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Hyperactivity, Impulsiveness, Inattention – A Teacher’s Guide To ADHD

Diana Hudson presents a primer on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – a behavioural condition that's well-known, but often widely misunderstood…

Diana Hudson
by Diana Hudson
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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a medical disorder involving brain chemistry. It affects the front part of the brain which controls our ability to think rationally, learn from experience and control impulsive behaviour. Children with ADHD have fewer chemical transmitters in this area than normal, resulting in spontaneity, risk-taking and lack of concentration.

ADHD affects around 2 to 5% of school-aged children and young people in the UK. The condition has no impact on a child’s overall intelligence, but it can impair their progress unless carefully controlled.

Children with ADHD find studying and concentrating a real struggle. Many fall behind in class, and their initial enthusiasm and fervour can quickly turn to disillusionment, depression and a sense of failure. The earlier the condition is picked up and diagnosed, the sooner children can receive appropriate treatment and learn to control their symptoms – and thus begin to succeed and flourish.

ADHD cannot be ‘cured’, but it can respond to behavioural therapy, medicine and lifestyle changes.

How can I spot a student with ADHD?

There are three three behavioural indicators to look out for – hyperactivity, impulsiveness and inattention, though some children will not exhibit all three.

Hyperactivity (more common among boys)

  • Fidgets and jiggles when sitting, appears restless and distracted
  • Frequently leaves seat in class
  • Tendency towards being silly and showing off
  • Fondness for running or climbing at inappropriate times
  • Excessive talking
  • Chaotic manner; will often arrive late without correct equipment


  • Shouts out in class
  • Impatient
  • Excitable
  • Finds it difficult to wait their turn, will frequently interrupt
  • Often agitated
  • Reacts emotionally, rather than rationally
  • Can become angry and aggressive, will frequently argume with peers
  • Keen to take risks taker, likes excitement

Inattention (more common among girls)

  • Easily distracted, lacks focus
  • May not listen properly
  • Makes careless mistakes
  • Poor short-term memory
  • Experiences difficulty in following instructions
  • Appears detached and/or absent-minded
  • Will often lose things, arrive late, become lost or forget things
  • Will avoid tasks requiring sustained mental effort

Natural advantages That said, children with ADHD possess some common attributes that may give them advantages in certain areas:

  • Heightened enthusiasm
  • Capable of innovative and imaginative thinking
  • High reserves of energy
  • A different perspective that lends itself well to lateral thinking
  • Charisma and a willingness to engage
  • Confidence to take risks
  • A readiness to volunteer
  • A kind, friendly and outgoing demeanour
  • A good rapport with younger children
  • May rise to a challenge if given responsibility
  • Ambitions to do well and make friends
  • A keen sense of justice and fairness
  • A passion and aptitude for a certain topic, sport or hobby – particularly physical and creative pursuits such as acting, dance or sport

A large number of successful public figures have been diagnosed with ADHD – many of them unusual thinkers who possess great drive and energy.

What can I do to help in class?

Children with ADHD can be both challenging and extremely rewarding to teach. You may find the following helpful when supporting a child with ADHD in class.

Clarity and classroom rules Establish clear classroom rules, and remind the children of these periodically. Start every lesson the same way each time, as this gives security. Your demeanour should be positive, upbeat, firm but approachable. Try to develop a signal that the child can recognise if they are misbehaving, or a way for them to alert you if they are feeling particularly agitated or upset.

Seating For children with ADHD, sitting in traditional rows will work better than sitting around tables facing their peers. The child should be seated at the end of the row, away from windows, noisy pipes, doors, class pets and other distractions. Ensure that you have can maintain easy eye contact with them throughout the lesson.

Discipline Put in place clear and fair rules on discipline, ensure that these are observed consistently and reward and reinforce good behaviour – incentive schemes can work well. Outline exactly what behaviour is unacceptable, and explain the consequences of misdemeanours; give clear warnings of any unacceptable behaviour.

Punishments should be fair and feasible to carry out. If poor behaviour is repeated, act decisively and firmly, but do not shout or loss your temper. Don’t take any outbursts personally.

Lessons Keep your lessons fast-paced and innovative, with frequent changes of activity. Employ a multisensory approach by using visual aids, film clips, audio and materials that the pupils can handle.

Include practical exercises: use coloured pens, mini white boards, make posters or games Allow children to act, write poems or songs, ICT presentations,

Movement Factor in time for movement in the form of a practical exercise. You can also let children with ADHD to give out materials, collect books, open windows and perform other tasks – provide them with opportunities to be helpful.

If possible, try setting aside an area of the room with different seating – bean bags or rugs, for instance – that children can move to.

Computers These are often popular with ADHD children, since they can be stimulating and fun while providing instant, non-judgemental feedback. In addition to using ICT to present their work, time on the computer can be used as a reward.

Homework Don’t expect too much. Try to make it innovative and fun, and mark for content and effort – not presentation.

Responsibility If possible, give children with ADHD a role in the class or school. Show that they are trusted and that you have high expectations of them. Celebrate their successes where appropriate, and remember to report the good things they do, as well as any problems.

Your Attitude It is important to remain calm in your dealings with children with ADHD – be firm, but approachable. Remember to smile and show them that you care – it will make a huge difference.

Further reading

  • ADHD Foundation
    Has useful resources and support for teachers
  • ADHD Kids British
    Support organisation for parents and children
  • UK ADHD Partnership
    Increases awareness of the condition by organising conferences and providing information to professionals and policy makers

Useful resources: maths

Useful resources: English

  • Word Shark
    Spelling and reading program
    Good for mnemonics and other learning ideas
  • Listening Books
    A charity supplying downloads of audio books to individuals at all academic levels. Includes texts for both school and university-level studies

Diana Hudson is the author of Specific Learning Difficulties – What Teachers Need to Know, available now in paperback from Jessica Kingsley Publishers, priced at £12.99.

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