Tuesday 21 February 2012


How to Teach ADHD Children Concentration?

Researchers recognize that ADHD doesn’t impair the ability to pay attention, but rather the ability to control what one pays attention to. ADHD children have to work harder than most children to focus on one thing at a time, but it is not impossible to learn concentration skills given the right strategies. According to SPARK, some ADHD / ADD children will have extremely good attention span for things that interest him and they overcome their attention problem by hyper-focusing on the activities they are interested in. The good news is that modern research is showing that ADHD symptoms can be managed and controlled using the right strategies.

After putting in place the basics, training the support team, spending time with my nephew face-to-face and gaining an understanding the needs of my ADHD nephew, my mission continues on back home in Copenhagen. I am now working on finding ways to help him concentrate and develop longer attention span.

I read somewhere that concentration is an activity like any other. Clearly the more we practice, the better our concentration will become. We wouldn’t expect to be a strong runner without doing some training. Similarly, concentration is like a muscle, the more we exercise the stronger it becomes. There are specific concentration exercises we can do, such as focusing on a small point of an object; but life itself presents innumerable opportunities to sharpen your concentration. The key is to always take opportunities to heighten our powers of concentration.

We can train longer attention span and concentration by doing the following which are compiled wholesale from my research:

1. Training the Concentration "Muscles"

Having poor concentration skill is like having weak muscles. ADHD children have very weak concentration "muscles" that are very difficult to develop. As with muscles, frequent use will result in stronger muscles (while over-use may result in muscle damage).

According to SPARK, it is possible to train the concentration "muscles" and develop longer attention span by slowly increasing the period of lesson/homework from 15 minutes to 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45 minutes, with 5-15 minutes breaks in between.

2. Making Lesson/Homework Fun & Interesting

According to SPARK, the ADHD child's interests often do not include homework and academic classes unless these are intrinsically stimulating enough to cross his higher threshold of need to “feel alive”. However, creating homework and lessons that are intrinsically stimulating are not easy and this is the challenge the teacher/parent has to address.

My Swedish colleague, Julia (much thanks to her), who introduced me to Khan Academy www.khanacademy.org, an on-line education "school" started by supported by Gates Foundation that offers free on-line lessons on maths, science, etc. It has a library of over 2,600 videos covering everything from arithmetic to physics, finance, and history and 303 practice exercises. The child can learn what he wants, when he wants it and at his own pace.

Here is a testimony to Khan Academy from a student from Singapore:

"Hi my name is Paesan and I'm a second year student in the University of Western Australia (UWA) majoring in Physics and Maths. I was originally from Singapore where I spent the first 15 years of my life failing school, day after day I would not understand a word the teacher was saying as they said, "you must remember this or you won't get a job in your future." and every year I would fail school. When I was 14, I started failing pretty badly and fell into a world of drug addiction. When I was 15, my drug addiction got so intense that it affected my grades so badly that I had to be held back a grade in my high school in Singapore. Finally in January 2008 (the year I was 16), my parents decided to move to Perth in Western Australia. They had me enrolled in a private school where within 8 months I was expelled for fighting and drugs. At the end of that ordeal and closely evading arrest, they had be enroll in a local public school where I was faced with the worst problem of my entire life. The final exam of high school that determines if you go to University or not was coming, and I had no idea what to do as I never listened in class since I was 13. All I could do was expand a bracket and that was it, no factorizing, solving an equation or doing trigonometry. I first met the Khan Academy in 2007 where I stumbled on his videos on Complex Numbers on YouTube. I had a whole load of heavy weight subjects like Literature, Physics, Advanced Maths, Chemistry and Biology. Everyday when I came home from school, it would be a 4pm - 10pm study session driven by my own fears. With 5 years of work to catch up on and only Khan Academy helping me, it was a grueling experience. I failed every test and exam that year, thankfully none of those tests and exams contribute to your final University determination grade. I struggled through the Khan Academy playlists on Basic Algebra, Trigonometry, Physics, Chemistry and Biology before moving on to the "higher level" things like Calculus and Differential Equations. Thanks to Salman Khan for quitting his day job as a Hedge-fund Analyst, he has allowed a drug addict whom the public would look down upon to persevere through his A levels and come out on the other side with a result good enough to get into Western Australia's best University. I hope and pray that the Khan Academy will expand to do subjects like Modern Physics and Maths topics like Topology, Differential Geometry and so on. In any case, I thank you Salman Khan, and the effort you have put into the Khan Academy. You've opened doors for us that we would have never been able to unlock alone."

