ADHD - Supporting Children in Schools

Delyth Hughes 16 February 2023 5 min read
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ADHD is a condition that affects behaviour. In this article, Delyth Hughes explores the condition and some practical steps schools can take to support children.

The precise cause of ADHD is unknown although available evidence suggests that it is genetic. It is a brain-based biological disorder.

There are three types of ADHD:

  1. ADHD, combined type which is the most common type of ADHD and is characterised by impulsive and hyperactive behaviours as well as inattention and distractibility;
  2. ADHD, impulsive / hyperactive type is the least common type of ADHD, is characterised by impulsive and hyperactive behaviours without inattention and distractibility;
  3. ADHD, inattentive and distractible type which is characterised predominately by inattention and distractibility without hyperactivity.

Inattentive symptoms of ADHD present as:

  • Being easily distracted or side-tracked;
  • Difficulty in following instructions;
  • An appearance of not listening when spoken to directly;
  • Making careless mistakes;
  • Trouble organising tasks, in activities and their possessions;
  • Failure to finish work in school or tasks set in the classroom;
  • Avoiding or resisting tasks that require sustained mental effort, including homework;
  • Frequently losing things e.g. books, homework, belongings.

Hyperactive or impulsive symptoms of ADHD present as:

  • Fidgeting;
  • Trouble staying still or remaining seated;
  • Running and / or climbing where it is inappropriate;
  • Difficulty playing quietly;
  • Being extremely impatient, not able to wait for their turn;
  • High energy – being constantly active as if driven by a motor;
  • Talking excessively;
  • Blurting out answers before a question is completed or a response is prompted;
  • Interruption or intrusion in others conversations, activities and their possessions.

Children are only diagnosed with ADHD if:

  • They demonstrate these symptoms so often that they are causing real difficulty in at least two settings, usually in the home and at school;


  • The pattern that's causing them serious impairment persists for at least six months.

Children with ADHD may:

  • Demand attention by talking out of turn or unexpectedly move around the room;
  • Have trouble following instructions, especially when presented in a list, and with operations that require ordered steps, such as long division or solving equations;
  • Often forget to record homework assignments, complete them, or to bring the completed work to school when expected;
  • Lack fine motor control making note-taking difficult and handwriting difficult to read;
  • Find long-term projects difficult where there is no direct supervision;
  • Not fully contribute to group work and may keep the group from accomplishing its task.

Practical support

In many situations, the learning experience requires children to sit still, pay attention, listen, concentrate and follow instructions – all things that children with ADHD find difficult to do. It is important to understand that this is not because they are unwilling to do this but their condition does not enable them to do so.

By evaluating the child's individual needs and strengths, strategies can be developed to help them focus, stay on task, and learn to their full ability. Successful learning strategies for children with ADHD integrate three areas:

  1. Accommodations: What you put in place to facilitate and make learning easier for pupils;
  2. Instruction: The methods used in teaching;
  3. Intervention: How behaviours that disrupt the concentration or distract the pupil with ADHD or other pupils are managed.

Practical measures to support pupils with ADHD include:

  • Seating a pupil with ADHD away from windows and away from the door, preferably seated where they can focus on the teacher, rather than seated around tables or facing another pupil / pupils;
  • Creating quiet areas free of distractions for learning, test-taking and study;
  • Using aural cues. An aural cue is a particular sound associated to an action e.g. a buzzer to signify the start of a lesson, a bell to signify when time allotted to a lesson is completed;
  • Giving structured simple instructions one at a time with as much repetition as necessary;
  • Allowing frequent breaks for the pupil to access a physical outlet to relieve anxiety such as squeezing a rubber ball;
  • Working on the most challenging / difficult material earlier in the day;
  • Using visual aids as much as possible e.g. charts, pictures, colour coding;
  • Varying the pace and types of activities. Pupils with ADHD often respond well to competitive, rapid and intense activities;
  • Avoiding asking pupils with ADHD to perform difficult tasks or answer questions publicly;
  • Dividing long-term projects into smaller segments and assign a clear completion goal for each segment;
  • Accepting late work and giving partial credits for partial work completed;
  • Helping the pupil by organising work into distinct subject sections, keeping materials and completed work within the defined sections. Colour coding by subject area may help the pupil identify each subject area;
  • Devising a 'to do' system for what is needed to complete tasks in the setting and as homework. Make sure assignments are vocalised several times, repeated at least three times, and instructions are clearly written on a display they can see.

My key message for those supporting children with ADHD is to remember that positivity is crucial in enabling a pupil diagnosed with ADHD. Supporting a child with ADHD requires patience, creativity, and consistency.

Want to know more about supporting mental health? Check out our Supporting Mental Health and Wellbeing training.

Delyth Hughes

Senior Leader Children's Mental Health Recovery Unit

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