Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common childhood neurodevelopment disorders, with the World Health Organisation estimating that around 5 per cent of all children in the world having the condition. This may be a conservative estimate, as some geographic areas report incidences as high as 10 per cent.
In any case, while ADHD is exceedingly common, it is often a misunderstood condition. Teachers in Singapore can expect to have about 1-3 students with ADHD in each class, given an average classroom size of 33 students. This high incidence rate makes it important for both educators and parents to know what kind of support they can give children diagnosed with ADHD as well as other individuals who display ADHD symptoms.
Parents who believe their child has symptoms should immediately find resources for ADHD diagnosis in Singapore, as early support is crucial for the best learning outcomes. Fortunately, ADHD is a well-studied condition with a range of effective management strategies. Teachers and parents can employ the following interventions to create a nurturing environment that allows the children in their care to thrive:
1) Set Up a Distraction-Free Study Space
In a classroom setting, teachers should consider having children with ADHD sit at the front of the class to minimise the number of distractions available to them. When possible, these children must be seated next to peers who are good role models.
At home, parents should set up a study area that faces a wall, away from potential distractions. Ideally, this space should be exclusive to them and not shared with siblings unless necessary.
2) Keep a Tight Schedule.
Apart from being easily distracted, children with ADHD may have a poor grasp of time, making it difficult for them to complete tasks. Parents and teachers can help them by breaking down big tasks into smaller ones that are easier to complete.
At home, parents can use a smartphone alarm app or an egg timer to keep their children on task. This approach is especially helpful as it also keeps parents from having to intervene as often.
Big projects like book reports or science experiments have to be broken down into more manageable parts to make them doable for children with ADHD. Be sure to have due dates for each project milestone to ensure they complete the project on time.
3) Split Up Assignments and Subjects
Children with ADHD often start tasks strong but have difficulty maintaining their focus. Splitting up tasks or hopping onto a different subject may help children to make more efficient use of their time. For instance, rather than giving them one hour to do one big task, split up that hour into three 20-minute sessions that involve different activities. This may help improve their performance and help them make the best use of their strengths.
4) Make Sure Children Get Enough Sleep
ADHD is often associated with sleep disorders like insomnia which, if allowed to get out of hand, may cause a further degradation in the mood and attention span of children with ADHD. Parents can enforce no-screen rules and dissuade children from stimulating activities before bedtime to help them sleep better. Those who still struggle to sleep may benefit from sound-treated rooms, weighted blankets, and guided therapy sessions.
5) Consider the Effects of Medication
Children who need ADHD medication will be in a more receptive state for studying depending on when they take their meds. Parents can consult with their children’s physicians and teachers to find the optimal times for medication so that they can take full advantage of the benefits.
6) Practice Concise Communication
Children with ADHD often have a hard time picking up on social cues, and they can find it tough to interpret the meaning behind idioms, changes in gestures, or tones of voice. Teachers and parents need to recognise this and modify their communication style to be more direct and specific.
One useful way to ensure that a child with ADHD understands you is to have them repeat your instructions. You can also gently tap them on the shoulder when giving important information to help them focus.
Most importantly, when talking to children with ADHD, you must consistently avoid vague messaging and be as specific as possible. For example, instead of saying “behave,” say “sit quietly” or “stop teasing your classmate”.
7) Let Them Fidget
Fidgeting may help children with ADHD stay focused. So long as their fidgeting does not distract their peers, it’s probably a good idea to let them do what they need to do to better understand your instructions.
8) Reward Good Performance
Lastly, contrary to popular perceptions in Singapore, rewards are not always bribes. It’s perfectly fine to use rewards to encourage children who do a good job. Properly managed rewards help encourage positive behaviour and may keep children focussed on long-term goals.
9) Involve Everyone in the Child’s Learning
For the best learning outcomes, teachers and parents need to work together. Teachers may have to inform parents about assignments, and parents need to tell teachers about pertinent challenges faced by their children. Input from qualified physicians and therapists should also be sought to give everyone a good idea about which interventions are most likely to benefit a child with ADHD.
Most children with ADHD will benefit from the approaches described above. However, a significant minority will need active intervention or even medication to thrive in learning. If your child has learning difficulties and displays typical ADHD symptoms like constant fidgeting, talkativeness, or impulsive behaviour, consult a qualified child psychiatrist immediately. Early diagnosis and intervention should help parents and educators achieve the best learning and social integration outcomes for the children in their care.