3. Highlight Key Points

According to SPARK, teach the ADHD/ADD child how to use highlighters (circle key words, underline text, draw connecting lines, draw vertical guiding lines, cancellations etc) and summaries (lists, notes) effectively.

Highlight key words in the instructions on worksheets to help the child with ADHD focus on the directions. Prepare the worksheet before the lesson begins, or underline key words as you and the child read the directions together. When reading, show children how to identify and highlight a key sentence, or have them write it on a separate piece of paper, before asking for a summary of the entire book. In Math, show children how to underline the important facts and operations; in “Mary has two apples, and John has three,” underline “two,” “and,” and “three.”

4. Play Attention-boosting Games to Develop Attention Skills

To help your child develop attention skills, encourage activities like games, blocks, puzzles, and reading. Below is a list of games. Find one that would interest your child:

4.1 LEGO

One of the best toys for training concentration, if your child is interested, is LEGO. It builds concentration skills, when the child learns to follow the manual. It builds spatial skills when the child builds 3-dimensional models. I have seen kids with ADHD being very absorbed when they play with LEGO. So encourage your child to play with LEGO.

4.2 Crossword Puzzles and Picture Puzzles

According to Empowering Parents, crossword puzzles and picture puzzles are games which improve attention for words and sequencing ability, while picture puzzles—in which your younger child has to look for things that are “wrong” in the picture or look for hard-to-find objects—also improve attention and concentration.

4.3 Memory and Simon Game

According to Empowering Parents, children’s games such as Memory or Simon are great ideas for improving memory and concentration. They are quick and fun. Memory motivates the child to remember the location of picture squares and Simon helps them memorize sequences of visual and auditory stimuli. Through repeated playing, brain circuits are “exercised” and challenged, which strengthens connections and thus improves function. Also, there are some free computer games on the internet that also improve concentration or memory such as Memory and Mosquito Killer. For older children and adolescents, check out the cognitive exercises provided by Lumosity.

4.4 Coin Game

According to Empowering Parents, another way is to play the Coin Game. This game improves memory and sequencing as well as attention and concentration, and kids enjoy it because it’s fast-paced and fun. First, you will need a small pile of assorted coins, a cardboard sheet to cover them, and a stopwatch (or a regular watch with a second hand.) Choose five of the coins from the pile (for this example, we’ll say three pennies and two nickels) and put them into a sequence. Now, tell your child to “Look carefully at the coins arranged on the table.” Then, cover the coins with the cardboard. Start the stopwatch, and then ask them to make the same pattern using the coins from the pile. When they are finished, mark the time with the stopwatch and remove the cardboard cover. Write down the time it took them to complete the pattern and whether or not they were correct. If they didn’t complete it correctly, have them keep trying until they can do it. You can increase the difficulty of the patterns as you go, and include pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, and half dollars. You’ll see your child’s concentration and sequencing improve the more they play, which is a great reward for both of you.

4.5 Champion Distractor Game

According to Additude, in a game called Champion Distractor, one player focuses on completing a task, while the other tries to distract him. To win the game, a player needs to be a good Distractor, and must be able to avoid being distracted.

As you do all of these “brain exercises,” you should work together with your child serving as his or her “coach.” Provide them with encouragement and track their progress as they improve. This is a win/win solution, because it also strengthens the relationship you have with your child.

4.6 Board Games such as Chess and Checkers

According to http://www.ehow.com/list_5958084_concentration-activities-youth.html, board games that require concentrated thought might be one of the better ways of working on a young person's ability to concentrate. Instead of forcing them to work on a problem, you are simply encouraging them to have fun. Kids love to play games, and they must focus their concentration on the rules and how to proceed through a game. Games such as chess and checkers are good options for building concentration if the child is interested, but any game that he is able to understand and enjoy by following a set of rules should help develop his ability to concentrate.

4.7 A Round of Tongue Twisters

According to
While they enhance the clarity of your voice, with each word spoken clearly, they also improve your concentration. This is because it requires a lot of attention to speak them out clearly. 

