Tutoring the ADD Child


By Cheryl Feuer Gedzelman


The sun shines particularly brightly. A squirrel scurries up a tree. One student is chewing gum, and he isn’t supposed to. Others are running in the hallway. All these thoughts are going through Hal’s mind while his teacher is explaining how to multiply double digit numbers. When he arrives home with his assignment, he has no idea how to do it. He also has a Social Studies worksheet for homework, but he cannot find it. Perhaps it is crumpled up at the bottom of his backpack or still in school.

Hal is a child with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). -with or without hyperactivity. He has difficulty focusing attention on one thing and is easily distracted. He also has problems organizing his material. He has notebooks for school, but the materials that belong with them rarely get there. His homework assignment is often written down incompletely or not at all. He tells his parents that he finished his homework when he did not. Homework is a dreaded activity for Hal. He either cannot find the assignment or materials, was not paying attention in class, or is simply overwhelmed. He has one major project due tomorrow that he forgot about since it was assigned last month. This results from his difficulties managing homework, organizing materials, and staying tuned in to class. Hal’s graded are poor. His teachers say he is intelligent, but not working to capacity. He feels that he is trying, but cannot seem to do what is expected.

Hal can benefit greatly from being tutored after school. The first thing his tutor can do is help him organize his materials. It is best for an ADD child to have one notebook with dividers for all subjects. This can be a three-ring binder with folders or a spiral notebook with folders. There should be a separate folder and assignment pad for homework. The tutor can teach Hal strategies for organizing his materials. For example, all returned homework can go in one folder and returned tests in another. “Historical” papers, which Hal does not need now but may need at the end of the year, may be filed in hanging files in Hal’s bedroom. The particular organizing style for Hal must work for him. I always hated three-ring binders because they tend to break or fall, and all the papers come tumbling out. Also, I never got around to hole punching those worksheets. However, some students work well with 3-ring binders. The role of a tutor is to help Hal find a management system, for his materials and all school work, that he can use successfully.

After helping to organize materials, it is time to organize the homework and corresponding classwork in a manageable way. The tutor can go through each subject, one by one, and find out what was done in school during the last few days and what the assignments were. Hal should have a calendar to write down what should be done each day. If he has a project due in a month, the tutor can help him break down the project into distinct parts and write on his calendar which parts he plans to do on which days. If he as a test coming up next week, the tutor can help him break down the studying into parts and write down what he will study on which days.

After organizing the calendar, it is time to go through specifics of what was taught. Hal remembers that the teacher taught 2-digit multiplication, but does not remember what was covered. The tutor can re-teach this material and make sure Hal can do the problems himself. Alternatively, the tutor can keep in touch with the teacher and teach each day’s lesson in advance. The tutor may use Math manipulatives, such as poker chips or unifix cubes, to make the material more concrete. The tutor may use story problems to which Hal can relate. Keeping in touch with his teacher and being creative are very important.

Reading can be tough for a student with ADD because his attention disorder may prevent him from focusing his attention on the main ideas. He may become distracted by more insignificant parts of the material that are more interesting to him. A tutor can teach him strategies to pick out the critical pieces of the reading. These include noting subtitles and key words, and rewriting important pieces of information. With fiction, a tutor may help him focus on important information by tracking characters, plot and setting. It is important to find out which parts of the reading he is having difficulty with and focus on these areas.

Writing is also very difficult for many ADD people. Often a motor difficulty makes the physical process of writing a hardship. Many times it will be preferable to use a keyboard. Some ADD students bring laptops to school and take notes that way. In addition, an ADD student may have trouble organizing thoughts to prepare written material, and be overwhelmed by a writing assignment. A tutor can help the student break down the assignment into separate topics, identify critical information, write a list of ideas, and find a system to order them before writing the assignment.

In addition to helping the student with organization and specific subject matter, an important role of a tutor is to help build self esteem. The tutor should always teach strategies to help the student work independently with getting overwhelmed. The student should be frequently encouraged and praised for small achievements. There should be a support systems for times when he tutor is not there and the student needs help. It is a good idea to have a parent or older sibling available during homework time.

Tutors working with children who have attention deficit disorders should be aware of the typical behaviors of ADD children and use appropriate interventions. For example, For ADHD children it is sometimes difficult to sit still; it may be easier to stand to stand. For a child who has difficulty staying focused on one activity, it is a good idea to change activities frequently and include breaks if necessary. Material should be presented in a way that is interesting and will motivate the student.

A tutor cannot do it all. In most cases a tutor will work with a student in one or two particular subject areas. However, some time should still be spenton general organization. In particular a tutor can help develop daily routines for work completion. The student should have a specific study time every day and a strategy to complete homework without anxiety. In addition, a tutor should work with the parent(s), teacher and other significant people. With joint effort and a goal to teach strategies to become an independent worker and learner, an ADD child can succeed.