The new reality caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has caused our children to be receiving virtual education during this school year. For neurotypical, or regular-educated children, distance education is a challenge because of the unknown, but with certain modifications to the structure at home, they can run properly, as they did in person.
However, there is a group of students for whom this modality is an even greater challenge that can affect their school execution to such an extent that it could, as a result, cause school failure: children with attention disorder with hyperactivity or ADHD (ADHD).
Why is Virtual Education such a big challenge for kids with ADHD?
Kids with ADHD have a tendency to distraction, blur, and movement, which is most evident in the classroom because of the demand for attention that context requires. This trend can increase further when they are expected to be sitting and focused for hours in front of a computer screen.
The virtual modality is impersonal in nature when compared to the face-to-face mode, and has the absence of the structure provided by the classroom. For this reason, the short attention span, typical of the condition, as well as the significant difficulty of concentrating, can become even more sharpened during distance education.
The effects of this modality sharpen ADHD and this can lead to a lot of anxiety in parents feeling powerless and devoid of guides to help them deal with the situation.
Similarly, teachers who care for these children may experience the frustration of their behavior when they move away from the computer screen, do not follow instructions, talk, and move constantly. This behavior affects other students who are also connected to the class. In addition, teachers have to constantly repeat the material to them because their approach is affected by the slightest distraction.
How to help these children?
Here's a guide for parents and teachers:
Routine. Routines and a good structure are important for all children, but even more important for those living with this diagnosis. The routine should include bedtime and getting up, which should always be the same. You should get enough sleep to stay alert during learning hours.
It should also include breaks to drink water, go to the bathroom, snack and their meals. In addition, it should include preparation for classes for which the student must disconnect from all technology, drink water and be ready 15 minutes before starting them, including ready with all their materials on their desk.
Physical structure. If possible, they should mimic aspects of the classroom at home. The chair and table or desk must be of a size suitable for the child's height and should be located in a distraction-free place away from hallways, windows, toys or televisions. Organize the area with your child's materials. Make sure you have good lighting and a pleasant temperature. Avoid refilled walls with visual stimuli that compete with your child's attention.
Sensory Help. Children with a tendency to move in the chair and get up benefit from sitting on a large ball that provides a sensory stimulus that helps them stay seated. If you like to touch everything and get distracted even with your nails, you can be provided with a small plastic ball with texture to keep it in your hands and tighten it. These sensory balls, like Hedgehog balls, can also help you stay calm.
Learn about our Program for Children with Care Disorders, here
Medication. If your child received medication to monitor activity and hyperactivity levels when studying in person, but did not take it when he was at home during the weekends or on vacation, he should receive it during distance education, as prescribed. Focusing at home, in front of a screen, is a new challenge and medication is essential to help.
Diet. Breakfast should be one that helps you concentrate, free of artificial additives and refined sugars, but in the same way, it should be meals and snacks throughout the day. Many children benefit from a diet low in gluten and casein (the cow's milk protein) to stay more focused.
Rules and reinforcements. Develop a simple system of rules that help the child understand expected behavior (positive approach) rather than highlighting the one that will not be tolerated (negative approach, "no"). Use reinforcements when observing or removing positive behavior when you notice the opposite. Give immediate reinforcements (praise, accumulating points), diaries (computer time, television or physical play) and weekly (park visit, movie, sport). Be consistent, otherwise they will be completely ineffective.
Routine. Use an organizer with sequence images of how the day will pass. This can provide you with a sense of internal organization that these students need. This organizer can have parents reached for placed in a visible place in their study area, after discussing it with the child.
Class periods should not be more than 45 consecutive minutes because it is the period on which the brain can stay focused.
Rules. Set rules similar to face-to-face classroom rules, but be flexible. Let him work standing, if he stays in front of the screen in the area where you can see him. Review the rules daily before starting the day.
Movement. Start the school day with a sequence of exercises and repeat one of them between class periods when you notice a lot of movement in the student. Brain Gymnastics or Brain Gym exercises are recommended because they stimulate the brain to attend and learn.
Multisensory and interactive teaching. Use Power Point presentations, interactive educational virtual games, eye-catching or moving color images, and short videos that make the educational experience varied, entertaining, and dynamic. It's common for kids with ADHD to spend hours in front of the TV or an electronic game, but they have a hard time sitting down and concentrating in a classroom.
This is important for use when planning and designing classes remotely. Many of the educational virtual platforms provide apps that allow students to interact in a way that captures their attention.
Finally, teachers should exercise patience, tolerance, and mercy with these children. They do not have a behavioral problem that is solved by punishment, nor are they the product of parents who did not know how to discipline them at home. Both parents and children with ADHD are victims of this diagnosis and the least they need is criticism and constant watering.
We must be empathetic to parents because they live with the consequences of such a complex diagnosis, but that they now have the challenge of making sure their children do not lag behind and learn. These students and their families need compassionate teachers who give the extra mile in the difficult times they have had to live. A good attitude, a great dose of patience, empathy and commitment make a big difference in this complex new reality.