Key Elements for Success of Students with ADHD & LD in General Ed Classrooms

September 24, 2012

Here are 15 key factors I think are critical for the success of students with ADHD and/or  Learning Disabilities in general education classrooms.   This article/blog is adapted from my books: How to Reach & Teach Children with ADD/ADHD, 2nd edition (2005), The ADHD Book of Lists (2003), and The ADD/ADHD Checklist, 2nd edition (2008), published by Jossey Bass/Wiley.

  by Sandra Rief


1.   Teacher flexibility, commitment, and willingness to do what it takes for the student to succeed.  The classroom teacher who is willing to put in the extra time and effort, to work with the student, parents, and others on ‘the team’ to help is probably the most important factor for success.  It takes a teacher with a positive attitude and mindset – who believes that it is his or her responsibility to reach and teach EVERY student (even those who are “challenging”), and who doesn’t object to implementing a variety of strategies and interventions in order to do so.


2.   Knowledge and understanding about brain-based, “hidden disabilities” –  It is essential that teachers are aware that we are dealing with a problem that is physiological and biological in nature, and that the behaviors which are often challenging to deal with, are not deliberate.  In fact, the student is often oblivious to how he or she is behaving, or the effect on others. Just this awareness – that behaviors are stemming from a neurobiological disorder helps us to be more empathic and understanding…and enables us to maintain our patience, tolerance and sense of humor.  It helps us see past the behaviors to the whole child, and try harder to be more positive in our interactions with the student.  Every school (elementary and secondary) should have professional development to educate staff about disabilities, particularly the hidden brain disorders, the effects of these disorders (such as ADHD, LD, Asperger’s Syndrome) on the student’s learning, behavior, and school functioning, and appropriate interventions and strategies.


3.  Home-School Communication –  The success of students with disabilities, particularly the hidden brain disorders, requires much closer and more frequent communication between home and school than needed by most students.  It is important that parents are kept well-informed of how their child is performing.  It helps when teachers are also aware of what is going on at home, as well, and any issues (e.g., homework) that can be problem-solved together. Students with disabilities, particularly the hidden brain disorders, often benefit from the use of daily or weekly home/school monitoring forms and joint reinforcement systems for optimizing their academic and behavioral performance. Teachers need to be aware that sometimes it is difficult to establish open communication and a positive relationship with parents of this population of kids, because there may be an issue of trust.  Often parents don’t feel comfortable disclosing information to the school, or parents may have had a history of difficult interactions with school personnel over the years.  It is common that parents of children who have behavioral difficulties to feel directly or indirectly blamed for their child’s behaviors  (“What are you going to do about your kid?”).  When the phone rings during the day and the call is from the school, it typically isn’t good news.   It is very important for teachers to communicate to parents  (in words and actions) that they sincerely care about the student’s success,  are on the same ‘team’, and value parents’ input.


4.  Providing Clarity and Structure – All students, but particularly those with as ADHD, LD, and other neurobiological disorders need to have structure provided for them through clear communication, expectations, rules, consequences, and follow-up.  They need to have academic tasks structured by breaking assignments into manageable increments with teacher modeling and guided instruction, clear directions, standards, and feedback.  These students require assistance structuring their materials, workspace, group dynamics, handling choices, and transitional times.  Their day needs to be structured with altering of active and quiet periods.  No matter what is the individual teaching style or the physical environment of the classroom, every teacher needs to provide the structure for student success.


5.  Differentiated Instruction, Engaging Lessons and Teaching Strategies – a motivating curriculum taught through a variety of  approaches &  “best practices”, numerous active learning opportunities, providing an array of options that tap into students’ diverse learning styles, strengths & interests, and accommodate the needs of individual students in the classroom.


6.   Teamwork & Collaboration – Success for students with hidden brain disorders often involves a multi-modal approach, and a great deal of collaboration between school (general ed/special ed/support personnel/administration), home, community professionals and clinicians (physicians/mental health care providers).


7.   Effective Classroom Management – Creating a community within the classroom that is safe, inclusive, and respectful of all, employing positive discipline and strategies that are proactive to prevent or minimize behavioral problems from occurring.


8. Administrative Support – It is important that the administrator be part of the team, involved with intervention, and also trained in disabilities (particularly the hidden brain disorders).  It is the administrator who needs to find the means and time for the necessary planning, collaboration, and follow-through.  The administrator needs to take responsibility for making sure staff has the appropriate training.


9.  Willingness to Make Accommodations & Modifications to Class and Homework Assignments  – For students with ADHD and LD, teachers need to be flexible and willing to make adjustments as needed in assignments (class and homework) – particularly the written workload, which is often a great source of frustration  and takes an inordinate amount of time for them to complete.


10.   Assistance with Organization  – Students with LD and/or ADHD often have major problems with organization, time management, and other study skills.  They will need help and support to make sure assignments are recorded correctly, their work space and materials are organized, notebooks and desks are cleared of unnecessary collections of junk from time to time, and specific study skill strategies are explicitly taught and practiced.


11. Environmental Modifications –  There is a lot we can do to alter the environment in the classroom that will prevent or greatly reduce behavioral problems, and improve the performance of students with disabilities (particularly the hidden brain disorders).  Due to a variety of learning styles, there should be environmental options to students in where and how they work.   Where the student sits can make a significant difference. Lighting, furniture, seating arrangements, ventilation, visual displays, color, areas for relaxation, and provisions for blocking out distractions during seatwork should be carefully considered.


12. More Time  –  Students with ADHD & LD  frequently need more time ( on assessments, for work completion, to organize their thoughts, materials, etc., and sometimes to process and output answers to questions and teacher prompts).


13. Developing & Bringing Out Student Strengths – This is what I believe is the crux or heart of what will make a difference in the lives of our children – as it is the source of their motivation and self-esteem.  We all need to work to bring out and nurture every child’s strengths. Students with ADHD, LD, and other “hidden” disabilities are often bright, gifted and talented (artistically, musically, athletically). Unfortunately, when students don’t get their work done (which is the typical case for students with ADHD), they frequently, as a consequence, miss the opportunity to participate in those class/school activities such as art, music, PE, and a variety of enrichment activities. From my perspective, that may be an appropriate consequence when it happens on occasion; but NOT if it happens on any kind of regular basis.  These students need to participate in these activities that are motivating, and in which they often shine.  Unfortunately, there isn’t a student in the classroom who is unaware of the areas of weakness and vulnerability in our students with ADHD, LD, and other disabilities.  So, it is imperative that we allow these children every opportunity possible to showcase their strengths to their peers – to demonstrate to their classmates what they do well.


14.  Respecting Learning  Differences, Privacy, Confidentiality, and Feelings –  It is important that a student’s individual grades, test results, special accommodations/modifications, medical issues/treatments, etc. are  not  made  common  knowledge.   Self-esteem is fragile; these students often perceive themselves as failures.  AVOID RIDICULE.   Preservation of self-esteem is a critical factor in truly helping our students succeed in life.


15. Belief In Student – Doing What It Takes –  Reaching and teaching students with disabilities takes vigilance and commitment.  Finding what works best is a process over time.  Interventions we put into place often need to be revised with frequency.  When the strategies or interventions we are using stop working or don’t appear to be effective, we must go back to the “drawing board”.  The good news is that there is always Plan D, E, F… (if plans A, B, an C don’t work).  It’s not easy, but these children and teens are well worth the extra time and effort!



Tags: , , , ,

Comments (0)

Leave a Reply