Addressing Attention Deficits in the Classroom


The classroom environment can be a challenging place for a child with an attention deficit. The very tasks these students find the most difficult—sitting still, listening quietly, concentrating—are the ones they are required to do all day long. Perhaps most frustrating of all is that most of these children want to be able to learn and behave like their unaffected peers. Neurological deficits, not unwillingness, keep kids with attention deficits from learning in what most would say are “traditional” ways.

All kids fidget in their seats during school time and look out the windows from time to time. Sometimes elementary students get out of their seats and walk around for a few minutes, or sometimes they have trouble getting their work finished. Those are normal behaviors and most of us did those things from time to time when we were children. Generally, children need only a gentle nudge to get back to work. But with children who have attention deficits, teachers need to understand how that deficit may interfere with their ability to learn and stay on task.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) estimates that all teachers have in their classrooms at least one child with a medically documented attention deficit disorder, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Several others who may exhibit attention deficits but do not meet the medical diagnosis for an attention deficit disorder may also be present in the classroom.  As an educator, you can help all children with attention deficits become successful in school, and should work to do so, regardless of whether or not they have a medically diagnosed attention deficit disorder such as ADHD.

Addressing Attention Deficits ADHDHaving attention deficits can affect a child’s success in school and with interpersonal relationships. Some students may exhibit all of the characteristics, while others may exhibit only a few. Also, some students may exhibit the following characteristics to an extreme extent while, in others, these characteristics are exhibited mildly.

Common Characteristics of Attention Deficits

Self-focused Behavior – A common characteristic exhibited in students with attention deficits is self-focused behavior which looks like an inability to recognize other people’s needs and desires. This type of behavior can lead to students interrupting others while they are talking and/or joining into conversations or games between others without an invitation to do so. Children exhibiting self-focused behavior may also have difficulty waiting their turn when participating in classroom activities and or games with their peers.

Difficulty with Emotional Regulation – A child with an attention deficit may have trouble regulating their emotions. They may have outbursts of anger at inappropriate times, and/or cry during situations that may, on the surface, seem misaligned with the emotional response.

Need to Move – Children with attention deficits often feel the need to move. They may try to get up and run around, fidget, and/or squirm in their chair when forced to sit. This need to move, fidget, and/or squirm may not only pose a challenge when students are expected to sit quietly at their desk but may also cause children to find it difficult to play quietly and/or engage calmly in leisure activities.

Lack of Focus – A child with an attention deficit may have trouble paying attention and staying focused for a sustained period. If someone is speaking to them they may say they heard that person, but they may not be able to repeat back what was just said. This same lack of focus can cause a child to avoid activities that require a sustained mental effort, such as paying attention in class or doing homework. Also, despite showing a deep interest in a task, students may have problems finishing the task. They may start projects, chores, or homework, but move on to the next thing that catches their interest before finishing.

Making Mistakes – Children with attention deficits can have trouble following instructions that require planning or executing a plan. This can then lead to careless mistakes, but it doesn’t indicate laziness or a lack of intelligence.

Daydreaming – Children with attention deficits are not always rambunctious and loud. They may be quieter and less involved than their peers. A child with an attention deficit may stare into space, daydream, and ignore what’s going on around them.

Difficulty with Organization and Forgetfulness – A child with an attention deficit may have trouble keeping track of tasks and activities. This may cause problems at school, as they can find it hard to prioritize homework, manage school projects, and complete assignments. Challenges with organization go hand-in-hand with forgetfulness. A child with an attention deficit may be forgetful in daily activities. They may forget to bring home important papers, assignments, and/or books and may even forget to do chores or their homework. Children with attention deficits may also lose things often, such as toys and/or assignments. They may complete their homework assignments yet forget to bring it to school the next day. 

Teach & Kids Learn (TKL) offers online courses for educators which focuses on strategies that will allow you to help your students cope with and meet the challenges that school creates for anyone with any type of attention deficit. We examine and implement ways that can provide the most effective support in the forms of equipping your student with learning strategies for the classroom and communicating with parents about how their child may learn best with their support. With support from home and teaching strategies that work in the classroom, there is no reason why students with attention deficits can’t flourish in your classroom.