What Are The Essential Tips For Tutoring A Student With ADHD?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most prevalent learning disabilities, affecting approximately 9.5% of students. This condition is more common in boys than girls and can impact people of all ages. Without treatment, students can experience difficulties in school and can even develop additional conditions, such as sleep disorders and anxiety.

Fortunately, there are a variety of resources, treatment options, and knowledgeable professionals that can help support those affected. As a tutor, you have the opportunity to contribute to the management of your student's ADHD with the right understanding of the condition. Read on to learn more about ADHD and helpful strategies you can employ in your sessions.


What Is ADHD?

ADHD is a biological condition that affects a person's ability to concentrate and sit still for extended periods. As attention span is shorter and focus can wane, students who have ADHD can have a difficult time in a traditional classroom setting. It is thought that the cause of ADHD stems from the brain, with areas that are associated with concentration and activity operating differently than in those without the condition. ADHD can manifest in three forms:

  • Inattentive-predominant: If most of a student's symptoms are attention-related, they are likely affected by this form of ADHD. Hyperactivity is generally not an issue for these students. This form is often referred to simply as ADD for this reason.
  • Hyperactive-predominant: This type of ADHD occurs when the student's symptoms are related to hyperactivity.
  • Combined: This is the most common form seen in students and includes a roughly even mix of attention and hyperactivity symptoms.

Testing for ADHD is carried out by a physician who specialises in identifying the signs and symptoms, as there are no diagnostic lab tests available. The degree to which people are affected can vary greatly. A specific cause has not been confirmed, although genetics are thought to play at least a small part. There is no cure for ADHD, but treatments, ranging from medication to strategic exercises, can make it much more manageable and greatly improve symptoms.

Frequently Asked Questions

Many students with ADHD require frequent redirection. Redirect students using clear, concise, and inconspicuously delivered verbal cues to remind students of desired behaviours rather than long explanations.

On-campus living is recommended for first-year students. However, some ADHD students choose single dorm rooms because this will cut down on distracting stimuli. In addition, it allows the ADHD student to have less dis- tracking noise and helps avoid social isolation.

Other studies have reported that university students with ADHD symptoms have low academic performance as a result of difficulties with concentrating on their studies and completing assignments, worries about studying and having high test anxiety, and not applying appropriate learning strategies.

Instead, you need to focus on the five things that motivate the ADHD brain: novelty, urgency, interest, competition and enjoyment. Focusing on these five things helps you gain buy-in from your teenager.

An IEP will detail accommodations and modifications to help a child with ADHD thrive in a classroom environment. Learn more about the characteristics of ADHD here. Accommodations include changes that help a child learn, for example, allowing breaks during lessons to help ease hyperactivity symptoms.

How Can Tutors Most Effectively Work With Students Who Are Affected By ADHD?

