We talk a lot about the problems associated with things like ADD and ADHD, but there are advantages that accompany any difference our students may face. Sometimes it’s hard to look beyond the challenges, but finding a way to focus on a student’s strengths will help them to feel more self-confidence and boost your relationship with them.
Here are some of the advantages that may accompany ADD and ADHD. Remember, these are some commonly found traits, but all students are different. They may not have any of these particular strengths (although that’s fairly unlikely), or perhaps they only have one or two as part of their natural personality, but every person has strengths. It’s worth the time to discover and invest in them.
Note that some or all of these strengths are likely to be dulled if your student is medicated.
Trying something new? Get the kid with ADHD in on it. If they’re impulsive, trying something new may fulfill their need for novelty.
In fact, if you have an impulsive student, build spontaneity into your plans. Find ways to meet that need in small ways. Even if you have other students who rely on predictability and continuity, you can still take advantage of novelty by giving your impulsive student secret missions.
For example, if you’re lecturing during a lesson, have them tally up how many times you say “and”, or even how many times you use a vocabulary word.
Have stretching or jumping breaks every 15 minutes, or give them yarn in an impossible knot to untangle during the lesson. If they’re artistic, have them illustrate the lesson and turn it in for extra credit.
And ask for their input. They may have lots of ideas for spontaneous ways to burn some energy. Write those ideas down, put them in a jar, and pull one out when you notice they need a change.
Many students with ADD and ADHD have an overabundance of creativity. Put that skill to use, especially if you lack creativity yourself! They may come up with wild, irrational ideas, but for every hundred ideas, there may be one absolutely genius one.
Encourage them to use their creativity any chance you can. Invite them to help you solve classroom management issues like how papers are turned in or how to hand them back out efficiently once they are graded. Invite their ideas for decorating bulletin boards.
Ask them to come up with a way to call everyone in from recess each day, or how to keep all the pencils from going missing by November.
They may even be helpful in planning. They might enjoy helping you create a game to review content for an upcoming test or thinking of an exciting way to introduce and practice spelling words.
The more you can involve that student in the creative process, the more they will feel comfortable with being themselves. Validate those feelings of worth and include them as a vital part of your classroom family
Students with ADHD may become completely absorbed in certain activities. This can be an asset if that activity is something productive. When that happens to football players, writers, or actors, we often refer to it as “being in the zone”. Everything else just melts away, and it seems like time itself slows or stops. Nothing else is even on their radar.
Not all people with ADD or ADHD have this ability (or symptom, depending on your point of view), but those who do may get so caught up in doing things that aren’t productive that everything else suffers.
Try using transference with students who focus on things that are unproductive. If they’re obsessed with drawing Pokemon, for example, ask them to create some characters to go along with elements on the scientific table as you study them.
Or make historical figures into characters.
Integrating the thing they seem obsessed with into the things they are avoiding can really help them use their focus to create a link between their prior knowledge and the content they are learning. It personalizes the information in a way that will guarantee they remember it, too.
Some students don’t need any transference. They may just need to be taught how to choose what they focus on. Encourage them as they learn more about their hyperfocus skills and help them find opportunities to use it.
Quick-Thinking and Multitasking
We suggested things above like untangling yarn during a lesson or cleaning. We talked about creating characters as a way to use hyperfocus in science or math. A lot of these things work very well for students with ADD or ADHD who multitask.
Some students feel the urge to do more than one thing at a time. They have to be moving while thinking. If they aren’t, their brain will find something else to latch onto that isn’t productive.
Give these students what they are needing. If they can dust the room while you’re speaking and still answer all your questions, chances are they really need to be doing something while you’re talking.
Some students can be taught to take notes or draw to illustrate what you’re talking about. Some students just need to be moving their bodies. Others need to be working on something consciously while working on a problem subconsciously.
Ask your student who multitasks how it works for them and accommodate.
Another great thing about these students is that they multitask well due to the fact that they think very quickly. They’ve listened, processed the problem or information, and come up with a solution before you’ve even finished asking the question.
These are the students that are great to have nearby in an emergency. If their instincts are good, encourage them to follow their intuition. You may even use their giftedness in this area by asking what they would do in certain scenarios. Their instincts may provide you with excellent ideas.
Joy and Enthusiasm
One of the trickiest aspects of ADHD is the emotional intensity these students often posses. In its negative form, these students struggle with anger, fear, and frustration. Sometimes they are very sad or struggle with intense, although sometimes brief, depression.
On the other hand, positive emotions can be accessed just as deeply, quickly, and intensely.
If you need a cheerleader, the kid with ADHD will be there for you. Their expressions of joy are sincere and contagious. Embrace these moments and do all you can to make them occur often. It’s a great way to fuel morale in the classroom, and it can provide motivation and enrich the learning process for everyone.
Ok, this can be both a blessing and a curse, but when you teach a student how to take that overly abundant energy and use it to propel them forward on an assignment or a way to help the class collectively, great things can happen.
When you are having an off day and aren’t feeling very energetic yourself, students with boundless energy can actually help motivate you. Rather than focusing on feeling annoyed, try relaxing into the flow. Imagine that you’re soaking up some of the wild energy they’re throwing about.
Sometimes just telling yourself to see their exuberance as a positive rather than a negative is enough to bring you out of a funk.
If nothing else, you might be able to use energetic bursts to get some cleaning done! Have the student dust, clean the whiteboard, do errands, pick up trash, sharpen pencils with a hand-held sharpener (why use electricity when you have an overabundance of energy at your disposal?), or rearrange and organize a cabinet.
It’s empowering and so meaningful for students to hear you say that their difference, which is referred to by many as a “disability”, can be a strength. It’s powerful for you to say it to yourself. Taking the opportunity to teach them skills like organization, communication, ways to combat any short-term memory issues, and impulsivity control are just as important as teaching them core subjects - and it may be even more life-changing for the student.
ADHD is not “bad behavior”. It doesn’t stem from poor parenting. It’s not just an attitude problem.It’s a neurodevelopmental disorder. It’s as real and valid as any visible difference. You would never tell a child missing a leg to stop “hopping around and walk right”, or a child with diabetes to “quit complaining and drink some juice”. That would be cruel.
It’s cruel to ask a child with ADD or ADHD to “calm down”, “sit still”, and “pay attention” when they don’t know how to do that. Unlike some differences, a child can learn how to cope with ADD or ADHD, but your help is the prosthetic or the insulin, they depend on, at least in the beginning.