guest blog by Sarah Ward, MS, CCC-SLP, and Kristen Jacobsen, MS, CCC-SLP

The individuals described below may remind you of some of your students. As you read, think about what they have in common.


As part of the daily routine, Jackson’s class reconvenes on the rug after recess. Jackson runs from the back of the room where he has been playing with the class hamster to his cubby and slips off his jacket. It drops to the floor. He kicks off one boot. The teacher calls stragglers to join the others on the rug, so he hops to the circle wearing one boot and plops down. The teacher shares the agenda for the afternoon, which includes reviewing the science homework. Looking alarmed, Jackson pops up, and races back to his cubby while kicking off his other boot.

He pulls out his backpack, removes a homework folder, and grabs his assignment. Leaving the backpack open and boots scattered, he races to the homework bin. Realizing his name is not on the assignment, he zooms back to his desk to grab a pencil and sits back down on the rug with the rest of the class.

As the teacher gives instructions for the next activity, Jackson slips his homework underneath him and sits on it. The class is dismissed to their desks, and Jackson, talking excitedly to the boy next to him, stands up and follows the boy to his desk. His nameless homework is left on the floor. When he gets to his desk, his morning work folder and silent reading book are on the floor with assorted bits of paper. As the class starts the next activity, Jackson does not have the materials he needs. Again, he needs to walk about the class to get ready.

Anne has a music lesson Saturday morning at 9:00. Her mom wakes her at 7:30; Anne rolls over and groans, “Ten more minutes.” Mom returns ten minutes later and tries again to wake Anne. After two more rounds of “ten more minutes,” Anne finally gets out of bed and heads for the shower. She showers for twenty minutes. Mom knocks on the door to announce the time. She encourages Anne to hustle so they can leave the house in thirty minutes.

Anne gets out of the shower, puts on a robe, plops herself on the living room couch, flips open her laptop, and checks her social media sites. Mom reminds her to get ready for music. Ten minutes later, Anne saunters into her room and stares at a land mine of clothes trying to decide what to wear. She sits on her bed and starts to remove her nail polish. Mom hollers a reminder, “Get dressed!” Finally, ten minutes later, Mom exclaims anxiously, “We have to go…!” Anne responds to this seemingly sudden pressure and shouts, “I’m coming!” She heads into the bathroom in her bathrobe to blow dry her hair.

Patience waning, Mom asks about her instrument and sheet music; Anne directs her to the basement. Finally finished with her hair, Anne heads to the kitchen for something to eat. Exasperated, Mom, who is standing at the door holding Anne’s instrument, music sheet, and breakfast bar, exclaims, “We need to go now. We are late!” Anne yells back in frustration, “I told you to wake me up earlier!”

As adults, we joke about “senior moments.” That moment when you have imagined an item you are going to retrieve and then when you finally enter that room to get it you draw a blank. “What did I come in here for?” Ack! A senior moment.

What do a student zigzagging about the classroom, a slow-paced teen, and an adult experiencing a senior moment all have in common? They all have weak executive function skills.

Individuals with strong executive function skills stay a beat ahead. In contrast, teachers and parents describe individuals with weak executive function skills as being “a beat” or—as Jackson’s teacher sighs—“twenty-two beats behind.”

How do executive skills enable us to stay a beat ahead? Strong executive function skills enable us to imagine and plan a “dry run” of the task in our mind before we begin to carry out the plan. If a task is planned in a different space than where the task will be carried out, then we create an image of the future space in our minds.

For example, when a child hears the direction, “Get ready for lacrosse,” he might be downstairs in the family room and imagine walking upstairs into the bedroom, heading over to the dresser, opening the third drawer, and retrieving their uniform. Then he might envision a transition from the bedroom to the mudroom and then the garage, where cleats and gear bags are stored.

Use words that create mental imagery when giving directions to children with weak executive function skills. Checklists made by adults are not that helpful in creating mental imagery. 

The imagery is a mental anchor that allows the child to better resist distractions and maintain a pace so as to reach a goal. When forethought guides children’s actions, they can carry out tasks more successfully. Small glitches, such as looking for a missing item, can also be handled more smoothly. However, when children with weak executive function skills hear the instruction “get ready,” they hear the words, but do not pre-imagine the task or the steps to be ready.

Even if they respond, “Okay,” they do not initiate any actions to move toward their goal. When these children finally enter their rooms, because they have not pre-imagined the task, they are only starting to ask themselves, “Okay, what am I doing?” Without the vision of an outcome in mind, they are open to distraction. When these children go into their bedrooms and see books, Legos, and a laptop, they easily disengage from the goal of getting ready. They are now a beat behind. Likewise, a senior moment is simply the loss of this pre-imagined intention.

