Tips to help kids with ADHD succeed with distance learning.

by Gillian Louise Adams, MD
November 13, 2020

Distance learning can be hard for any student, but kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and attention deficit disorder (ADD) face additional challenges that can make virtual school frustrating and discouraging.

Students with ADHD and ADD generally thrive in environments where they can move around, access one-on-one support, and observe the social cues of students around them. Unfortunately, watching their teacher on a computer screen at home requires them to maintain focus using self-regulation, which is especially difficult for younger students with ADHD in elementary school.

While teachers are doing their very best to create an engaging learning environment remotely, many parents feel pressure to take on the role of educator at home. If that’s you, here are a few things you should know about kids who think and learn differently.

Distance learning can be hard for any student, but kids with #ADHD or #ADD face extra challenges. On the #LiveWellHealthy blog, Dr. Adams shares four tips you can try at home to help your child succeed: https://bit.ly/3eUwjN3.

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ADHD is a medical disorder, not a sign of “laziness or stupidity”.

Both ADHD and ADD are medical disorders that result from a chemical imbalance in the brain. This is important because an accurate diagnosis offers a clear explanation for why your child may be struggling in school more than their peers. The title of a self-help book for adults with ADD titled “You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?” by Kate Kelly and Peggy Ramundo says it best. Kids with ADHD and ADD aren’t choosing to fight an uphill battle with school. They’re just responding to the natural way their brain is wired.

Signs of ADHD/ADD in kids.

While similar, there are a few distinctions between both disorders. ADHD, for example, typically presents itself as excessive fidgeting, a constant need for redirection, and an inability to sit calmly or participate in learning activities. Kids with ADD, on the other hand, may not struggle with hyperactivity. Instead, they have a harder time concentrating and staying focused, especially when surrounded by distractions. All of these symptoms are exacerbated when students are logging onto school from a screen at home amidst everything else going on in their house.

Strategies to help kids with ADHD succeed in distance learning.

For kids who are under the age of seven, sometimes it’s hard to determine if their behavior is typical or reflecting symptoms of ADHD/ADD. After all, many first graders struggle to sit still and maintain their attention span for a long period of time. One of the best ways to understand whether or not your child is just being a kid or exhibiting a learning disability is to ask the teacher if your student is struggling more than most. From there, your primary care doctor can offer recommendations for next steps.

If your child is diagnosed with ADHD or ADD, here are a few ways you can equip them with the tools and structure they need to help them self-regulate while learning.

Clarify realistic expectations with their teacher.

It’s important to understand exactly what your child’s teacher expects of them in terms of what they should be doing and for how long. Maintaining clear communication can help you be clear on what the minimum requirements are for your child’s success in school. A teacher who knows your child can also help to offer additional resources and tools that help your child transfer classroom support to the home.

Create a quiet learning environment with minimal distractions.

Although many kids with ADHD follow the social cues of their peers to help them stay on task at school, there could be an advantage to having them working independently at home. With no students around to distract them, kids with ADHD/ADD may feel like they have more control over their attention.

Try to set-up a schoolwork area away from the normal hustle and bustle of the home to continue minimizing distractions. Avoid rooms where people are running in and out, like the kitchen where someone could be cooking. Instead, establish a dedicated area for learning activities that makes it easier for them to focus. And, consider giving your student something to purposely distract them from their surroundings while encouraging them to complete a task. Like turning on a white noise machine to drown out excess noise in the home, or a handheld fidgeter that can keep their fingers busy.

Establish a structured routine for the day that involves breaks.

Kids feel less pressure and stress when they know what to expect and when. Consider creating a structure for the day that starts with a consistent wake-up time and weaves in meal times, time for play, learning sessions, and time to relax. You don’t have to be firm on the times for each block, as a firm schedule can add additional pressure. But, organizing the day with activities that follow a certain order can help your student be successful.

Foster a love of learning.

The most important thing is to remember that we’re all in the same boat trying to navigate non-traditional schooling. There’s no doubt that it’s hard and many of us are making it up as we go. But the truth is, this will pass. Your kids will eventually go back to school where they will continue to learn and grow into fully functioning adults who will eventually pursue college or a career.

In the meantime, the best thing you can do at home is to help them to love learning by keeping the atmosphere at home positive and encouraging. Take off the pressure of expecting them to achieve a certain threshold of success, whether it’s a specific letter grade or keeping up with other kids. Instead, make learning enjoyable by helping them to learn at their own pace and model a love of learning yourself. Your child will learn no matter what, even if it’s not in the way you expect!

Concerned about signs of ADHD in your child?
MedStar Health can help.

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Category: Living Well     Tags: addadhdonline learningprimary careprimary care provider