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How To: Accommodate Common Learning Difficulties in Students with Attention Problems

How To: Accommodate Common Learning Difficulties in Students with Attention Problems

Kit Richert, Ph.D.















Children with Attention Deficit Disorder exhibit many common learning difficulties and behaviors. Here are some accommodations to try for some of the most dominant situations your student may find difficult.

Student has difficulty following directions

• Gain your student’s attention before giving directions. Give written directions when possible, along with any needed resources.

• When possible, give one direction at a time.

• Quietly repeat directions to your ADD student after they have been given to the class. Have them repeat the directions to you to check for understanding.

• Teach writing techniques to compensate for a weak memory, such as notetaking (notetaking may require direct instruction for an ADD child).

• Help your students remember by engaging multiple senses. You can give directions orally (auditory), in writing or graphic (visual) through a demonstration (visual), having them repeat directions as a whole class (tactile, auditory), and by doing or practicing (tactile).

Your student is messy and disorganized

• Teach an organization system and a routine that accompanies it. You can even do this for the whole class which may be beneficial. For example, you could structure your class such that: (1) everyone keeps assignments in a red folder, handouts in a blue folder, etc., (2) everyone writes down the homework in their planner and then initials a sheet confirming that they wrote it down (teacher collects that); (3) Once a week there is a “backpack time” where the whole class can have 10 minutes to organize their backpacks).

• Give your ADD student rewards for proper, neat work and notebook checks.

• Help them keep all of their materials in one place (sometimes an accordion folder words well). Teach them to check to make sure they have everything they need.

• Provide a consistent format for assignments and examples for the student to follow.

• Assign an organization buddy to have student check in with.

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Your student’s writing is sloppy/illegible or incoherent

• Create differential goals for the student’s written work. When a written assignment comes up, decide if the focus should be on learning and content, or on writing ability. Do not penalize ADD students for poor writing when you have decided you are primarily assessing their learning and content knowledge.

• Consider alternatives such as typing and oral examination when assignments have content and learning objectives rather than writing objectives.

• When an assignment has writing objectives over content and learning objectives, allow for shorter writing assignments but demand high quality work. Show students how to create an outline (with an introduction, body, conclusion, to give each section/paragraph a topic, have them work on one paragraph at a time, combining them all at the end.

Easily distracted, difficulty sustaining attention

• Reward attention, or reward for small milestones of work completion (e.g., 5 problems; 1 paragraph).

• Make sure the student has preferential seating and a quiet space. Sometimes a study carrel (a mini cubical for the student) will suffice to block out visual distractors. Earplugs for quiet or headphones (with classical music) can also improve focus for some ADD students.

• Keep activities to a reasonable time limit so the student to be successful.

• Give the student more than one thing to work on at a time, so they can switch when they have trouble focusing.

Your student has difficulty completing assignments

• Reduce the assignment into smaller, more manageable pieces with clear due dates.

• Make sure the student understands all of the steps, and has all the materials they need.

• Check frequently on progress.

• Arrange for your student to have a study buddy in each subject (a serious student); someone they can contact outside of school.

Your Student has difficulty with test taking

• Allow extra time (when appropriate)

• Allow the student to take the test in a different setting with fewer distractions (the office, the library, the resource room)

• Allow the student to be tested orally

• Teach test-taking skills and strategies

Student has difficulty sustaining effort and accuracy over time.

• Reduce assignment length and aim for high quality work, rather than quantity.

• Increase the praise you give for effort. Catch the student working hard and acknowledge them.

Your student shifts from one unfinished activity to the next.

• Create requirements of a “completed activity”. For example, tell them that their math is complete when they have done three problems and turned in the assignment; they should not begin a new activity until they have finished the old one. Make sure the requirements are reasonable considering their disability.

Difficulty comprehending the main idea from reading or lecture, gets stuck on the details

• Teach outlining; have the student learn to identify the main idea and the supporting details.

• Provide student a copy of the text/lecture with the main ideas underlined.

• Provide an outline of the important elements of the text/lecture.

Student has difficulty sequencing steps to complete larger tasks, such as a term papers. They get lost and don’t know where to start.

• Help your student break up assignments into small, clear, and attainable steps. For example, if the child gets lost writing a report, help them make an outline, identify the topic of each paragraph, write the paragraphs one at a time, and put them all together at the end.

For more information and classroom tip for helping children with attention disorders, see our related article, ADHD: A Crash Free Course In Classroom Success , or visit the ever informative CHADD website and ADD.org .


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