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Everyone Can Learn: Strategies for Teaching Adults with ADHD

  • Everyone Can Learn: Strategies for Teaching Adults with ADHD

The following blog post was written by Jennifer Acevedo, a faculty member at the Centre for Excellence in Immigrant and Intercultural Advancement.

Recently my colleague Emily Albertsen and I had the opportunity to attend a very informative two-day workshop on adults with learning disabilities. This workshop was part of the LIFE: Learning is for Everyone series of professional development workshops offered by Calgary Learns. The workshop was delivered by Dr. Anne Price, Ph.D., R. Psych., Director of Clinical Services at CanLearn Society. 

To learn about Part One of the workshop, read Everyone Can Learn: Strategies for Teaching Adults with Learning Disabilities

Part Two of the workshop focused on adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). We learned that ADHD involves the limited or lack of function of neurotransmitters in the brain that pass signals for self-control. It is estimated that fewer than 20% of adults who have ADHD are diagnosed. The major characteristics of ADHD include inattention, hyperactivity, impulsivity, social-emotional difficulties, and challenges with executive functions. As children with ADHD become adults, typical characteristics begin to lean more towards inattention and less towards hyperactivity. Adults with ADHD often experience academic and occupational difficulties. 

Some areas of need for adult learners with ADHD 
  • Executive functions: planning and organization, managing time and space, paying attention and remembering details, determining what to focus on
  • Working memory: the ability to hold information in one’s head while working with it
  • Processing speed and production deficiencies: producing information in the time frame required
  • Attention difficulties: difficulty sustaining attention in meetings, when reading or doing paperwork
  • Impulsivity and hyperactivity
Adult basic education and English language learners with ADHD may have particular difficulties with tasks that involve:
  • reading comprehension
  • the writing process
  • staying on track
  • the editing process
  • note taking
  • listening for periods of time

Incorporating strategies will help adult learners with ADHD manage their educational activities and achieve their educational goals. The following instructional strategies were presented as effective ways to help adult learners with ADHD be more successful in the classroom:

Modify the physical environment
  • Reduce environmental distractions.
  • Allow learners to find the best place for them to work free of distractions.
  • Provide opportunities for standing and sitting.
Reduce working memory load
  • Break tasks down into small chunks that can be achieved in shorter periods of time.
  • Provide structure and routine in the classroom – the more routine learners have, the fewer distractors they have to think about.
  • Simplify and structure the way information is presented.
  • Make associations for learners. Find a “hook” to help them make connections.
  • Repeat, rehearse, and review information. Provide lots of opportunities for practice.
  • Use visuals for reference.
  • Have learners actively do something with the information they receive so they can commit it to memory: sort, chunk, and organize.
  • Teach memory techniques to help learners create mental representations of information.
Modify evaluation
  • Provide distraction-free settings for exams.
  • Provide access to assistive technology such as computers to write with a keyboard instead of by hand, text to speech software for reading and listening, and noise cancelling headphones.
  • Allow for extended time periods to complete exams.
Support learners with organization and time-management
  • Help learners organize the information they receive: teach mind-mapping and brainstorming strategies and use graphic organizers to help learners remember content.
  • Teach learners key words to help make links and make meaningful connections with information.
  • Set small goals.
  • Set deadlines. Have a start and end date for each “chunk” of information that you break down for learners. This will help them plan time and meet deadlines.
  • Follow routines and develop systems in the classroom.
Provide accommodations
  • Try different strategies with your learners to help them determine which ones work best for them at the current time. You will need to re-assess and adjust strategies periodically.
  • Present information using multi-sensory methods: visual, audio, kinesthetic.
  • Make learning active: encourage learners to move around.
  • Find out how long is a reasonable time for your learners to focus and give breaks in between periods of focus.
  • Encourage self-talk when completing tasks to help learners focus.
  • Encourage using cues to focus on key information.

Many of the strategies listed above will be helpful for all of your learners, not just those facing the challenges of ADHD. By incorporating these strategies in the classroom, you can help your learners achieve their learning goals and experience success. For more information on adults with ADHD, visit: ADHD Families and CanLearn Society