Music and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
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Music and Students with ADHD
Inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity are the main characteristics of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). As a student's academic success is often dependent on their ability to attend to tasks and tutor expectations with minimal distractions, a student with ADHD may struggle within the typical HE academic environment. Activities associated with acquiring necessary information for completing tasks, completing assignments and participating in discussions with their tutors and peers are all activities that can potentially be problematic for the student with ADHD.
The behaviours associated with ADHD can change as people get older and where a young child can often appear to have large amounts of energy and restlessness, adolescents and young adults can often be withdrawn and less communicative. Characteristics of ADHD can also include impulsivity and reacting spontaneously without regard to previous plans or necessary tasks and assignments.
As students with ADHD may experience difficulties with the structured environment of a tutorial or lecture or focusing on their assigned work, they may need adjustments to the learning environment to help them remain focused on the task in hand. Students may need to be questioned about where they prefer to sit within the learning environment to help them to focus on what is being said, they may also benefit from working closely with another student who can help them to develop their cooperation skills or, if space permits, work in separate learning areas, away from other students. Different students will find different scenarios work better for them and open communication with the student about this is essential.
It is crucial to assess the unique education requirements of each student with ADHD on an individual basis as they will all have different strengths. It may help to work in a multidisciplinary team consisting of the student, other academic staff and the institutional disability service. Assessments, such as a learning style inventory could be considered to determine the student's strengths and allow teaching staff to best build on these existing abilities. The settings and contexts in which any difficulties occur should also be considered as part of the evaluation.
There is some evidence to suggest that students with ADHD can excel at music, as they can possess the ability to totally focus on something (like a piece of music) if it really interests them. Some education psychologists have also suggesting using music with children who have ADHD to help them to control their behaviour and focus on their learning e.g. playing quiet classical music for quiet independent activities, and jazz for group work. It is therefore possible that some students may have learnt as children to associate the use of music with various methods of their learning. Students with ADHD also have a tendency to hyperfocus on something and not stop until they are satisfied they can do no better. During this process, they may be totally oblivious to what is going on around them. They can also be total perfectionists in their area of interest, which can be extremely beneficial to the student who is studying music. It is often just a case of tapping into the most appropriate teaching method to give that student the best opportunity to develop their skills.
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Teaching strategies associated with ADHD / ADD
These strategies are suggestions for inclusive teaching. This list should not be considered exhaustive and it is important to remember that all students are individuals and what is considered to be good practice for one student may not necessarily be good practice for another. You may also like to contact the Disability Specialist in your institution for further information. If you have any good practice that you would like to add to this list, please email your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are a number of strategies that can be employed in relation to the learning environment and behaviour of tutors in order to help students with ADHD. It should be recognised that students with ADHD often possess the necessary skills but just need support in utilising them and often recognise what they should or shouldn't have done but have little control over their behaviour.
- Provide sufficient time to discuss needs with the student before/during their initial teaching session.
Strategies - Attention Skills
- Arrange the learning environment in order to minimise distractions, e.g. seat students with ADHD away from windows, and take care during group work as students can become over-stimulated.
- Use frequent eye contact.
- Identify times and places where the student is more focused.
- Give frequent reminders about how much time is left to complete tasks both short-term (examinations) and long-term (assignments and coursework).
- Include a variety of activities within programmes of study, such as questions, discussions, practical activities, etc.
- Use large fonts on handouts and provide only one or two main points to a page. Avoid the use of illustrations that are not directly relevant to the task.
- Use checklists for each assignment and outline the tasks to be completed.
- Ensure student attention before giving an instruction and encourage students to verbalise tasks and instruction - first to the tutor and then silently to themselves. Emphasise critical pieces of information.
Strategies - Organisational Skills and Memory
- Focus on tangible, short-term steps rather than long-term plans.
- Agree on a concrete starting point to help with prioritisation and avoid procrastination.
- Provide structure and routine.
- Allow the student to tape lectures and provide copies of OHPs.
- Encourage the use of colour-coded ring-binders or notebooks for each subject area.
- Encourage the use of daily reminder schedules or to do lists and highlight priority tasks.
Strategies - Raising Self-Esteem
- Try to adopt positive descriptions for students, e.g. instead of saying a student is distractable say they have a high level of awareness.
- Use assertive and positive communication, e.g. tell students what is required instead of what is not required.
- Encourage positive self-talk and internal control.
- Students may benefit fom having a mentor to help them to develop their academic and social skills.