  • Tailor sessions to student interests. Students with ADHD are often much more likely to be involved in work if they enjoy it. Before you begin your engagement, discuss your student's interests and find ways to angle your sessions toward them.
  • Break down work into digestible segments. By dividing work into smaller chunks, students don't need to sit still and focus for an extended period. To effectively break down work, set intervals for each assignment as checkpoints. A timer can even be used to precisely break sessions up into active work time and breaks.
  • Improve procrastination. Tutors can help students to begin projects and assignments. Many students who have this learning disability cite the commencement of a project as the most difficult part. However, after the initial hurdle of getting started, they have a much easier time working.
  • Be interactive. Those affected with ADHD often benefit from a hands-on approach to working. To keep things interesting, try incorporating games into your sessions which will feel less like work and more like play. It can also be very helpful for students with ADHD to digest information in a story format.
  • Focus on project completion. Students with ADHD often spend a lot of time on their projects, but the actual completion process can be difficult. It can be useful to build checklists for assignments, which help students visualise how far along they are and provide a tangible view of the project's end.
  • Practice memory exercises. Memory and forgetfulness can be an obstacle for students with ADHD, often forgetting assignment due dates or leaving homework at home, for example. To improve this, work on memory exercises with your student and check in often regarding upcoming work.
  • Teach shortcut strategies. Another classic symptom of ADHD is "getting lost" in text, with students often finding themselves reading passages over and over without retaining information. Many strategies can help with this. For example, have your student predict the upcoming text based on pictures and then go through the passages together. It can help to get through the information more quickly.
  • Tailor Your Tutoring. Children with ADHD respond differently to tutoring practices than non-ADHD peers. Make sure you tailor any tutoring sessions to the child's strengths. "Every child's learning style is different, so ask questions to figure out what the child's style is and adapt to it," says Nigg. If the child prefers talking about what he is learning overwriting everything down, have a structured discussion. If the child is a visual learner, suggest drawing pictures to help understand and retain what you're studying.
  • Deal With Motivation Problems. Additionally, you'll face more motivational issues with a child with ADHD. "Many ADHD kids experience learned helplessness," Cartwright explains. "They figure out that they can use their disability as an excuse for not doing the work and that misbehaviour gets them out of doing things they don't want to do. Don't give in." As a result, you'll have to provide motivation, and organisational tactics that a more typically developing child may not need.
  • Work in Small Chunks. Children with ADHD find it difficult to sit still for a prolonged time, so working in small chunks is important. "Find ways to take a bigger subject and break it down into manageable mini lessons for your student," Meldrum suggests. For example, if a child has an hour and a half of homework and studying to do, consider breaking it into three half-hour chunks with breaks of 10 to 15 minutes in between. Breaks can and should include some moving around.
  • Incorporate Hands-on Activities. "All students learn better when they are allowed to learn by doing hands-on activities," shares Meldrum. "Provide lots of manipulatives when working on maths concepts, pull out playdough and form letters in difficult-to-spell words, get their whole body involved while practising math facts while bouncing a basketball."
  • Use Incentives. "Build rewards into the lesson," suggests Cartwright. "Provide incentives to help him stay focused. Use pictures to help redirect his attention and keep focused if you need to." For example, if the child you are tutoring is working on two- or three-dimensional shapes, consider a reward to build something with the shapes at the end of the lesson. Anything the child can manipulate and use for creative purposes is fun and learning-centred reward.
  • Provide Variety. Recognise different learning styles. Look at pictures, have structured discussions and watch YouTube videos to educate and engage students. Also, remember to provide meta-cognitive skills, which involve thinking about thinking, developing a plan for what to do when you have no plan or what to do when you don't know what to do. Allowing the student to shift positions can improve focus, too. "You will be amazed at the differences in their attention span when they are allowed to move while working," Meldrum explains.
  • Find the Passion. Identify an area of passion and build on it. Does the child love science? Find ways to incorporate it into other subjects. "Survey with your student to tap into their likes and dislikes?" says Meldrum. "Find ways to incorporate them into tutoring or your incentive system. For example, I had a student that loved to play basketball. We found a way to practice his maths skills while playing basketball."
  • Avoid Assumptions. "Do not assume the same thing will work with all children with ADHD. Be ready to try different techniques," Nigg says. Be patient and keep a positive attitude, building on any success the child has along the way. Meldrum adds that you should "Try not to be bothered by their wiggling and movements while tutoring, resist the urge to ask them to sit still and be quiet."
  • Know the playing field. The main thing tutors need to grasp quickly is the overall approach. Before meeting the student for the first time, ensure the teaching area is ordered and tidy. Then, work to ensure that as many routines as you can fit into the time, you have to predict what will happen. ADHD students need a clear and rigid structure. A common misconception is that they want fun and chaos. They may present like this sometimes, but they need a structure, first and foremost.
  • Open a dialogue early. You must show respect and courtesy as quickly as possible. Once the learner knows that you respect them and 'where they are from (as in learning context), the relationship will pick up speed.
  • Code makers. You'll want an orderly environment, and so will the learner. They want to learn (don't ever think they don't); However, signifying key requests can be difficult when ADHD is present. Work out a signal that you both agree on, something that you know you can do to get the student back on task, without the need for verbal commands or reprimands. Some tutors use a hand clap, for example. It is non-threatening and ensures the student knows what you want.
  • Clear and concise. Ask any teacher or tutor of children with ADHD, and they will say the best way to give instructions is to simplify them as much as possible. If the instructions are complex, break them up into clearer sub-parts. The best advice here is to use only a few words that move the learning.
  • Points make prizes. As you will know, behaviour management can be positive rather than negative. Looking out for what a student does well makes perfect sense, and you should have a simple rewards system that rewards key behaviours.
  • Movement. An ADHD student loves movement. If they are stuck in a chair for too long (this could be just a few minutes), they will react, leading to disruption. Allow them to do jobs here and there that require them to get up and move. It sounds worse than it is. Small jobs like arranging paper are quite pleasant for children, especially if this leads to rewards.
  • See the signs. If an ADHD learner is starting to experience stress, there is usually a physical representation. They might start to fidget while not smiling, or they may start tapping their pencil. The more you work with them, and the more obvious these signs will be. You're doing the learner a favour by getting to know what they are. And if you respond by allowing them to get up and let off steam or by distracting them, they'll appreciate this greatly.
  • Recognise success. Like all learners, but arguably more so, ADHD students need to experience success. Take every opportunity to display excellent work, or help them create a 'best work' folder that they can show their parents or carers. It is about recognising and rewarding their efforts. It's vital because ADHD doesn't always work out too well in a large classroom of 30 learners. Reward their brilliance, and they will respond positively. Here are some key tips, organising your learning space and breaking work down into chunks, 'classic' ADHD management techniques. Above all, establish a mutually respectful relationship early, and commit to valuing their work, as well as their personality.
  • Offer choices. Children with ADHD who are given choices for completing an activity produce more work, are more compliant and act less negative. Establish, for instance, a list of 15 activity choices for practising spelling words like writing words on flashcards, using them in a sentence, or air-writing words.

