When people think of ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder), they often think of the common symptoms of the condition, including inattentiveness, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. But this list of symptoms doesn’t tell the whole story.
The fact is, children who have ADHD, also referred to as ADD, often share a number of beneficial traits that can potentially contribute to their success, both in school and in the workplace. ADHD students are often extremely creative, curious, passionate, and energetic—all attributes of successful entrepreneurs and inventors.
Just take a look at the following list of famously successful adults who also had ADHD.
The key to helping students with ADHD succeed is to remember that they are individuals, with individual strengths and challenges. Instead of seeing their unique traits as problems to be suppressed, celebrate their differences, and discover their strengths.
Keeping that in mind, here are some strategies that can be helpful for children with ADHD.
1. Allow Exploration of Interests
Many ADHD students will be interested in a variety of subjects and want to learn more. Allowing them to explore these areas and discover their strengths will be helpful to their confidence and their eventual career aspirations. “I prefer to distinguish ADD as attention abundance disorder, says author and professional coach, Frank Coppola. “Everything is just so interesting . . . remarkably at the same time.”
At Stride K12-powered online schools, students have an opportunity to explore their interests and engage with peers through elective courses and extracurricular activities including clubs, showcases, workshops, and online summer camps.
2. Embrace Your Child’s Strengths
While ADHD students may have trouble focusing on subjects that don’t hold their interest, they tend to excel at their strengths. Once you’ve determined what those strengths are, be sure to encourage your student to pursue the areas that most interest him or her. “I was always aware of the fact that I excelled with numbers, even though I struggled with reading,” says successful investor Charles Schwab, who has ADHD. “I focused on my strengths and used my natural affinity for numbers and economics as the focus of my career.”
Stride K12-powered schools are dedicated to empowering high-quality, personalized learning to help each student learn in ways that work best for them. Personalized learning targets a student’s strengths, letting them explore and grow in those subjects, while giving helpful attention to areas that require more support.
3. Facilitate the Best Learning Model
While trouble focusing can be a challenge for many ADHD students, others also tend to hyper focus on a topic and, therefore, are not ready to leave a particular subject. Either tendency can be a problem in a brick-and-mortar school. Online learning can be an excellent alternative for such students because it allows them to focus on one subject for as long as they need—moving on to another subject when they lose interest or keeping with a subject for a longer period if they are hyper focused on it. “They can actually get a deep dive in a subject and don’t lose time to transition from one topic to the next,” explains Robin Wise, former senior manager of Stride K12’s academic services, special programs. “Switching subjects is where we typically see lost learning time for kids who have a hard time with transition.” Some hyper focused students may find staying with one subject for an entire day is more effective. “New Stride K12 assignments are posted for one week, not for one day,” says Robin, “so they can do all the week’s math on Monday, all language arts on Tuesday, etc.”
At K12-powered schools, teachers and staff partner with parents and students to identify their needs, celebrate their strengths, and work together to develop ways to serve them best. Program structure and resources are designed to maximize the educational experience for students and parents.
4. Take Frequent Breaks
For students with attention issues, taking breaks is important, whether in school or with homework. Robin suggests breaking school time into 30-minute intervals with five-minute breaks in between. The breaks can also be a motivation to help students stay on track. “It is best to use a visual timer that will sound when the break ends,” says Robin. The breaks can also include a planned activity such as having a snack or walking the dog. That way the child can have something to look forward to after the learning time.
The flexible schedule at Stride K12-powered schools allows students to work through lessons at their own pace and take breaks when needed—whether they need to exert energy, go to an appointment, or simply take a break.
5. Create a Productive Learning Environment
Create a setting that has the least distractions and is comfortable for the individual student. Choose lighting that is calming as light can be a distracting stimulant. “Don’t say no to music if that is helpful,” advises Robin, “some students concentrate better with sound.” A chair on wheels for movement or even a balance ball may be effective. It can also be helpful for students to hold small trinkets like squishy balls, pens, widgets, or things with Velcro while learning or studying. The movement and the sound can help them to focus. Even doodling can be productive for some students.
Online schools are conducive to productive learning environments as students learning space can be customized to suit their needs without distracting other students or calling unwanted attention to themselves.
6. Establish a Routine While Embracing Flexibility
An established routine keeps students organized and sets expectations. Once you determine the best time and routine for your child, try to stick to it. “Discuss a routine to complete assignments with your child that you both agree on,” Robin suggests. “If the child helps create a plan they have a greater chance of following through on it.”
Always remember the routine is not a be-all and end-all. It’s important to embrace flexibility and know that every day will not go as planned.
7. Maintain an Exercise Program
Several studies have shown that exercise is beneficial for kids academically, but recent research indicates that exercise is especially helpful for kids with ADHD. Dr. John Ratey, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, says that exercise works like medication to improve attention and mood. “Exercise turns on the attention system, the so-called executive functions—sequencing, working memory, prioritizing, inhibiting, and sustaining attention,” he explains. “On a practical level, it causes kids to be less impulsive, which makes them more primed to learn.”
Once you and your child learn how to adapt to the ADHD symptoms that may get in the way of learning, take a moment to look at the positive aspects of the condition and be your child’s advocate. A child with ADHD is likely to look at things in new and innovative ways, and that is a beneficial trait to have. Students with ADHD often do far better with online learning because of the individualized learning model. Hear from current Stride K12 students who have ADHD and how online learning has helped them thrive.
Visit Stride K12 to explore how a personalized approach to education can help your student achieve their academic goals, find their confidence, and put them on a track to success.
This article was originally published in 2016 and has been revised and republished.