starters, ADHD children are more sensitive than their neurotypical counterparts, which can lead to them being called drama queens or divas, and being accused of always wanting to be the centre of attention.
Actually, it is their ADHD brain that has “emotional dysregulation” and “rejection sensitive dysphoria” which can cause them to appear to be overly dramatic and react more strongly than others. This is particularly heightened during puberty, as ADHD is a condition very much linked to hormones and dopamine. However, there are some very quick and easy techniques for making sure they don’t feel hurt, humiliated or rejected.
“Always phrase your requests and instructions as a question.”
Make sure everybody at school understands that ADHD children will not like being made fun of. However kindly it is meant, it will always be perceived as rejection and cause humiliation in an ADHD child. So don’t ever use an ADHD child as the butt of a joke, however good-humouredly you mean it to be taken. It will very often get an angry response and the ADHD child will have very little control over this, especially if they are not medicated.
Next, remember that ADHD children do not like being told what to do. This is not them being contrary. It is the way their brain is wired. One of the easiest ways around this is always to phrase your requests and instructions as a question. For example, “get on with your English essay” is not going to be received anywhere near as well as “have you got all the information you need to start your English essay, or is there anything else you need?” ADHD children like to be in control, so the first demand will put their back up and the second “request” will not.
It’s easy, once you start, to phrase things as questions. Everything from “do you want to do your maths now or would you rather have a break and then start?” to “Would you prefer to stay behind after school for an hour for me to help you with that, or we could come in an hour earlier tomorrow morning if that suits you better?”
“ADHD children are estimated to receive up to 20,000 negative messages before the age of 12.”
No ADHD child will refuse to answer this question because they will feel that they have just been put in charge and will therefore delight in passing on their wisdom! They literally will not fail to tell you exactly what they think, because in their view they have been consulted for their opinion.
Something to look out for is self-esteem. ADHD children are estimated to receive up to 20,000 negative messages before the age of 12. Just have a think about that: 20,000 negative messages before the age of 12. What could those messages be? Here are a few examples: Sit down, stop fidgeting, stop shuffling, stop biting your fingers, stop kicking your leg, stop sucking your hair, stop tapping your fingers, concentrate, focus, stop looking out of the window, stop doodling, listen to what I’m saying, stop interrupting, stop distracting the person sitting next to you …
It can feel incessant when you are an ADHD child. Whatever you do seems to annoy other people, even when you are trying your very best. This is where low self-esteem and low self-worth are born.
You can clearly see how these messages add up and why an ADHD child is constantly on edge wondering what they are going to get told off for next. Always remember that it is their ADHD brain causing these actions. They aren’t purposely doing any of the above: all of it is a way to stimulate their brain, which is what their brain is crying out for.
“Taking all the ADHD traits into account when you talk to a child will pay dividends.”
Also remember that ADHD children are going to be impulsive. This means that sometimes they will interrupt you. They primarily do this because if they don’t say what they need to say at that exact moment, it will disappear from their mind. So, if a child does interrupt you, try to understand that they literally cannot hold onto the thought long enough for you to finish what you’re saying, hard as they may try.
Another good tip is never to shout or raise your voice at an ADHD child. Much as this might be tempting when they are losing their temper, you shouting is just going to make things much worse. Always keep your voice calm, constant and consistent. You then have much more chance of an ADHD child calming down.
Taking all the ADHD traits into account when you talk to an ADHD child will pay dividends. Remember they like to feel in charge, don’t like being told what to do, always feel they know best, and want things their own way. So, if you can word things cleverly so that these ADHD ways of thinking are accepted and played into, rather than ignoring the traits and using the same language you do with neurotypical children, your life is going to be a lot easier and your classroom an oasis of peace rather than a war zone.
Remember the ADHD child is trying their best to fit in. This means they are battling with their natural ADHD traits 24/7, which is exhausting for them. So, have some sympathy when holding it all in becomes just too difficult and their natural ADHD traits become evident.
Sarah Templeton is an ADHD counsellor, founder of the ADHD Liberty charity and author of Teachers! How Not to Kill the Spirit in Your ADHD Kids.
This article first appeared in the latest edition of International School Magazine, out now.