Following directions is one of the most difficult tasks for a child with ADHD to master. Children with ADHD are easily distracted and have a tendency to get sidetracked a lot. With a lot of patience and support, you can help your ADHD child learn to follow directions using these very simple tips and strategies.
1. Organize and simplify the directions:
Keep the directions as simply stated as possible so that your child with ADHD can remember them easily and not get lost in your words. Make the most important information stand out. “Sara, I want you to get your jacket, get your backpack and put on your shoes, then come back here to me. Got that? Jacket, backpack, shoes. Go!”
2. Use multisensory strategies to help the memory:
You can sing and dance the directions with your ADHD child. “jacket, backpack, shoes, yee-hah!” You can have your child clap his hands or tap the table for each step he needs to do.
3. Teach your child to repeat the directions:
Have your child repeat each direction a few times. “get out a piece of paper, a pencil and write my name at the top of the paper. Paper, pencil, name. Paper, pencil, name.”
4. Make charts for procedures or routines that are repeated:
This is especially helpful for organizing and keeping a routine. For example if you have a list of items that need to be done each day before school you can create a checklist.
1. _____ make my bed.
2. _____ put dirty clothes in the hamper.
3. _____ feed the dog.
As your child completes a step, he/she can check that step off the list. This will give your child some direction and keep the attention on the task at hand.
5. Be supportive and stay positive!
Nagging your ADHD child is not going to assist them in learning strategies and skills to follow directions. You can provide support for your child by:
- prompting your child for listening skills. “I am going to give you the directions, I would like you to please look at me so I know you are listening.”
- asking your child how you can provide a reminder for them without nagging them. They might suggest a hand gesture or a tap on the wall, a wink of the eye, etc.
- offering understanding when your child feels frustration. ” I understand it is hard to keep track of doing so much at once. Would you like me to help you put together a list that we could start checking off after each step?”
- praising your ADHD child often. If they don’t complete the task praise them for making an effort. If your child fails to complete a task, encourage her/him to try to get it finished. Use positive encouragement.
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Karina Richland, M.A. is the owner of PRIDE Learning Centers, located in Southern California. Ms. Richland is a reading and learning disability specialist. Ms. Richland speaks frequently to parents, teachers, and professionals on learning differences, and writes for several journals and publications. You can visit the PRIDE Learning Center website at: www.pridelearningcenter.com
Nearly 10 percent of children and 4 percent of adults in the U.S. have been diagnosed with ADHD. But studies suggest that while many people with ADHD still go undiagnosed, others are wrongly diagnosed with ADHD when they are instead suffering from a range of other disorders. ADHD is frequently portrayed and covered in the media and it is now part of the American lexicon. Many people notice that their children are struggling with a lack of attention and quickly assume that they must have ADHD. Often, parents and teachers can feel so certain that a child has ADHD that their strong beliefs can influence important medical decisions. With the absence of psychoeducational testing confirming or disconfirming the presence of ADHD, psychiatrists, pediatricians and general practitioners often prescribe stimulant medication to children who superficially appear to have ADHD, but many times actually do not!
Like many DSM-IV diagnoses, the symptoms of ADHD actually overlap with many other diagnoses making a correct ADHD diagnosis more difficult than it may seem. Inattention is just one individual symptom of ADHD, not the hallmark of the disorder that many think it is. ADHD is a disorder of the brain’s frontal lobe. The frontal lobe controls what are known as Executive Functions which include the skills of: Planning, Working Memory, Attention, Problem Solving, Cognitive Flexibility, Emotional Regulation and Inhibitory Control of Behavior. The hallmark symptoms that separate ADHD from all other diagnoses involves the disruption of one’s Executive Functions and manifest as a lack of self control, recklessness, thoughtlessness, and an inability to think of about behavior before acting. This kind of impulsive behavior can range from being extremely disruptive (i.e. the child that runs around the room during class) to more mild (i.e. the child who interrupts others while they are speaking).
Basing an ADHD diagnosis solely on criteria such as inattention or hyperactivity is what frequently leads to misdiagnosis. An incorrect diagnosis of ADHD can potentially be extremely damaging to a child (or an adult) because academic and medical decisions are frequently made based on this diagnosis. Parents who are concerned about their children having ADHD should consult with an expert in the field who conducts psychoeducational evaluations in order to correctly differentiate ADHD from learning disorders, anxiety disorders, depression, Bipolar Disorder, and Asperger’s Syndrome. These other diagnoses are frequently mistaken for ADHD and all lead to diverging courses of treatment and academic intervention.
Children who are experiencing depression and anxiety are often preoccupied with anxious and depressed thoughts which can be extremely distracting and may manifest as a child who is struggling to pay attention due to a mood disorder rather than ADHD. Children with ADHD can sometimes struggle socially because they may be so scattered in their thinking that they have difficulty listening to what peers say leading them to miss subtle social cues. This is often mistaken for Asperger’s Syndrome which is a much more severe disruption of a child’s ability to function in social settings. At times the highly energized and impulsive behavior of a manic episode is mistaken for ADHD. This is particularly dangerous as the stimulant medication that is successful in treating ADHD, makes manic episodes much worse. The symptoms that differentiate a manic episode from ADHD are severe insomnia, irritability, and grandiosity.
Given the wide range of disorders that can mimic the appearance of ADHD, it is prudent for concerned parents to seek a psychoeducational evaluation for their children to ensure that the diagnosis that is made is the correct one. This will lead to much more effective and expedient treatment and remediation of academic weaknesses.
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Dr. Maloff is a Clinical Psychologist who practices privately in Beverly Hills. He specializes in psychological and psychoeducational testing. His work is frequently used to inform medical, educational and psychotherapeutic decision making. Dr. Maloff frequently participates in IEP meetings to ensure that private schools and public school districts are meeting a child’s academic needs. He also provides expert testimony regarding psychological and psychoeducational testing in legal proceedings.
Jared Maloff Psy.D.