ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is a learning disability and neurodevelopmental disorder. It is usually diagnosed in childhood, but it can be diagnosed in adults as well. ADHD is not a one-size-fits-all diagnosis: there are several traits and symptoms that make up ADHD and they can all manifest differently for each individual. Although ADHD is relatively common, it is also under-diagnosed. Some people might suspect that they have ADHD or might benefit from resources aimed at people with ADHD without having a formal diagnosis. Adults with ADHD may find that their experiences impact their working lives. Teachers who have ADHD may face unique challenges in the classroom, but fortunately, there are a number of strategies and resources that can make a big difference.
Symptoms of ADHD
There are several different elements of ADHD that come together to make up a diagnosis. Some people might experience certain elements with greater intensity than others. There are three subtypes of ADHD: predominantly inattentive presentation, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive presentation, and combined presentation. People with ADHD often struggle to focus over a prolonged period of time. Some might find themselves hyper-focusing on a specific task for hours on end. Those with a more hyperactive-impulsive presentation might struggle with impulse control and have high energy levels. Another element of ADHD is executive dysfunction, or the inability to start and complete tasks, which can greatly impact an individual's ability to function in a school or work environment. Many people with ADHD have sensory sensitivities or sensory processing disorders that impact how their brains regulate and integrate sensory information. Like many neurodevelopmental disorders, ADHD is sometimes comorbid with autism, anxiety, and some other learning differences and disabilities.
Most people with ADHD are diagnosed as children, but it is possible to be diagnosed as an adult. Underdiagnosis is a problem in the ADHD community, but diagnosis is also a very personal decision that not everyone feels comfortable undertaking. In some cases, getting diagnosed with ADHD can be costly, and some people may face other systemic barriers that make diagnosis more challenging. Choosing whether or not to get diagnosed can be difficult, as the diagnosis can have both pros and cons. The benefits of diagnosis include a better understanding of one's own experiences and potential access to more resources. Downsides can include the associated costs and stigma that come with a diagnosis of a neurodevelopmental disorder.
To be formally diagnosed with ADHD, individuals will need to speak to at least one doctor or other medical professional. The doctor will usually speak to the individual extensively about their experiences and will administer a series of tests and questionnaires to ascertain their symptoms and difficulties. ADHD cannot be cured, but it can be managed. Medication, some forms of therapy, and individual coping mechanisms can all help people with ADHD thrive in their educational or professional environments.
How to Teach with ADHD
If you are a teacher and you have been diagnosed with or suspect that you have ADHD, you may be wondering how to teach with ADHD. Teachers need to be able to focus on their students, and their lessons, while managing a classroom each day, which are challenging tasks for anyone. Although there are challenges that are specific to teachers with ADHD, there are many resources and strategies that can help teachers with ADHD succeed. In fact, there may even be some ways that you can make your ADHD work for you in the teaching environment. There are many different ways to cultivate a successful and inclusive classroom environment that meets the needs of both students and teachers. With the right support and careful management, teachers with ADHD can do great work that benefits their students and themselves.
Becoming a Teacher
Many people with ADHD find post-secondary education challenging. Turning in assignments on time, focusing during lectures, and completing assignments without getting bored or distracted are all tasks that can be particularly difficult for people with ADHD. Becoming a teacher requires attending a post-secondary institution to get an undergraduate degree and teacher certification. College students who are prospective teachers with ADHD should speak to their college's Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD) to discuss potential accommodations that may be available to improve students' ability to succeed in school. They should also try to create a study space free of distractions in order to get work done. Some people with ADHD might find that they need a base level of stimulus in order to get work done. Listening to music or using a stim toy can make it easier to maintain focus.
After you complete your post-secondary education, you will need to pass certification exams and complete teacher training to become a licensed teacher. When studying for certification exams, consider using the Pomodoro Technique and other strategies that promote focus. When working as a student teacher, try to reach out to other teachers with ADHD to talk to them about their own strategies for managing the pressures of the classroom. Having ADHD often means learning to advocate for one's own needs without sacrificing the needs of students. It can take time to learn this kind of self-advocacy, so try to practice during student teaching assignments if possible.
