For Educators: Strength Based Approach for Kids with ADHD

Dr. David Rabiner, an expert on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), defines the condition as "a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity/impulsivity that occurs in academic, occupational, or social settings." In other words, children with ADHD may have difficulty with staying focused, keeping still, and taking turns.

Teachers, if this sounds familiar, keep reading.

As you may have learned, ADHD can be difficult to diagnose because many children experience some degree of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness as they grow and develop. In fact, some symptoms of ADHD may not become apparent in a child until he or she starts school. Children with an ADHD diagnosis may face challenges in the classroom in terms of behavior and academic engagement.

Children with ADHD are often identified by what they struggle with or cannot do, rather than the strengths and abilities the children already have. Teachers have always worked hard to ensure each child is challenged at a sufficient level and that support is structured in a way that enables the child to thrive. Many teachers are now focusing those challenges to play to a child’s strengths.

In an article published by the Canadian Psychological Association, authors Emma A. Climie and Sarah M. Mastoras encourage using strengths-based assessments in the classroom “… ’to probe positive areas. For instance, if football is a skill and strength, how and why is this going well and how can these successes be applied in other contexts in the school environment?”

As Dr. Rabiner explains, ADHD symptoms are often dependent on the setting and time of day. Unfortunately, the classroom is one setting where ADHD symptoms are very likely to be prominent. This is where a parent’s perspective from spending other parts of the day with their child can provide valuable insight regarding the child’s strength. Partner with parents to support this approach. Ask the parents about the strengths the child demonstrates at home, which he or she may not display at school.

Climie and Mastoras suggest teachers then audit specific strengths and skills a student has and create ‘islands of competence’ or optimism, ownership for their actions, and self-control from these points. That way the student can learn to feel more confident, build their self-esteem, and receive more positive feedback from peers.

Strengths-based instruction is vital to helping children with ADHD. Take the opportunity during a parent-teacher conference to discuss the approach and the potential for success in the classroom. Then collaborate on ways to make it come to life for the children under your instruction and others like them.