10 tips to improve online school for children with adhd
When it comes to remote learning, you can expect challenges. Online school can be trying for any child (hello, log-in issues and connectivity problems!). It can add an extra layer of difficulty for children who have ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), also known as ADD (attention deficit disorder).
Sentara pediatricians and pediatric therapists offer strategies to help families navigate the virtual learning environment (VLE) while reducing stress and frustrations.
ADHD and Distance Learning: Making Online School in Line With Your Child's Needs
Although the exact cause of ADHD is unclear, the symptoms are consistent. Children with this common condition have difficulty paying attention and sitting still. This behavior can be magnified during distance learning when there are plenty of distractions and less direct supervision. Read on for 10 expert tips to help your child be happy and successful while learning at home:
1. Create an optimal environment
"It can be especially difficult for a child with ADHD to sit at a computer without the personal interaction of a teacher," says occupational therapist Heidi McCracken. "Reducing distractions is key." McCracken and her colleagues suggest creating a dedicated space for at-home learning that's free from toys, video games, TV and other distractions. It can also be helpful to limit interactions with siblings and pets during online learning.
2. Follow a schedule
By following a regular school-day schedule, children know what to expect. "In addition to having a predictable plan for meals, bedtime and daily routines, a visual schedule provides motivating milestones for kids," says McCracken. "They know what happens when and what to look forward to—like lunch, breaks or rewards."
3. Reinforce and reward
A reward system helps reinforce behaviors you wish to repeat. "Let your child know what you expect and what they'll receive in turn," says Paige Ellis, a speech and language pathologist. "Rewards can include movement breaks, the chance to sing a song, and bigger rewards like playing a video game or going to a park." Ellis recommends tracking positive behavior with stars that add up to small and large rewards. "Including an image of the reward can be especially effective," she says.
4. Keep moving
"Kids with ADHD need to move," says pediatrician Jeremy Siegrist, M.D. "Make sure to work in movement breaks during the day, like stretching, jumping jacks or a trip around the block."
Ellis agrees. "Creating rewards around movement serves two purposes," she remarks. "It reinforces behavior you wish to see and incorporates movement to burn off extra energy."
5. Foster fidgeting
So-called "fidgets" can help kids with ADHD satisfy some of their need for movement. "A wiggle cushion or exercise ball is a good option," says McCracken, "as are things to keep hands busy, such as pipe cleaners and squeezy balls. Have a conversation with your child's teacher about what's acceptable during online school."
6. Honor learning styles
"We all learn in different ways," reminds pediatrician LaTonya Russell, M.D. "For kids with ADHD, honoring those learning styles is especially important." She recommends reviewing materials to make sure they're in line with your child's needs and request adjustments accordingly. "Adjustments may include recording written lessons, using another format or creating experiential opportunities," she says.
7. Be an advocate
"No one knows your child like you do," reminds Dr. Russell. "If your child needs help or extra support, be their voice. Refer to your child's IEP (individualized education program) or 504 plan to ensure sure they're getting what they need." She also says that kids may not express their needs or frustrations verbally, so watch for behavioral changes, like tearfulness, acting out or becoming withdrawn.
8. Get an accurate diagnosis
The experts agree: don't assume your child has ADHD. "It's important to rule out other causes of what seem like inattentiveness or hyperactivity," says Dr. Siegrist. "These causes can include vision difficulties, trouble sleeping, being the target of online bullying, depression, anxiety and more."
Dr. Russell agrees. "Talk with your pediatrician about any concerns and to ensure an accurate diagnosis," she says.
9. Medication matters
If your child takes medication, make sure it's working correctly and consistently. "If you notice that a medication's effects wear off or cause side effects, speak with your pediatrician," says Dr. Russell. "He or she may need to make an adjustment or look at other options."
10. Give yourself and each other grace
"Things don't always go as planned," remarks Ellis. "You, your child and your child's teacher are dealing with new challenges. Learn, troubleshoot, revise and repeat. Most of all, give and receive grace. We're all in this together."