Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Very regular management of the student is required in that any chance of positive reinforcement has a good affect on ADHD students where as negativity or blame will tend to stress the student and often leads them to be more restless. Teachers will complain but the accepted ratio of positive reinforcement used to be 15 positives to one negative. For mainstream students intrinsic rewards such as a smile, thumbs up, well done can be of a more subtle nature.

ADHD students will need a slightly more obvious positive reinforcement with some extrinsic rewards such as finish a little earlier or even have candies available.

Another reward that can work with some ADHD students is to give them a certain responsibility that they see as valued. Mainstream students will respond well to all this as well but they generally don’t disrupt the class as severely if the rewards are missing.

Many teachers will give rewards that they think are good for the student when in reality the student has no desire to attain the reward no desire to attain the reward. It is important that the student sees the reward as being a reward.

It is very easy to reinforce bad behavior by giving it too much attention. Redirecting a student by diverting their attention is by far the most successful way of managing ADHD. To say don’t do that will often solicit more of the same behavior where as a well prepared teacher could have a work sheet or activity to give the student. The teacher needs to get the students attention and then (quietly hopefully) ‘I have this that needs doing could you do it for me now.’


The teacher must be firm but not appear to be aggressive (in different cultures different things are aggressive) when redirecting. If there is any perception by the student of aggressiveness it will nearly always illicit an aggressive or a stressed reaction.
Karen Plumley has the following to say about some reward systems that are good for ADHD students. ‘Giving students the ability to earn special rewards for good behavior is the centerpiece of classroom behavior management. Here are a few rewards that might work to motivate students with ADHD to improve behavior at school:

  • Extra recess
  • Lunch with teacher
  • PJ day
  • Special chair
  • Popcorn party for whole class
  • Movie day
  • Extra computer time
  • Small trinkets and prizes
  • Favorite workstation assignment (art, math, reading, etc.)
  • Teacher helper
  • Line leader (to lunch, recess, etc.)

A great idea for rewarding a student would be to give him a spot on the classroom bulletin board to display pictures of himself, his family, and his favorite things as a reward for being a “star student”. This star student spot can be rotated from student to student frequently.’

A reward system can take many forms and once again it can be very good for the mainstream students. It is amazing how affective star stickers or different stickers can be for rewarding students. They can even be given to older students in the form of fun or joke “just like the good old days here is a sticker for wonderful work” all very tongue in cheek and as a joke and even adults will ask for a sticker next time they hand in work.

The time on task with ADHD students will need to be short so the lesson ideally should be broken up into periods of time. The periods of time will have different styles of tasks, such as art based, activity based, group work, or a physical activity such as a maths trail. Every ADHD student will be different but if they are having problems with concentration splitting the lesson up will suit ADHD students. In extreme cases, an egg timer can be used to remind everyone at the timer bell that it is time to change tasks. This has proven to work with severely autistic students and even the mainstream students worked better. If this method is used it is important the teacher adheres to the times (regardless of how well the students may be working) otherwise the effectiveness will be lost next time it is used. The main point here is if a teacher wants to make their life a little easier breaking the lesson up into different tasks and blocks of time will make it easier to work with ADHD students.

In some more severe cases having the students itinerary with times and tasks taped to the desk works very well. If at all possible have this worked out for at least a week and when dealing with severely autistic students about 1 month. This gives a clear structure to the students and a focus point for the teacher when the redirecting students back to their tasks. All students like consistency and routine, even the older ones and especially adults.  Changing routines is a negative and when too many negatives get added up over a short period of time adults can get very cantankerous, they generally say it is inept management.

Rewards system are only one side of the coin, in that there must be appropriate consequences for inappropriate actions. Firstly whatever is set up must be aimed at setting the student up for success not failure. Statements of the obvious for most teachers but the rewards have to be achievable and the consequences have to be consistent. Once the sliding scale of consequences is established, and everyone agrees all teachers (and parents) must consistently apply it?)


In many cases, the ADHD child and parents are bought in on the discussions so there is no confusion about expectations. Often the parents are having problems at home and these guidelines can be very helpful for the home environment. Many schools will run a contract with the student. This is not to set the student up to fail by breaking contracts it is trying to give a little formality to the situations so that all expectations are accepted and known by all parties.
If a contract is used, it should be reviewed every month or 6 weeks to be sure all expectations are remaining realistic.


A behaviour plan should have a sliding scale

All parties should adhere to the behaviour plan. A very basic plan is to warn the student that their behaviour is not acceptable (Always focus on the behaviour not the student).

  1. If the student still persists in the behaviour the teacher can warn the student again by saying .‘If you elect to continue the behaviour I will have to seat you??? (next to teacher or away from distractions).
  2. Still persisting; then the student is shifted to sit away from distractions or with the teacher. A typical teacher comment would be; ‘You have elected to not change your behaviour so you will have to sit’ ??
  3. Still persisting; Exit. ‘You have elected to not change your behaviour so you will have to sit with another teacher in an office or another classroom.’ (or away from distractions). The students would be expected to make up the classroom time they have lost.
  4. When there is failure to comply at any stage a senior teacher is called to remove the student for a time out period. Time out could be negotiated between teachers and could be anything from 10 minutes to the rest of the lesson depending on circumstances.
  5. When time out is used the student must be expected to catch up with their work for homework or they will see time out as an escape from class rather than a chance to reflect and calm. Once again at every stage it is the behaviour that is focused on and corrected not the student.
  6. Parents should be notified of a time out incident, and when the student will be required to make up the missed lesson times. There can be some exceptions such as very violent parents and in this case a district social worker should be informed.

 Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. and Melinda Smith, M.A. have this to say on the website help guide.
Whatever type of behavior plan you put in place, create it in close collaboration with your child’s teacher and your child.
Kids with attention deficit disorder respond best to specific goals and daily positive reinforcement—as well as worthwhile rewards. Yes, you may have to hang a carrot on a stick to get your child to behave better in class. Create a plan that incorporates small rewards for small victories and larger rewards for bigger accomplishments. (Last updated: May 2012)

The Curtin University in Australia has the following to say about managing ADHD students in the classroom
1. sit the child close to the teacher, away from distractions 2. keep the work periods short but frequent, helping the children to be aware of time so that they can pace their work 3. provide clear instructions, but avoid too many sequential instructions 4. if the child goes off task, redirect them in a positive and unobtrusive way 5. make sure they succeed at something in class 6. prompt their attention and also their inhibition-"stop, think act" 7. clear guidelines on finishing work-taking it home if it is not finished is not the answer-it just penalises the ADHD child further


The website ldonline summarizes dealing with ADHD students in the classroom with these comments.
‘As students with ADHD are a heterogeneous group, there is no one intervention (or set of interventions) that will improve the classroom functioning of all of these students. Thus, it is suggested that classroom modifications be tailored to the unique needs of each student. In developing these modifications it is per-haps best to begin by examining how the classroom environment might be changed to set up the student with ADHD for success. The next step is to consider the implementation of a contingency management system designed to provide external incentives for appropriate classroom behaviors. In doing so it is important to remember that behavior management programs must be consistently applied. Further, it is essential to avoid excessive use of negative consequences (such as reprimands, time-out). In all cost programs, it is important to avoid the use of unrealistic standards that result in excessive point or privilege loss. Students must experience success. In other words, it is essential that students be frequently reinforced for what we want them to do, rather than simply punished for what we do not want them to do.’ (1998)

For references to research that applies to ADHD, go to the references at the bottom of the above web site.

Read more at Suite101: Managing ADHD Behavior at School: Helpful Teaching Methods for Attention Deficit Disorder |