MUSIC: Research has shown that when individuals with ADHD are able to listen to background music (of their choosing) while doing their homework, that they are more likely to sustain their attention and complete the work. [STUDENTS WITHOUT ADHD WILL SHOW A DETERIORATION IN PERFORMANCE]. Why? Because the areas of the brain that are responsible for attending, problem-solving and persisting with tasks tend to be understimulated and therefore attention tends to wander and individuals tend to be easily distracted in order to compensate for this underarousal. Music serves as the background distraction and the mind is less likely to wander.
BALANCE BALLS: Have you ever wondered why individuals with ADHD often tip back in their chairs, or frequently feel the need to move around? One of the areas of the brain that is responsible for balance and movement is called the cerebellum. Research has demonstrated that this area of the brain is between 3-10% smaller in individuals with ADHD, thereby contributing to the need to move around. Research has also demonstrated that the use of stability/exercise/ balance balls have a significant positive impact on an individual’s ability to focus and sustain attention, thereby improving academic performance. Several of our classrooms at BIS have stability balls for just this purpose.
GIVE THEM A BREAK IF THEY NEED IT: Current research on self-regulation of attention and behavior indicates that individuals possess a limited resource pool of self-regulation. Whenever one is required to self-regulate (or pay attention for extended periods of time) the resource pool is temporarily depleted thereby rendering individuals less capable of self-regulation in succeeding time periods. For some students, this may help to explain why homework can be such a struggle. Research indicates that this resource pool may be replenished with physical exercise, frequent breaks, small rewards, experiencing positive emotions and consuming glucose rich beverages (for more information see RussellBarkley.org). Consider structuring homework time differently and integrating some of these ideas if you notice greater irritability, lack of persistence, difficulties concentrating or excessive movement while your child is doing their homework.
EXTERNALIZE TIME: Ever wonder why you get told the night before a project is due? The time horizon for most 12 year olds is 2-3 days. However, individuals with ADHD tend to function 30% behind their peers, thereby placing them at a time horizon of 8-12 hours. Individuals with ADHD often have a poor sense of time because they do not have an internal clock or internal verbal dialogue guiding them. Running late, meeting deadlines and organizing behavior over time are common challenges. It is often very difficult for individuals with ADHD to keep information in the forefront of their mind as a means of guiding their behavior. Even with the best intention, concentration is easily shattered by distractions. Therefore, time needs to be made physical, external and obvious! The use of easily visible timers, clocks or counters are external reminders of the passing of time (see http://www.addwarehouse.com )for specific products designed to help with time management). Important information should also be made visible and strategically placed in the environment to remind individuals about what they need to do. The use of sticky notes or lists with prompts of critical reminders at the point of performance can make a big difference.
EXTERNALIZE THE FUTURE: Future projects (such as a book report) should be broken down into small tasks with visible pieces to accomplish each day. It can also be very helpful to talk with your child about how they visualize a long term project looking when it is done and how they will feel when it is completed to the best of their ability. Imagining future emotion and having a mental mindset of planning with the end in mind can be a very powerful intervention. Because we process pictures more easily than words, consider using pictures as reminders. Long term projects can be approached by placing “done” pictures on a calendar as a means to guide behavior on a daily basis. Once a student can visualize what it will look like done and how they will feel about it, it is much easier to decide what they need to do to get there. Most importantly, it is crucial to teach kids that they will be much more productive working in multiple shorter periods of time.
HELP GET THEM MOTIVATED: The ability to attend to high interest tasks in some situations while displaying inconsistent attention and task persistence in other settings is one of the hallmark features of ADHD. While there may appear to be a volitional component to this dichotomous presentation, underdeveloped executive functioning skills are at the root of the problem. Essentially, the reward center of the brain needs to be activated before it will carry out its’ duty of telling another part of the brain (the prefrontal cortex) that something is worth paying attention to. When your children lack the self-motivation for tasks perceived as tedious or effortful, they will need help in identifying both motivational strategies and environmental cues that they can use to help them stay on task (ie making the task more active, using positive self-talk, having something to look forward to as soon as the task is done). It is also recommended that tedious tasks be close-ended (ie telling them they only need to work on something for 20 minutes) so that they know there is an end point. Research suggests that multiple shorter time periods for work completion are more effective than extended time.