Developing strong executive function skills

So, what can we do to develop a child’s capacity to be a beat ahead and successfully carry out intentions in the future? According to Russell Barkley, in order to develop strong executive function skills, individuals “need to repeatedly practice: self-monitoring, self-stopping, seeing the future, saying the future, feeling the future, and playing with the future so as to effectively ‘plan and go’ toward that future.”*

Our natural inclination might be to provide checklists. While this strategy can sometimes work, it is limited. Checklists made by adults are not that helpful in creating mental imagery for children. For example, as adults, we might make a list of items to buy at the market. While making this list, we create, if only for a brief moment, a mental image of the supermarket, our dinner table, or shelves in our cabinets. These images help us navigate the market and remember items even if the list is left at home. When we hand children a checklist we’ve made, they have not used imagery to create the list and may find it hard to create imagery after the fact.

A better technique, when giving directions, is to use words that create mental imagery. For example, rather than asking a child, “What do you have for homework tonight?” pose a question such as: “When you walk into class tomorrow, what do you see yourself handing to your science teacher Mr. Jenson?” Instead of directing your child to get ready for soccer, try asking, “If you were standing at the door ready to go to soccer what would you look like? What does ‘ready’ look like?” To improve the effectiveness of your instruction to go upstairs and get dressed, try saying, “What drawer do you see opening to find your sport clothes?”

Visuals are also helpful in teaching kids to get ready and organize themselves. It’s often a struggle to get children out the door in the morning. Multiple prompts and checklists might get your child out the door, but the process is likely to be difficult. Instead, try snapping a quick photo of your child when he is ready for school and standing by the door with his coat, clothing, shoes, backpack, and lunch. The next morning, show your child the photo, and simply say, “This is what ‘ready’ looks like.” Ask him to imagine a plan that enables him to “match the picture.” Once children remember the images in these photos, they can use their mental imagery and the photos no longer need to be shown.

In the classroom, cue students to imagine their actions before they transition. For example, when students are transitioning from recess, as they line up, say: “Imagine yourself at your cubby. What do you look like? What do you see yourself doing?” For younger students, ask them to describe how they will prepare for an activity. They can use a pointer to point to the space they will go to and pre-imagine themselves in that space carrying out the expected actions, “I am going to go to the back of the room and get a worksheet, then I am going to walk to the counter under the windows and get my text book, then I am going to sit at my desk and take out my pencil.”

P14Take this technique a step further. Ask the student to draw a blueprint of the classroom or their house. Tape this blueprint to a clipboard, so the child can ‘tap out their plan’ before a task. Use a pencil or pointer to tap on the blueprint while encouraging them to pre-imagine and verbalize their plan; this method will foster an important skill—self-talk. For example: “I am going to walk into the bathroom, brush my teeth, then go across the hall to my bedroom. Next, I’ll go to my closet, get my shoes, then walk downstairs to the front hall to get my backpack.”

Use an analog clock

Children may still have difficulties using an appropriate pace even if they have a mental image of the directions. If their pace is slow, then they are vulnerable to distractions. What helps children to imagine carrying out a plan within a particular time frame? An analog clock.

As adults, we often strategize times before verbalizing the plan to children. We say, “You need to start getting ready at 3:45.” However, this direction is given after we have thought, “Dance starts at 4:30, so we need to leave the house at 4:00.” Try asking children to work backwards from an end time. Many children benefit from seeing how time fills up on an analog clock. A dry erase marker can be used to shade “slices” of time and write actions when planning backwards on a glass analog clock. See the following example of backwards planning for estimating the time to prepare and travel to a music lesson. Students can also use the clock to visually plan their time for homework or in-class assignments.

P15Another advantage of drawing on the clock is building self-awareness. Students can see visual markers of the time that has passed, and then determine if they have used time effectively or had any “time robbers” such as daydreaming or getting distracted by the television or Internet. To stay a beat ahead, students must monitor how closely their outcomes match the future plan they had imagined.

Ask students to plan checkpoints when they can stop and determine if they are on track with their plan. Students set a mid-point timer to stop and check how well they are working towards completing an assignment. The purpose of the timer is to improve self-monitoring and an awareness of how time is used, but not how quickly they can complete an assignment. Students who set timers for the end of a task frequently experience more stress, whereas a timer set for check-ins midway through a task provides opportunities for problem solving.

Overall, when students are given guidance to plan and self-monitor while using mental imagery, they often experience independence and a better sense of self-control. Try it!

*Russell A. Barkley, Executive Functions: What They Are, How They Work, and Why They Evolved (New York: Guilford Press, 2012).

Sarah Ward, MS, CCC-SLP, and Kristen Jacobsen, MS, CCC-SLP, are the codirectors of Cognitive Connections: Executive Function Practice, LLP, in Concord, Massachusetts. Ms. Ward has over fifteen years of experience in diagnostic evaluations, treatment and case management of children, adolescents and adults with a wide range of developmental and acquired brain-based learning difficulties and behavioral problems. Her particular interest is in the assessment and treatment of executive function deficits. Ms. Jacobsen, an ASHA certified speech-language pathologist, has worked in public education, private schools and hospital settings and has provided teacher training seminars and school consultations nationally. She has strong interests in cognition, language and mindfulness.

