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ADHD in the Classroom: Finding the Right Assistive Technology

Tuesday, February 9, 2016 -- Winnie O'Leary

Last week, we took a look at attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and offered some learning strategies. In this installment, we will examine some tools for the classroom.

Numerous tools are available to help individuals with disabilities—including cognitive problems and physical impairments—with day-to-day tasks. These resources are referred to as assistive technology (AT), and their use to enhance and support learning in the classroom is quite effective for many children. These students achieve success when using their abilities and strengths to work around their disabilities and instructional challenges. AT tools help accentuate students’ instructional strengths with the support of outside resources to provide a richer, more success-filled academic experience.

With this in mind, AT can be very helpful for both adults and children managing ADHD, whether their symptoms manifest as inattentive, hyperactive, or impulsive. AT is legally defined as “any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially or whether off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of people with disabilities” (Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988). For students with ADHD, AT is usually a tool that can be used to assist with the ability to perform tasks that have been difficult to initiate, complete, or even remember to get done. AT can improve skills, reduce deficits, and increase self-reliance. The name can be deceiving; AT can be anything from high-tech hardware, software, or devices to simple, no-tech tools.

The term “assistive technology” comes from legislation including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Rehabilitation Act of 1973. These acts were designed to support all individuals, regardless of disability, and pave the way for greater equality in all facets of life. Students who have symptoms that interfere with their ability to perform at school may be eligible to receive services under these acts, including students who struggle with ADHD. There may be specific software or devices that will help them focus in the classroom, keep track of their work, and complete their assignments. These tools can be key to helping students remain and achieve success in mainstream classrooms. This is important because another goal of disability legislation is to keep all students in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) and avoid placing students in self-contained classrooms whenever possible.

When considering AT for students with ADHD, choices should be made based on their primary symptoms and behaviors that have been identified as interfering with learning. There are all kinds of options to look at. Here are some that have been commonly found to make a big difference:

  • Noise-canceling earphones or earplugs can be used for students who are easily distracted by external noises.
  • Alarms and calendars with reminders help students stay organized.
  • Talking books allow students listen to text and are available in a variety of formats.
  • Voice-recognition software is great for students whose oral-language skills are greater than their writing skills.
  • Reader support (audio support for software text) or speech synthesizers and screen-reader systems can assist students who struggle with literacy skills.
  • Screen magnifiers help students who struggle to see or focus on dense text.
  • Electronic worksheets help students work through problems on a computer screen, where numbers can be read aloud or magnified.
  • Portable word processors are tools that support students who have trouble with handwriting, notetaking, and writing.

When managing a classroom, teacher often feel like they have a million different things happening around the room, all controlled and all designed to support learning. Providing students with the tools to maintain attention in a busy environment like this and to fully participate in learning simply makes sense. Just like you wouldn’t expect a student to go to school without their glasses and stay engaged, students struggling with ADHD can’t be expected to remain engaged without the right assistive technology to help them pay attention and stay organized. Whether it is a digital notetaking device or a squishy ball, providing students with the unique tools that they need to learn builds a classroom of attentive, motivated children.

Want to learn more about how Edmentum’s online solutions can provide your students with the instructional support they need? Check out our Special Education Solutions for Educators!