Virtual Learning and the ADHD Child


As area school districts begin to open up for the new school year, parents are faced with a variety of options and choices about whether or not to send their children back to school face to face or spend the rest of the year learning virtually. In many districts, the only option available, at the moment, is the virtual platform. And with that comes some happy families, some not so happy families, and some families that are thinking, “How in the world can MY child be successful at learning online?” 

This concerns magnifies a million times over when your child has attention issues like my own child has. His brother and sister — you could teach them in the middle of a lake in the middle of snowstorm and they would be ok. My middle child, well, he would have trouble even making it to the lake in the first place. He is uber smart, but, at the same time, easily distracted. SQUIRREL! He comes by it naturally. He owns it, and there is no denying it! 

My own children have been learning virtually since school shut down last March. The same month that many schools moved to an online platform, we were in the process of moving to a new home, I was transitioning to teaching online, and my husband was working 15-hour days running tech support for a school district. Let’s just say . . . things did NOT go well for any of us. It was an epic fail for at least the first three or four weeks. Did I mention that I am a teacher with more than 20 years of experience? Yep, we were a perfect example of what NOT to do.

It took a few weeks of trial and error, calling his special education teacher, and lots of tears on all of our parts before we felt like we were heading in the right direction. I would love to share a few things from my “bag of tricks” with you in an effort to save you all some of the stress that can accompany an online learning platform with an ADHD child.

Make a Dedicated School Space

Make a space that is used for school tasks only. Create a desktop space that will house all of the things they will need for the school day. Start with their school supply list and go from there.

In addition to typical school supplies, they will need a device or computer, a webcam, and headphones, if they prefer. Also, make sure the area is well lit. You might need to bring in a desktop lamp or place the area in a well lit room. 

Using this space for only school work reminds them that they are here to complete their assignments. It is important for them to have their recesses and breaks in another spot so that they are getting movement and a change of scenery throughout the day. Movement is good for all kids, but it is a MUST for our children with ADHD. It can mean the difference between a successful day of learning and a complete disaster.

How can children with ADHD succeed at virtual learningSchedule of the Day

My son with ADHD is also on the spectrum, so a schedule was an absolutely necessary thing for him to have each day. He is in 8th grade, so I simply took his school’s bell schedule, wrote his subjects and teachers in, and enlarged it to the size of a piece of copy paper. I placed it on his desk for him to view each day. If things were the same as the day before, we would quickly just discuss his day. If he had an appointment to meet virtually with his counselor that day, I made a point to remind him of it the night before. It helped keep him focused and planned for his day.

If your child is younger, you might need to “chunk” his schedule into smaller parts as showing him the entire day at one time might overwhelm him. You can also use visuals, or pictures of the things happening to help him understand the schedule better. This will allow for more independence sooner on his part, instead of relying on a grownup to tell him what to do next.  

Another helpful thing to add to the schedule would be a box for them to check off as they finish that task. This will help give your child a sense of accomplishment. I know, that even as a mom in her 40s, how satisfying it is to check off that box! 

Breaks Are a MUST

Depending on the age of your child, you may find that your child’s teacher will build in a few breaks during the day. A break could be a 15-minute recess or even just enough time for a quick restroom break and a drink of water. Our children with attention issues need a change of scenery. Heck, grownups need a change of scenery! 

If you find that your child’s school schedule is not allowing for substantial breaks for your child’s needs, please, please, please let your child’s teacher know. As teachers, we want to work as a team and not against each other. Your child’s needs being met are paramount to anything else. If not, learning will not occur and frustration will intensify for both you and your child.

504 or IEP?

If you child is either on a 504 or an IEP plan because of their ADHD, make sure you are aware of the types of help they can receive, whether from you on an assignment or directly from the school. My son has an IEP and he received counseling services, virtually, while doing online school. While many things can not be replicated as they would if in a traditional school setting, there are many ways that your child can still receive the supports of their 504 or IEP plans while at home.

Homeschooling can be tough for kids and parents.And most important, please try to remember that the first few days or even weeks may be hard. It will take a bit to find your own groove of what works best for your child and your own family. Ask any teacher how long it takes for even us educators where things are running flawlessly and they will tell you the same thing. It takes many times of doing the same things and having lots of procedures for it to become a well-oiled machine. It won’t happen overnight!

What are some strategies that you have tried to help your own child transition to the world of online learning? I am always open to learning new things that will help our day go off without a hitch, or glitch. Best of luck on your journey into the online learning community. Give yourself grace. Give your child grace. And, at the end of the day, no matter how horrible the day was, remind yourself that tomorrow is a fresh start for you both.

Disclaimer: Please remember that just like typical children, each child with ADHD is not the same. What works for some students may not work for others. The bottom line is don’t give up. Keep trying until you find what works for your child and your situation.

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Anna moved to Fort Worth fresh out of college in hopes of finding a job. She quickly landed a teaching job on the northside of town and has officially declared Texas her home “for the time being.” Spending the last two and half years in her “cloffice,” she devoted all of her evenings and weekends to online lectures, grad school assignments, and research. She recently graduated with her masters in special education with an emphasis in dyslexia and acquired a strong dislike of statistics and APA7 in the process. Married for 21 years and a mom to three teens, she spends her free time recouping the thousands and thousands of hours of lost sleep that motherhood gifted her. When not napping, you can find her listening to her favorite crime podcasts, singing showtunes, or attending any school event that involves her talented offspring. She openly shares her journey of parenting a neurodiverse teenager through the unpredictable, yet rewarding, days of high school to help families like hers.


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