Finding a Supportive School Environment
One of the best ways teachers with ADHD can support themselves at work is to find a supportive school environment. If possible, try to find employment at a school where the needs of teachers are a priority. When teachers can talk to administrators and get the support they need, teachers and students all benefit. Schools that prioritize mental health awareness, anti-bullying initiatives, disability awareness, and other inclusivity initiatives may be good fits for teachers with ADHD because the school environment is already primed to support the needs of those learning and working there. If you are working at a school that you do not feel sufficiently supports its students, teachers, and staff, there are steps you can take to make the environment more inclusive. Consider talking to other teachers and to administrators about potential improvements, including school-wide campaigns for issues of importance. You may want to find examples of other schools that have implemented inclusivity measures to positive effect when having these discussions.
Maintaining Clear Communication
In addition to working in a supportive environment, teachers with ADHD should work on maintaining clear communication with everyone else in the school environment as much as possible. This includes communicating clearly and regularly with administrators, fellow teachers, other staff members, students, and students' families. If you are a teacher with ADHD, you are by no means obligated to disclose your diagnosis if you do not want to. However, talking openly about your experiences, challenges, and needs can make it easier for everyone to stay on the same page and be supportive of each other. Explaining to administrators that you find a particular element of classroom work challenging and proposing productive alternatives with your reasoning for why they will work, whether or not ADHD specifically enters the conversation, is often more productive than struggling in silence. Open communication can also help teachers find new allies: other teachers may have the same struggles and may have their own ideas for how to manage them.
Learning Effective Time Management Strategies
Managing one's time effectively is one of the skillsets that people with ADHD typically struggle with the most. For teachers, a lack of time management skills can pose a real challenge as so many tasks have to be completed according to specific deadlines. Executive function can make it harder to complete tasks; ADHD can cause people to lose track of time; and high distractibility can mean that some things simply do not get done. Although time management is difficult for those with ADHD, there are strategies that can help. Being aware of the issue is the first major step. Setting alarms for completing certain tasks can make a difference, and so can rewarding yourself upon finishing an activity. As with studying in college, cultivating the right environment can definitely make it easier to manage time and get lesson plans and grading done. If possible, you may also benefit from being accountable to someone else. Partnering up with another teacher and enforcing each other's deadlines can help both of you keep on track with your work.
Using ADHD to Your Advantage
When people think of ADHD, they usually do not think of it as a positive experience. Certainly, ADHD is not always easy and it is by no means appropriate to downplay the difficulties that people with ADHD can experience. However, when properly utilized, there are some elements of ADHD that can make people excellent teachers. With ADHD, teachers have certain opportunities that may be less readily available to others. High levels of energy and enthusiasm, a foreknowledge of students' experiences, and the ability to hyperfocus on a single topic or activity can all be assets in a teaching career. Although it is classified as a neurodevelopmental disorder and a learning disability, ADHD is also sometimes categorized as a neurotype. A neurotype is a kind of neurological presentation that can either represent the majority of people (neurotypical) or a subset of individuals (neurodivergent). Thinking of people with ADHD as neurodivergent means that ADHD is just how some people's brains work, and that while it can be challenging, it is not necessarily wrong or in need of fixing.
Energy and Enthusiasm
People with ADHD, particularly those with the hyperactivity presentation, often have high levels of energy. Teaching is an energy-intensive career, so people with ADHD may be able to rise to the challenge in that regard. If you have ADHD, you may have noticed that you are able to talk endlessly about subjects that interest you, but that you struggle to focus on things that you find boring. When teachers with ADHD are able to harness their enthusiasm for particular subjects or activities, they can provide a great deal of information for students while also actively engaging them in their school work. For those who love teaching, that passion can fuel great classes, as people with ADHD thrive on activities that they enjoy. It is, however, still very important for teachers to take steps to avoid burnout, since high-energy work can take a toll in the long term. Getting enough sleep, eating high-energy and nutritious foods, and keeping tabs on your mental health can all help you succeed in a school environment.
Knowledge of Students' Experiences
ADHD is more commonly diagnosed in children than in adults, though it often persists throughout a lifetime. Teachers with ADHD are therefore very likely to work with multiple students with ADHD over the course of their careers. Having ADHD can help you as a teacher better understand your students' experiences and needs. In fact, ADHD can help teachers better understand a wide variety of learning differences and disabilities, as there are many experiences that students can have that can make the typical educational model less accessible to them. As a teacher, work on harnessing your compassion for all students in order to acknowledge their unique perspectives and experiences. There are many ways to learn that might not fit into most people's ideas of a ''normal'' education, but they can still be effective for many students. Students who do not have ADHD or other learning differences can still benefit from having a teacher with ADHD as they may get the opportunity to see new ways of looking at things and may feel freer to pursue their interests and education in their own ways.
