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10 Essential Classroom Accommodations for ADHD

Go to that Individualized Education Program meeting prepared.

Key points

  • Young people in the education system with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have the right to receive accommodations.
  • Accommodations that may help students with ADHD include getting extra time to complete assignments and having special seating arrangements.
  • Having the teacher provide study guides or notes, taking breaks from the classroom and using the buddy system can also help.
Tatyana Dzemileva/Shutterstock
Source: Tatyana Dzemileva/Shutterstock

Thank goodness society has finally come to celebrate neurodiversity. Or rather, they’ve decided to finally acknowledge that there are people who think or learn differently from the majority by inventing an ultra-lengthy neologism.

Regardless, this long-overdue recognition has led to the realization and embracing that conventional methods of classroom instruction simply do not suffice for the “neurodivergent.” As such, accommodations or changes that remove the barriers to learning for the neurodiverse are in order and, thankfully, welcomed. Children or young people in the education system with an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) diagnosis have the right to receive accommodations under two federal laws, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

If your child has just been diagnosed with ADHD, or it’s time for that annual Individualized Education Program (IEP) review or re-evaluation of an IEP, there may be accommodations that can set them up for success this school year. Below are 10 accommodations that can make all the difference.

Time Management Accommodations

1. Extra Time to Complete Assigned In-Class Work, Homework and Tests

Struggling with time management skills or perceiving/judging time are common ADHD issues. This accommodation can also facilitate test-taking anxiety, challenges with initiation, and deficits in processing speed.

2. Pomodoro Method

The ADHD brain loves rest. I think we can all relate to that. It’s not because it’s “lazier” than other brains but because the ADHD brain “battery” is much smaller than neurotypical brains. Consequently, it gets depleted faster and needs breaks to “recharge” more frequently. Allowing special education instructors to implement the Pomodoro method in school is a great way to recharge. The Pomodoro method typically recommends setting a timer for 25 minutes and taking a 5-minute break, but for young people with ADHD, the time should be altered to support their attention deficit. I recommend 15 minutes of work with a 3-minute break for young people aged 8 to 18. Remember, it’s all about neurodiversity, so tweak as you see fit.

Environmental Accommodations

3. Seating Placement in the Classroom Matters

Being easily distracted and struggling to sit through long classes has always been a hallmark sign of ADHD. Limiting distractions is an easy way to reduce inattention, disruptive behavior, and urges to engage in impulsive acts. Make sure they’re not seated in high traffic areas (close to the classroom door). Seating should also be away from distractions, like windows, heating/air conditioning vents, speakers, and disruptive peers.

Tools and Equipment Accommodations

4. Fidget Chairs

People with ADHD, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive types, have difficulty sitting still, not fidgeting, squirming, and controlling their bodies in general. Special seating accommodations that allow them to expend their excess energy while remaining in their seat are a godsend for teachers and peers alike. Fidget chair bands enable them to bounce their feet without being disruptive. Motion stools, wobble cushions, and balance ball chairs are all teacher-approved.

5. Accommodations for Writing Difficulties

Children with ADHD will also often struggle with dysgraphia, which is described as a learning disability that involves impaired ability to produce legible and automatic letter writing and often numeral writing. Pencil grips, slant boards, graphic organizers, and highlighted paper can all help make writing less anxiety-provoking.

Working Memory Deficit Accommodations

6. Reduce Memory Load

Working memory is often a significant impairment in children with ADHD. Short-term memory deficits can plague these individuals and can often affect their ability to study and memorize information for tests. Have the teacher provide class notes and study guides. It’s even beneficial to have another diligent peer or “class scribe” volunteer their notes for your child’s review. All of this can be done while maintaining your child’s privacy.

Anxiety Accommodations

It often goes unrecognized that ADHD frequently co-exists with other anxiety disorders like generalized anxiety, social anxiety, and panic disorder. The stress of not being able to focus, forgetting tasks, assignments, and responsibilities, and being overwhelmed by seemingly never-ending external stimuli is overwhelming, to say the least.

7. Taking Breaks from the Classroom

Allowing your child to leave the classroom may seem like a slippery slope that could easily be taken advantage of, but it’s necessary. Allowing them to get some water, walk down the hallway, have a quick snack, go to the bathroom, or visit the guidance counselor is often needed when struggling with ADHD and anxiety. The classroom is overwhelming and often overstimulating. A quick “calm-down” or “reset” is typically all it takes to regain focus and composure. If you’re nervous about this accommodation, limit the number of times it can be utilized as well as the length of time throughout the school day.

8. ADHD and Social Anxiety

Social anxiety is like the bully that won’t leave ADHD in peace. Studies have found that social anxiety disorder had a high rate of co-occurrence with ADHD. This makes classroom presentations a panic-ridden and even traumatizing experience for individuals struggling with severe cases of both. Ask teachers if they would be willing to allow your child to record their presentation at home to edit it as needed or if they would be willing to let the child only present in private. It’s best to seek out cognitive behavioral therapists to help the child overcome their social anxiety so that this does not have to become a lasting accommodation. The goal should be to overcome the fear with the right mental health professional support but have the proper accommodations in place in the interim.

Socialization Supports

9. Buddy System

Children with ADHD typically struggle with switching gears or managing “transitions” — changing classes, switching subjects, starting assignments, etc. In addition to giving kids a heads up about transition time, for example, “five more minutes before recess ends,” having a school-assigned peer to assist them can also make the shift go much more smoothly.

10. Have the Teacher Assign Your Child a Special Role During Class

It’s well documented that ADHD kids are unfortunately targets for bullies. Whether they are often reprimanded by teachers or struggle with impulsive behaviors that garner negative attention, it doesn’t change that they are and can regularly feel ostracized or generally disliked. Needless to say, this is awful for their self-esteem. Having their teacher point out that your child has a “special” role or job can help offset the negative attention due to their other misunderstood behaviors. Ask the teacher to name your child “Student Helper,” “Paper Passer,” (passes out all papers), “Nurse Buddy" (walk other kids to the nurse), “Line Leader,” or “Teacher’s Assistant.”