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5 Ways to Manage ADD/ADHD Symptoms During COVID-19

A lot of parents think that at school, your child sits in a desk and just works. At home, you’ve likely had a rude awakening about how much movement and noise there actually is in a standard, structured classroom.

Students with focus and attention issues may be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). And when symptomatic, ADD and ADHD can be difficult for those students to manage, and in turn, can pose big challenges to parents who need to work from home without distraction.

In this guest blog co-written by special education teacher Katelyn Kale, we will teach you 5 things you can do to make changes to your home, schedule, and management/monitoring philosophies to better equip you and your special needs child for the home-school lifestyle.

1. Set a Schedule.

Routine, schedules and figuring out what helps you cope are key to a calmer home-school environment.

First, you need to make a new routine. You convey to your children that they are going to get up and get ready for school, just like we always have, even though we are doing it at home. After breakfast and getting dressed, go and do school work and homework. Have lunch and then after lunch get some exercise by going for a walk.

Then, you need to set a schedule. A schedule is one of the most effective time management tools for students with learning challenges that impact their focus and attention. A schedule is a plan for carrying out a process or procedure, giving lists of intended events and times. Schedules can reduce anxiety and stress for your child by promoting good habits and proper routines.

To develop a schedule, consider your child’s individual needs. How much time should they spend on academic and non-academic tasks? Add time for movement breaks, play, meals, etc. When possible, provide flexibility and choice. For example, you may have daily free reading or math-game times where your children can choose their activity. “Voice and Choice” is a strategy often used by teachers when developing classroom schedules.

You can try the 60/40 rule or “chunking” of work. Don’t give one big assignment or chore all at once. Start with 60% of something and then allow break/movement even if it’s cleaning room start with making bed then have a snack, pick up toys, etc

I advise working on schoolwork in the morning when the child is fresh. -Katelyn Kale, special education teacher

Then tell them, "We are going to have lunch together, and then we can do a board game or a puzzle. Then, we will take a walk or do some other exercise." After the exercise, your child can have one hour of downtime on a device. Just one hour a day.

2. Create an environment conducive to learning.

Especially if you have more than one child at home, it's important to select a physical location that will offer your children flexibility — perhaps one with various seating choices and an open area so they can spread out.

Let the child help choose homework space that’s comfortable-doesn’t have to be in chair at table. But we do suggest that they are sitting upright and have a hard work service (table, desk, lap desk, portable tv dinner tables, or coffee table).

You can help your children get their minds ready to learn by using mindful practices. With mindfulness, children expend less energy to stay calm and have more resilience to manage complex academic tasks that require focus.

3. Becoming an Active Listener

“Active listening” is a communication ­technique that can help students with ADD and ADHD focus on important details, especially when easily distracted by their environment, thoughts and feelings. It involves receiving what your child says, and then putting it in your own words so you and your child can confirm your understanding of what he or she has said. There are five key active listening techniques you can use to help you become a more effective listener:

1. Pay Attention

Give the speaker your undivided attention, and acknowledge the message. Recognize that non-verbal communication itself "speaks" loudly, and your child will be sensitive/distracted if your attention is divided. Here are five things to pay attention to when working on your active listening:

  • Look at the speaker directly.

  • Put aside distracting thoughts.

  • Don't mentally prepare.

  • Avoid being distracted by environmental factors. For example, side conversations.

  • "Listen" to the speaker's body language.

2. Show That You're Listening

Use your own body language and gestures to show that you are engaged. Try these techniques:

  • Nod occasionally.

  • Smile and use other facial expressions.

  • Make sure that your posture is open and interested.

  • Encourage the speaker to continue with small verbal comments like yes, and "uh huh."

3. Provide Feedback

Our personal filters, assumptions, judgments, and beliefs can distort what we hear. As a listener, your role is to understand what is being said. This may require you to reflect on what is being said and to ask questions.

  • Reflect on what has been said by paraphrasing. "What I'm hearing is... ," and "Sounds like you are saying... ," are great ways to reflect back.

  • Ask questions to clarify certain points. Try, "What do you mean when you say... ." or, "Is this what you mean?"

  • Summarize the speaker's comments periodically.

4. Defer Judgment

Interrupting is a waste of time. It frustrates the speaker and limits full understanding of the message.

  • Allow the speaker to finish each point before asking questions.

  • Don't interrupt with counter arguments.

5. Respond Appropriately

Active listening is designed to encourage respect and understanding. You are gaining information and perspective. You add nothing by attacking the speaker or otherwise putting him or her down.

  • Be candid, open and honest in your response.

  • Assert your opinions respectfully.

  • Treat the other person in a way that you think she would want to be treated.

4. Warning systems and consequences

When it comes to curbing distractions like talking and blurting, a warning system is a huge help. The way it works is that you give individual warnings to students whenever they are talking without permission. The warning holds no consequences – it’s just a warning. But it helps students notice they’re being disruptive and (hopefully) self-correct. Nine times out of ten, that’s all that’s needed. However, if students do persist in being disruptive after receiving a warning(s), then you need to give a predetermined consequence.

Consequences should only be one small part of your management plan. The key is to choose wise consequences that make sense and are a good fit for your child.

1.Deal with problems while they’re small.

The advice “don’t sweat the small stuff” has its place, but it certainly does not work when you’re trying to start the school year right, reset your classroom to fit a new home-school lifestyle, or teach a new procedure. I wish we could let the little things go, but, honestly, if you do, the little problems don’t stay little. They grow into bigger and bigger problems.

Instead, be looking for the first problem and deal with it right away. That doesn’t mean you lambaste the kid or slap him with a detention for saying one word. But it does mean that you kindly address the issue – every time. It could be as simple as reminding them of the correct procedure and asking them to redo it. As you consistently deal with the small problems, students will see that you actually mean what you say and will get used to following class guidelines.

2. Be consistent.

It is so hard to be consistent, but consistency is a huge key to management success. Simply decide what you are going to do and then do it. Consistently. And if you miss giving a warning one time, don’t let that derail you. Determine to get back on track the next opportunity you get.

5. Stay social and stimulating.

When thinking of school and learning, we often visualize classroom lessons, but school extends beyond that. In home-school situations, interaction with peers is missing. Our older children with access to technology have adapted by way of FaceTime and other similar technologies.

Our younger ones, however, are likely to feel more socially isolated. It is critical to make time for young children to “stay connected” to others, to whatever extent possible. It may look different, but as we are finding, even the opportunity to talk on the phone with friends can have a positive effect on outlook and state of mind.

I would suggest getting your child online with some friends from school on Zoom or calling them on the phone. It’s something specific, something they can look forward to and it doesn’t cost money. Let’s keep to our schedule and take the child who is getting bored.

*In our upcoming webinar Tuesday April 28th at 6:30pm EDT on Zoom, we'll be discussing ways to accommodate children with ADD, ADHD and other learning challenges while they are stuck at home due to the coronavirus pandemic. To learn about our webinar series and register for our webinar, click here.

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