Hyperfocus is a particular trait that some people with ADHD have. It allows individuals to focus on a single task or activity for several hours at a time to the exclusion of all other stimuli. Harnessing hyperfocus and applying it to productive activities can be challenging, but if you are successful, you may be able to get a lot of work done in a short space of time. Some teachers can use their hyperfocus abilities to complete lesson plans and grading, allowing them to go above and beyond in their careers and make their students' experiences more positive and productive. Most people with ADHD do not get to choose what they hyperfocus on. Some medications used to treat ADHD can help individuals redirect their energies into what they really need to focus on. Practice and luck are also important factors in harnessing hyperfocus. You may be more likely to be able to use hyperfocus to your advantage if you are teaching about subjects that are of particular interest to you whenever possible, without sacrificing the necessary curriculum.
Working with Students with ADHD
One important element of a teaching career for teachers with ADHD is working with students who have ADHD and other learning differences. Sometimes, teachers with ADHD have insight into students' experiences that other educators might not have because of a lack of lived experience with ADHD. This insight can carry over into educators' teaching styles, their individual interactions with students, and their ability to be role models for all students. There are several ways that teachers with ADHD can implement differentiated instruction to address not only their own difficulties but also those of their students. In so doing, teachers can create a classroom where all students feel welcome.
Creating an Inclusive Classroom
Perhaps the greatest benefit that teachers with ADHD can provide to both themselves and their students is the creation of an inclusive classroom. An inclusive classroom is a learning space where all students are accepted and supported. This means inclusivity for students with learning differences, disabilities of all kinds, and mental health issues. It also means inclusivity for students who are marginalized in various ways, including students of color, LGBTQ+ students, immigrant and refugee students, English language learners, students from minority religious and cultural backgrounds, and students from all socioeconomic backgrounds. A teacher with ADHD who emphasizes the value of an inclusive classroom can be an excellent role model, particularly when it comes to destigmatizing learning differences and other diverse experiences to help all students succeed.
Microlessons are a specific teaching strategy that can help maintain student focus. They can be a great fit for both teachers and students with ADHD, though they can be equally beneficial for students who do not have ADHD. Microlessons may especially be more beneficial for younger students who have shorter attention spans on average. Essentially, microlessons break educational material down into small chunks, distilling a lesson down to its core components. Microlessons should never sacrifice educational material, but should instead deliver information succinctly to allow more students to retain focus throughout a lesson. Teachers may want to break one longer lesson into several microlessons, which should take around five minutes, returning to other elements of the lesson later on. Switching activities regularly and keeping lessons short can help teachers and students with ADHD remain fully engaged as often as possible.
ADHD can come with some forms of sensory sensitivity, which is one of several things that ADHD and autism have in common. Teachers and students with either ADHD or autism (or both) may find certain sensory experiences deeply unpleasant, including fluorescent lights, certain sounds, and some textures, the latter of which can be particularly difficult when doing art projects. To accommodate students with sensory sensitivities, teachers may want to allow those students certain accommodations, including wearing sunglasses, gloves, or noise-canceling headphones if needed. Providing a quiet space in the classroom for students experiencing sensory overload to calm down can also be helpful.
Another sensory issue that can arise with ADHD is understimulation. Some students may require a base level of stimulus in order to complete their tasks. Non-disruptive stim toys can help some students focus without causing problems for other students. Seating alternatives like chairs specifically designed to wobble can be good for students who struggle to sit still. Incorporating sensory play activities into the classroom can also help reward some students for their focus. Teachers with ADHD may understand these sensory needs better than most, and they should try to find ways to accommodate these experiences rather than making students ignore uncomfortable sensory elements of the school environment.
Different Learning Styles
Teachers with ADHD may know better than most that people can have very different learning styles. Many educators are familiar with auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learning styles among their students. These general preferences are helpful for teachers to keep in mind in order to present a varied learning experience for all students. Learning differences, including ADHD, can cause students to prefer to learn in certain ways. Teachers may want to consider their own preferences and experiences for both delivering and studying learning materials when structuring lessons. They should keep in mind that it is often helpful to present information in various ways to support all students.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I be a good teacher with ADHD?
Being a good teacher with ADHD means understanding your particular experience with ADHD and how it impacts your ability to complete work and focus on the task at hand. Medication, careful time management, and using some elements of ADHD to your advantage can all be helpful strategies to implement.
Can you be a teacher if you have ADHD?
Yes, it is possible to be a teacher with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. ADHD can pose some challenges, but it can also have certain advantages if properly utilized to create an inclusive classroom.