Child at school surrounded by mess

Navigating the school environment with ADHD is like trying to tune into a radio station that constantly shifts frequencies. While ADHD manifests differently in everyone, certain traits commonly appear for our littles. Recognizing these traits is the first step towards crafting a supportive environment that allows students with ADHD to thrive. 🌟

I recently shared a post on Instagram about common ADHD traits at school, so this article expands on that list with a bit more detail.

The Spectrum of ADHD Traits in School

1. Difficulty following instructions

Ever feel like you're assembling a puzzle without the picture on the box? That's what following instructions can feel like with ADHD. Complex or multi-step directions often become muddled, leading to incomplete tasks. This isn't about willingness or intelligence; it's about how ADHD brains process information and seek dopamine. And so an ADHD student can often get distracted on their way to doing the thing we *know* we need to do.

2. Forgetting assignments and due dates

Deadlines and assignments have a way of slipping through the cracks. Despite the best intentions, students with ADHD might struggle with planning and time management, making due dates seem more like surprise events.

3. Disorganised and messy desk

A messy desk is more than just disorganisation; it can be a physical manifestation of the whirlwind of thoughts and ideas constantly swirling in an ADHD mind, as we jump from idea to idea ("There's no time to pack up. I MUST do the next thing"). But remember, just like us adults and our 'floodrobes', what seems like clutter to one person can be a system of organised chaos to another.

4. Difficulty sitting still

Not sitting still and always moving is what most people think of when they think ADHD. And we're usually also thinking '5 year old boy'... especially when we're talking about a hyperactive-impulsive presentation. This restlessness isn't about a lack of discipline though; it's an outward expression of the internal energy that fuels the ADHD brain. Often the outpouring of energy is a stimulatory response to match the speed, or level of agitation going on in our brain.

5. Struggling to participate in group work

Collaborating in groups can be daunting. Balancing multiple viewpoints and working in a shared space can overwhelm the ADHD mind, making it difficult to focus and contribute effectively. Or we get stuck on one person's idea and while we're thinking about that, going deep and starting to hyperfocus, the rest of the group moves on.

6. Getting easily Distracted

In a high stimuli environment like a school classroom, the ADHD brain is like a magnet, pulling in distractions from every direction. What might seem like a minor background noise or movement to some can become a major focus disruptor for those with ADHD.

ADHD student looking out the window

7. Exceptional creativity

Often overlooked, the creative brilliance of students with ADHD can shine in project-based learning and creative assignments. Our ability to think outside the box is a strength that can lead to innovative ideas and solutions. If we can find a work style or format that works for us, our power of hyperfocus and ability to connect complex ideas quickly can be such a massive strength!

8. Difficulties with emotional regulation 

Emotional regulation can be challenging, leading to intense reactions to criticism, grades, or peer interactions. Recognizing this trait can help teachers and parents provide the emotional support and understanding these students need.

9. The Hyperfocus Paradox

While distraction is common, so is the ability to hyperfocus on tasks that deeply interest the student. This intense concentration can lead to remarkable achievements in specific areas of interest.

10. The Social Navigator

Navigating social interactions and cues can be tricky for us ADHDers. Misinterpretations and impulsivity can lead to awkward or strained relationships with peers at times. Understanding and support from adults can help students develop social skills in a safe and nurturing environment.

An ADHDer interested in science doesn't want to change task every 15 minutes. We want to go DEEP and hyperfocus!

How an ADHD student can create a supportive environment

It's helpful to recognise these traits, but what are some helpful strategies for an ADHDer student? Creating a supportive and accommodating environment that allows students with ADHD to manage these challenges while highlighting their strengths. 

This could include:

  • Structured Flexibility: Providing clear, concise instructions and deadlines, while being flexible enough to accommodate the unique needs of ADHD students. Does the student have enough opportunities to drop into a hyperfocus mode to get work done or is the teacher chopping and changing tasks every 15 minutes?
  • Organizational Tools: Introducing tools and strategies to help manage tasks, assignments, and deadlines can be a game changer. Stimming/fidget toys, active breaks, visual countdown timers, etc 
  • Active Learning Opportunities: Incorporating movement and hands-on activities can help manage restlessness and engage students in the learning process (especially for hyperactive ADHDers!). Different types of chairs, opportunities to stretch and move during a lesson, active class participation.
  • Emotional Support: Creating a safe space for expressing and managing emotions is crucial for helping students navigate the ups and downs of school life. This could be an understanding peer or close group of friends to confide in, or more formal structures like a school counsellor, well-being coordinator, year advisor, etc 
  • Strength-Based Learning: Focusing on the strengths and interests of students with ADHD can boost confidence and engagement.

Now, I'd love to hear from you! Are there other ADHD traits or experiences from schools that resonate with you or someone you know? What was school like for you as an ADHDer? Do you have any tips to share?

Share your thoughts and stories in the comments below. Let's continue to build an understanding and supportive community together. 👇


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