One of the most rewarding experiences of my life so far has been getting to spend a year and a half working in a classroom chock full of students with ADHD and ASD. Every day was an adventure for sure. While there were certainly days full of chaos and frustration, there were also so many days full of laughter and fun. There are a lot of things that I have learned from my experience in that classroom, but if I had to pick one to share, it would be this: "ADHD children in the classroom really DO want to succeed, and when in the right environment with the right support, they can SHINE!"
Now, this school had a lot of resources that a typical school doesn't have. For example, there was a sensory room with low lighting, comfy seating, and plenty of fidgets to both calm the nerves and offer an outlet for pent up energy. Every student at that school had some kind of learning disability or disorder, and so no one felt shamed for being on a different level from their peers because integrated learning allowed for that to be the norm. Most importantly, the teachers took a lot of time to get to know their students, understand their needs, and create an environment in which the class learned how to cooperate as a whole. They understood how to deescalate a tense situation, and they even encouraged students to take care of their mental health needs so that they could return to learning.
I dream of a world where more schools exhibit these characteristics. In this world, neurodivergent students are provided with the tools needed to succeed, and students become more understanding of how neurodivergent people operate. In hopes of furthering that dream, I have put together a tool kit for teachers of neurodivergent students who are having trouble understanding their needs and knowing how to best support them.
1. Use fidgets
I'm not going to pretend like fidgets aren't toys, however, they aren't without purpose. They provide the extra stimulation that the student's brain needs in order to concentrate on your lesson. Even in the school I worked in, fidgets were confiscated when they stopped serving their intended purpose and became a distraction from the lesson. The teaching is still the most important part of class, and by allowing fidgets, you are giving neurodivergent students the opportunity to focus on you instead of whatever else might be grabbing their attention.
2. Learn how to redirect focus
3. Use positive reinforcement
4. Keep frustration to a minimum
5. Provide extra reminders
6. Keep it bite sized
7. Teach students how to stay organized
8. PBIS World - tools for behavior management
9. Create a set of rules and routines for the classroom