Attention deficient hyperactivity disorder or ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that impacts impulsivity and attention. It can also affect activity level – with children often being referred to as hyperactive.

Although these traits could be those of any child, children with ADHD struggle to develop strategies to self-manage their attention and focus. Children with ADHD can often seem dreamy, easily distracted. They also are likely to move a lot, having a need to fidget and have high levels of sensory input.

They have a reduced sense of danger and high levels of impulsivity which can put them at risk. They also may find social interactions and maintaining friendships hard.

The three types of ADHD:

  1. Hyperactive – Impulse: Children who have issues with impulsivity. They move a lot, interrupt others and struggle to listen to directions.
  2. Inattentive: Children struggle with focus, find it hard to complete tasks and are easily distracted.
  3. Combined: A mixture of 1 and 2.

As you can imagine, having ADHD is a challenge for children at school. Our school system in the UK is Victorian by design and, in the main, lacks the flexibility to cater for children with ADHD’s range of behaviours.

Our ADHD children become quickly labelled as ‘naughty’ and their impulsiveness means they struggle to ‘learn their lesson’, making them seem defiant and then the ill-fated ‘persistent disruptive behaviour’ line – which is a one-way ticket to exclusion.

However, at present, there is not a clear-cut definition of this term, with its interpretation changing from school to school.

“39% of children with ADHD have had fixed term exclusions from school with 11% of those students being excluded permanently,” states The UK ADHD Partnership.

“49% of male and 33% of sentenced prisoners were excluded from school.”

As these shocking statistics show, the impact of school exclusion is huge. Not only on the excluded child, but on society. Surely, we are missing something if, nearly 50% of our prison population have special needs. What would their life stories be of their needs had been met in school?

There are things parents can do to support children with ADHD in developing skills to manage their impulsivity and focus. Providing any child with a good foundation is going to give them better grounding when they are trying to self-manage any challenging behaviours.

Consider the following:

  • Diet – chose a diet that is healthy and balanced and is low in stimulants such as sugar, salt, or caffeine.
  • Routine – provide your child with a consistent routine to reduce the possibilities of conflict, anxiety, or impulse.
  • Screen time – limit the numbers of distractions in your child’s life. If you want them to focus on a task, ensure this is the only thing that is stimulating them at that time. TV, iPad and phones can overstimulate children with ADHD and make it hard for them to wind down.
  • Choices and instructions – when providing your child with instructions, make sure they are clear, contain no more than three pieces of information and have limited choices.
  • Positive approach – reward your child for doing well, rather than punishing them when they do wrong.
  • Exercise – help your child manage their energy levels by providing them with lots of physical exercise.

Although school may seem impossible for children with ADHD, there are many children who thrive. With the changing employment market turning its back on traditional roles, companies and further education institutes are actively seeking people who are neurodiverse for their workforces or cohorts.

Children with ADHD bring energy, creativity and think outside the box. They tend to be exciting to be around and employers want that. We need to ensure as educators that we do not become the disconnect between a child with ADHD and an employer eager for them to work for them.

This is often the case – a bad school experience, an exclusion or being labelled as naughty can turn off a child’s love of learning and limit their life prospects. There are, however, simple changes schools can make to be more ADHD friendly.

  1. Movement – allow students with ADHD to take movement breaks.
  2. Fidget – allow students to concentrate in class by using up any excess energy by using a fidget or wobble board.
  3. Throw out tradition – if your timetable means a child with ADHD is sitting for 6 hours straight, then what are we expecting to happen? Be creative with timetable structuring, factoring in exercise, short breaks, breaks for relaxing, not always playing.
  4. Lessons – teach lessons that are chunked into lots of smaller tasks with a range of activities. Consider your resources, how could you incorporate visuals, video, sound, or social interaction?
  5. Reduce distraction – consider where children with ADHD sit, make sure they have a good view of the teacher and can focus. Also, think of your classroom environment – lots of jazzy displays may look nice but are very distracting.
  6. Communication – Ensure you have good communication with parents and can talk openly and honestly about any behaviour incidents. Use a restorative approach to behaviour management and listen to the child’s perspective of an incident…before the dreaded ‘persistent disruptive behaviour’ tag comes out.

If nearly 50% of our prison population has special needs and nearly 40% of our ADHD children are being excluded, then something isn’t working. We need to champion these young people, support them as they learn how to support themselves, and turn that chilling statistic on its head.