Every classroom will have on average at least one child who will struggle to sit still, pay attention and resist impulses to do things like jump out of their seat. When these problems are really severe this can be due to ADHD, or “attention deficit hyperactivity disorder”.
Children with ADHD face major difficulties at home and school. They are less likely to learn well and make good friendships than other children. Children with ADHD are also more likely to have accidents and injuries, and other mental health problems. Teaching a child with ADHD can be difficult, both one-to-one and as part of a whole class, and this can impact on the classroom experience for other children.
Medicines that help to reduce symptoms of ADHD do not suit every child. Even when drugs work, children with ADHD need extra help to address struggles at school. Strategies are needed to help teachers support them. Existing advice for teachers is in the form of complicated programmes that try lots of different things at the same time. As a result, teachers struggle to learn and use the programmes, meaning children do not benefit from them. As every child and school are different, teachers tell us that they need a range of simple options that they can choose from to suit each child with ADHD.
Aims and methods
We plan to design a “toolkit” with a collection of strategies teachers can use to help children with ADHD cope better in primary school. We have worked with teachers and parents to develop this project.
There are two main parts:
1. Designing the toolkit
We will use a method called ‘Intervention Mapping’. This sets out a clear framework to design treatments that are acceptable to people who use them and are based on the best available evidence. This will be informed by theories about how children learn new skills and how the symptoms of ADHD come about. We will work closely with school staff, people with ADHD, parents and professionals to design the toolkit.
2. Testing and improving the toolkit
To test whether the toolkit is acceptable and practical for teachers to use, we will conduct an experimental study. Eight primary schools and a total of 16-32 children with ADHD will take part, each using the toolkit for one school term. We will collect feedback about what went well and what did not, and whether we should make any changes before the next school tries the toolkit.
We plan to use several different ways to explore whether the toolkit is acceptable and potentially helpful for children with ADHD. Teachers and parents will complete questionnaires, and we will run focus groups with school staff and interview parents and children about their experiences. This will inform whether the toolkit is ready to be tested further in future research.
If the testing of the toolkit shows that it may be helpful, we will go on to do a larger scale study to investigate how much children benefit and if it is value for money. If the toolkit does help children with ADHD cope in school, these children will learn better and find school less stressful. This might prevent them from developing other mental health problems and help them avoid getting into accidents, trouble with teachers, and fights. They could go on to have a better chance of getting good qualifications, better jobs and have positive relationships with other people. In other words, it might lead to improved health and better life chances. Teachers might also find it easier to teach the whole classroom and be less stressed.