Strategies for Success: Helping Kids with ADHD Develop Math Skills

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Every person learns differently – some kids are visual learners, some auditory, some tactile – but children with ADHD have difficulty focusing, sitting still, and are easily distracted, sometimes making it feel impossible to teach them anything.

This impulsive, fidgeting behavior can make it seem as if ADHD-brained kids aren’t listening, frustrating the teachers, parents and other adults in their lives trying to help them master the math concepts crucial to their continuing education.  But people with ADHD have drastic and consistent differences in brain scans from those without ADHD, making it important to remember that ADHD is a physiological condition that involves the frontal cortex part of the brain, which controls executive functions like impulse control, memory, and distractibility. (Source: PubMed.gov.)

Children with ADHD are often extremely intelligent, but because they lack the ability to focus or memorize at neurologically typical levels and don’t behave in an age-appropriate manner, they are sometimes dismissed intellectually. This is why untreated ADHD can lead to trouble in school and low self-esteem, even when children are very bright and trying their hardest, despite neurological limitations beyond their control.

One of the toughest aspects of continued mathematical learning is that it is cumulative, becoming more difficult as those with ADHD progress in school. When the core concepts become longer, with more steps to remember, it’s hard for an ADHD-brained person to complete complex tasks.

Fortunately, there are many ways to work with the very different ADHD learning style to help these kids succeed. Below are 5 professional educator-recommended tips and methods that have been shown to help kids with ADHD learn and retain mathematical knowledge.

 

1. Make Use of Movement—

Kids with ADHD often describe their need to wiggle as an uncontrollable urge akin to an inner itch in need of scratching via movement, and are given “fidgets” such as plastic, textured items to quietly play with in an attempt to channel this nervous energy in a less distracting manner.

But what smart teachers know is that all kids – even those without ADHD – can benefit from the chance to work out excess energy at every available opportunity. Rather than giving kids something to play with in their laps to hinder big movement: embrace it. Work movement into the math lessons. Use the classroom space as a big board game, for example, and have kids move from desk to desk after solving equations. Let the kids get up and have a dance break or do jumping jacks between assignments.

Most importantly, never, ever use the removal of recess as a punishment, as this only leaves kids with ADHD full of energy and less likely to behave the rest of the day, which is completely counterproductive.

 

2. Taking the Time—

Kids with learning disabilities that involve memorization problems can become stressed out by timed tests, further hindering recall, and creating negative results like low scores and anxiety.

A simple and fair solution to this is to give kids with ADHD the same amount of time for tests and assignments as other kids, while allowing them to get up and take breaks to work out excess energy and refocus.

Using a timer or watch that can be stopped and started will ensure that kids who require breaks aren’t given an unfair advantage over kids who’d rather work straight through to the finish.

 

3. Perfect Placement—

For those who are easily distracted, location is everything. A seat near a window can greatly hinder the focus of kids with ADHD, as can a chatty classmate or a seat near the pencil sharpener.

To allow for the best possible focus during math assignments, and especially during testing, place kids with ADHD in the quietest area of the classroom, and consider placement up front near the teacher to help them listen and learn.  Some schools will even provide a portable cardboard “office” with a back and sides called a study carrel to sit on a desk for kids with ADHD (this can be written into an official 504 Plan, an IEP designed especially for kids with ADD/ADHD), blocking out all distractions for better student concentration.

 

4. Handwriting Helps—

One of the most common issues faced by kids with ADHD is trouble with handwriting. This task requires attention to detail, patience, and concentration, which impulsive and energetic kids can find difficult.

But 25% of all math errors can be traced to poor or unreadable handwriting, making it very important for kids with ADHD to practice writing neatly, as hard as this can be for them. (Source: FamilyEducation.com.)

Kids can practice handwriting by tracing over numbers you’ve written lightly in pencil. Also consider using paper made specifically for handwriting practice, because this will give them dotted lines to use for extra guidance.

 

5. Same Sheet for All Steps—

Following multiple steps, and moving back and forth between tasks is extremely difficult for those with atypical neurology. Because their memories don’t retain information as long as typical brains do, having a separate answer sheet or place to show their work can seriously sabotage kids with ADHD.

By keeping questions and answers within the same space on the paper, you will make it easier for kids solving intricate math problems to stay focused and less likely to become distracted.

Also: If there are formulas involved, expecting ADHD-brained kids to memorize them is unrealistic, and pointless when you consider that in the “real world” application of math or statistics, there is no reason a person in a career field that requires formulas can’t look them up.

 

Recent EEG brainwave tests published in the journal Biological Psychiatry showed that the brain scans of teens with ADHD were consistently different enough that someday the analysis of brainwaves may help doctors diagnose and properly treat those with this condition. (Source: Medical News Today.)

Brain scan differences prove that kids with ADD/ADHD perceive information and learn differently than other kids. When teaching mathematics, or any other subject to kids with ADHD, keep in mind that ADHD is a very real and physiological issue. Kids with ADHD are not being defiant or not listening; they have a biological difference that can be treated with behavioral therapy and medication, making it understandably difficult, yet extremely important to remain patient with them.

If you find yourself becoming exasperated, take some deep breaths, and consider trying some of the helpful math skill-building tips for kids with ADHD listed above. Kids with ADHD may have to try a little harder, or take a different path on the journey to mastering math concepts, but they can do it.

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