Techniques And Tips For ADHD Tutoring

Working with a Child with ADHD

If your child has ADHD, they might exhibit several possible symptoms that affect a tutoring session. The three main symptoms to look for are hyperactivity, inability to concentrate and impulsive behaviour. The most common type of ADHD combines all three of these symptoms. It will probably be necessary to consult education professionals and a doctor to determine the best course of action for educating your child. The goal is to help your child sustain their attention long enough to retain new information and organise thoughts.

Structuring A Tutoring Session

Minimising distractions and clutter during a tutoring session can be helpful because many children with ADHD get easily distracted. Find a quiet space to work and clear it off, so your child doesn't have any visual distractions. The workspace should have few decorations and be well-stocked with learning supplies. Keep the space free of television sets, computers, phones and other devices that may draw your child's attention.

Structure your tutoring sessions into small segments so that your child doesn't lose focus. Give your child short, meaningful tasks that help them maintain focus and gain a sense of accomplishment. You can help your child practice the same skill for an entire lesson by incorporating several different types of activities.


Tutoring Tips

When explaining a concept to your child, keep the explanation short and then let them practice the concept with a hands-on activity. Many children with ADHD are kinesthetic learners, learning best when interacting with materials rather than listening or reading. Don't be afraid to be creative when designing your tutoring lessons, and always keep in mind what does and doesn't interest your child. If you need help, there are many online resources for tutoring that you can use, including lesson plans, games, activities, worksheets and more.


It can often be difficult for students affected by ADHD to keep up academically. However, the condition can be made more manageable with support. As a tutor, you can help drastically by understanding the condition and utilising the right strategies and tools. With a thoughtful approach, you can make a deep, long-lasting impact on your student.

While tutoring a child with ADHD can be challenging, there are ways to ensure your student develops the skills they will need to become a self-directed learner, which will reap a lifetime of benefits.

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