5. Use the Beeper System to Stay on the Task

According to http://www.brighthub.com/education/special/articles/93691.aspx, you can use a beeper system to help the child stay on the task. So how would you use the beeper management system to get an ADHD student to stay on task? Start by setting a schedule with the student. Say for example your student has trouble completing an assignment in a set amount of time. First, discuss with the student how much time she has for the assignment. When you are programming the beeper, it will go off at certain intervals to remind the student to stay on task. Figure out at what time the student needs to be reminded. Does she get distracted after five minutes or 10 minutes? Some of the beeper systems have particular messages that you can choose as the reminders. Explain to the student that when the beeper goes off with a reminder, she should check if she is staying on track. Make a note if the student becomes distracted way before the beeper goes off. If it is set to go off every 10 minutes and she becomes distracted much earlier, you may need to set the beeper for lower intervals. As the student's attention gets better, try lengthening the intervals. If the student is able to stay on task, provide a reward as positive reinforcement — talk to the student about a reward she would like if she can stay on task. If the student is still having problems, talk to her about what is working and what is not working with the beeper management system.

6. Teach Self-monitoring

According to Additude, you can help your child become aware of the things that distract her. With time and practice, she’ll get to know what being distracted feels like, and will recognize when her attention is drifting. ADDers benefit from positive affirmations, such as “I will pay attention to my work.” Teach your child to repeat these to encourage herself to keep going. Concentration takes a lot of energy for kids with ADD. A five-minute break every 20 minutes helps them recharge.

7. Allow Your Child to Fidget

According to Carol's Web Corner, she used to assume that when she was speaking to my son, if he turned upside down in his seat or began to grab frantically at imaginary flies, then he MUST not be listening. Wrong. Not only is he listening, if she required that he sit perfectly still and look at her intently while she spoke, he most certainly could not listen. In fact, he might implode. He NEEDS to be moving while listening.

8. Music

According to SPARK, background music also helps to improve the attention span of the ADHD / ADD child (although it may be distracting for some people); Music keeps the right active/creative brain occupied, while the left brain focus on detailed and analytical work which requires attention

9. Physical Activity Outdoors

A hyperactive child feels driven to keep some part of his body moving all the time, so let him do it! Physical activities are essential to your child's well-being and also help his brain "normalize" in a way that allows him to focus, remain calm, and stay on task.
According to SPARK, heavy physical activities / exercises also help improve concentration but this last for only about 2 hours (one ADD adult attained his PhD through 3 1-hour exercises each day!). Regular healthy outdoor exercise is always beneficial to the well being of any child and could be particularly helpful for the ADHD child who experiences problems getting to sleep.

According to Additude, recent studies link time spent outside, especially in natural environments, with improved concentration. Try to give your child time to play outdoors before she sits down to do homework.

10. Relaxation

According to SPARK, teach your ADHD/ADD child how to relax (e.g. through progressive relaxation techniques, meditation, music, praise and worship to God, etc.). These also help to improve concentration and attention span.

11. Sleep

According to Helpguide.org and SPARK, insufficient sleep can make anyone less attentive, but it can be highly detrimental for children with ADD/ADHD. Kids with ADD/ADHD need at least as much sleep as their unaffected peers, but tend not to get what they need. Their attention problems can lead to overstimulation and trouble falling asleep. A consistent, early bedtime is the most helpful strategy to combat this problem, but it may not completely solve it. Adequate sleep is another factor that may helps to increase the attention span.

Many parents of ADHD children say their kids also benefit from a daily quiet time, even after they've stopped napping. This can be an hour or so for resting or reading. After school is usually a great time for this. During this time, make the room off-limits to others, draw the curtains, keep lights low, and try to keep noise down. Light background music can be soothing, but make sure the TV isn't blaring from the room next door.


1 comment:

  1. HI Elaine,

    Very nicely written post. I don't have an ADHD kid but we all know at least one, I guess. It is already such a daunting task to be a 'normal' child up in this world. One can only imagine having one that is hyperactive. Good for you for being such a loving aunt.

    Also, thanks for the heads up on Khan Academy. I am finding it useful for myself to learn about finance and investment :)


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