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Teaching Strategies
Attention Deficit Disorder

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is a neurological condition that affects three areas of people's behavior in various ways - their attention level, their activity level, and their impulsivity level. You can be diagnosed with ADD only if these behaviors are chronic (you've had them for a long time) and severe (impacting your life negatively in serious ways, more so than other people).

It is extremely important to understand that this disorder is a neurobiological condition. While medication has proven to be very effective in reducing many of the symptoms of ADD; education, support and strategies should be included to enhance opportunities for success.

The following symptoms are indicators that a student may have ADD:

  • Difficulty concentrating - particularly if they find the material uninteresting
  • Difficulty with sustaining attention
  • Impulsively or over activity, i.e., fidgeting, foot tapping. These may be efforts to "stay attentive."
  • Difficulty in starting and/or completing tasks
  • Poor organizational skills
  • Inconsistency with attention - student tunes in and out, with no predictable pattern
  • Performance inconsistencies - be careful not to label student as lazy or unmotivated
  • Difficulty in interpreting and reacting appropriately in social situations
  • Highly distractible
  • Mood swings

Instructional Strategies to Help a Student with an Attention Deficit Disorder


Attention Deficit Disorder is a physiologically based disorder. Although it is not categorized as a specific learning disability, ADD is legally regarded as a medical disability. Students with ADD may exhibit the following behaviors: distractibility, concentration problems, inability to stay on task, poor organizational skills, impulsivity, and difficulty in interpreting and reacting appropriately in social situations. These behaviors often contribute to inconsistencies in academic performances and social behavior.


  • The notetaker is a common accommodation suggested for students with ADD. If the Services for Individuals with Disabilities staff request that a students have a notetaker, it would be helpful if you assist us by suggesting names of students in your class whom you feel would be effective notetakers. The Services for Individuals with Disabilities staff will complete the paperwork necessary to pay for the service.
  • Accept inconsistencies in performance and be careful not to label the student as lazy or unmotivated. Adults with ADD may be able to concentrate more easily on material when it interests them than when it doesn't.
  • Provide quiet space for testing with extended time on tests. Select appropriate seating arrangements: Seat student away from distractions such as pencil sharpeners, windows, hallways, talkative students, etc. Perhaps the best place would be the front of the classroom; the proximity of the instructor to the student may help the student stay on task.
  • Be as consistent as possible with daily routines, rules, and expectations. Structure will allow students with ADD to pay attention to content rather than format changes. Make sure that your ADD student understands what is happening when routine structure does change. Provide frequent checkpoints for monitoring progress.
  • Help the student divide long, complicated assignments into manageable chucks. Have the student report to you as often as you feel necessary to discuss progress on term papers and other long assignments.
  • Remind student to start preparing for a major test well in advance. Help student organize material in a way relevant to subject matter.
  • Organization may be a weakness for a student with ADD. Encourage student to have and use a notebook just for your class and an assignment calendar.
  • Students with ADD are easily frustrated. Inappropriate behaviors may indicate that a student does not understand what is required of him or her or that the student perceives the task as difficult.
  • Maintain eye contact with the student when giving oral instructions.
  • Make oral instructions clear and concise. Simplify complex instructions and avoid multiple commands.
  • Provide student with a detailed syllabus. When giving an assignment clearly explain:
    1. the type of assignment
    2. quantity and quality of work expected,
    3. approximately how much time it should take to successfully complete the assignment, and
    4. specific due dates.
  • Encourage the student to set up a buddy system with a good student, who can assist him or her in understanding instructions, steps, etc.
  • TALK TO THE STUDENT. He/she is the best resource about his/her specific needs.