Teaching Math to Students with ADHD

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What the Student Sees

Imagine walking into a department store with 100 televisions each set to a different program. A typical person is able to look at the TVs and focus on a program that interests them. The other shows do not distract them. For the student with ADHD, this is a whole different story! The student walks into the department store and sees all 100 televisions and tries to focus on each of the 100 programs at once. They are immediately overwhelmed by all the activity and their brain goes into overdrive trying to absorb all the input at once.

ADHD and Math

This is often what happens when a student is in the classroom. If a student is given a worksheet with 100 math problems, they are immediately overwhelmed by all 100 problems. When a child has ADHD, their mind tries to process all of the information at once and they convince themselves that this is an impossible task. This is why teachers and parents often find themselves frustrated because it seems as though the student is not trying.

Different Learning Styles

Every student has different learning styles. Some are visual learners, some can easily work problems in their heads, others may work better alone, while some may work better in groups. For the student with ADHD, one thing usually holds true – they are easily distracted and overwhelmed.

Teachers can alleviate a lot of this stress during math time by following a few very simple and easy tips.

First, do not tell the student he or she is timed. Although the main goal is to have the classroom learn math facts by sight, for the student with ADHD, this is a slower process that will take some time. When telling the student that they have “one minute” to complete 100 addition problems, they will almost always become overwhelmed and give up before they have even begun.

The real goal is for the student to learn the facts, and of course a teacher has to move on to the next classroom activity. So another way to help the student with ADHD is to provide a blank piece of paper. Allow the student to use this paper to cover up the math problems they are not currently working on. Then guide the student to work on one problem at a time. Explain that you only want that problem done, then slide the paper over to the next one and explain that you want that one done. Before you know it, the student will have the entire math sheet done and more than likely in less time than you expected.

It Can Work!

I assure you that it will work! As a parent of a student with severe ADHD and a substitute teacher, I have seen this work on numerous students with ADHD.

Once I was teaching a second grade classroom where a student with ADHD had never completed a math assignment. I told him he was not timed and took the blank piece of paper to cover the rest of the 99 math problems. I told him that I only wanted him to complete the first math problem and none of the others. He wrote down the answer. Then I moved the sheet to the next problem and we continued until he finished all 100 problems. He was one of the first students finished in less than one minute.

Students with ADHD are overwhelmed when it comes to classroom assignments because of the over-stimulation in the classroom. With these simple steps, the teacher can help the student succeed and increase their self-esteem which will help their learning even more.