Copyright 2016 by CHADD (Children & Adults with ADHD). All rights reserved. An earlier version appeared in the August 2014 issue of Attention magazine.

by Linda E. Spencer, PhD

Educational demands for language processing present ongoing challenges for students who have ADHD and problems with language comprehension. The prevalence of co-occurring ADHD and language processing disorder is substantial: About 20 to 30 percent of students with ADHD will also have some form of challenge in the area of language, and 25 to 50 percent of students coded witFeatured imageh speech/language disability also have ADHD. When the primary concern is ADHD, problems with language processing may be attributed incorrectly to the ADHD. As a result, students may not receive effective interventions and other educational supports.

Children who are “late talkers” (fewer than 50 words at 24 months of age) usually are referred to early intervention specialists, where they receive services from a speech-language pathologist and other specialists. The majority of late talkers are using sentences that are similar to those of their peers by the time they complete kindergarten, and often they no longer qualify for special services. Still, many students with an early diagnosis of language impairment continue to underperform compared to age-matched peers, even when they no longer qualify for school services.

We are coming to regard language impairment as a lifelong problem for many of our children who were late to start talking, just as we now are recognizing ADHD as a lifespan challenge. These challenges affect the students’ ability to understand and produce sentences and longer language units, to recall factual information from text, to explain concepts, and to write responses. Read the rest of this entry »

by the National Resource Center on ADHD

It’s heartbreaking for parents and teachers to watch a child with ADHD struggle in school, especially when there are innovative teaching techniques and strategies that can maximize learning for kids with ADHD in the classroom.

CHADD’s National Resource Center on ADHD has produced four videos that highlight techniques and ideas that teachers (and parents) can use right away to improve communication, executive skills, and overall learning for kids with ADHD. The videos are short, each around three minutes long, and cover the following topics:

  • Homework Modifications that Make a Difference
  • Creating a Positive Dialogue with Parents
  • The Difference Between School Accommodations and Interventions
  • Executive Functions in the Classroom

Watch the series today and share the videos with a parent or teacher who wants to learn more about teaching kids with ADHD effectively.

by Terry M. Dickson, MD, ACG, CPCC

Although this blog is addressed to parents, I hope teachers will identify and agree with the traits I describe.

Is your child struggling at school? What is his or her relationship with the teacher like?

Recently I was reminded of how NOT to teach students. My teenage daughter told me about an incident at school in which her feelings were quite hurt. Her teacher approached her and asked: “How did YOU get into Honors English? What kind of grade did you get in English before?” Ironically, my daughter has a solid “B” in the class, which isn’t too bad.

Perhaps you have encountered a teacher like this one before. Now if this particular teacher thought that she was encouraging, I’ve got news for her. You cannot hurt someone’s feelings and then expect him or her to work harder. It usually doesn’t work that way. In my opinion, the best teacher is someone who helps rather than discourages, who brings out the positives and is flexible to different learning styles.

In reality, the best teacher for a child with ADHD is someone who:

1. Is a good role model and is firm and fair to all students.

2. Has a positive attitude and tries to bring out the best in students.

3. Has a well-structured classroom with an environment that is safe and comfortable.

4. Is able to assist students with transitions and help them maintain focus and attention.

5. Is flexible to different learning styles.

6. Provides a high level of expectations yet is able to assist students to achieve success when they face new challenges.

7. Provides predictability in routines and schedules.

8. Is able to provide accommodations for students with special needs.

9. Emphasizes improvement and personal best efforts

10. Offers a lot of “hands-on,” engaging instruction.

Terry M. Dickson, MD, ACG, CPCC, is the founder and director of The Behavioral Medicine Clinic of NW Michigan that has served and supported children, adolescents, and adults with ADHD for over eleven years. He is a graduate of the ADD Coach Academy and the Coaches Training Institute and serves as vice president of the board of directors of the ADHD Coaches Organization. He is a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach. Diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, Dr. Dickson speaks regularly and has been interviewed locally and nationally on radio, television, and CHADD’s Ask the Expert online. Dr. Dickson and his wife of 32 years have two teenage children, both of whom have ADHD.


guest blog by Mari Foret*

The two weeks before school opens in the fall can be some of the busiest of the year. Typically, teachers are setting up rooms and finalizing lesson plans to prepare for the influx of new and returning students, as well as honing their craft through professional development opportunities.

The faculty and staff of Commonwealth Academy will remember the early weeks of the 2011–12 academic year for the full-day presentation of CHADD’s program, Teacher to Teacher: Classroom Interventions for the Student with ADHD. Head of School Susan Johnson, PhD, asked every teacher and staff member to attend this workshop to ensure that the school can best meet the needs of students with ADHD and their families—not just in the classroom, but at every juncture of the student-school-family relationship.

A private college preparatory day school, Commonwealth is the first school to provide this workshop to each person within its organization. The benefits of this holistic approach were enormous. Commonwealth also extended invitations free of charge to faculty and staff from several neighboring schools and to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Alexandria.  “As local leaders in the education of students with ADHD, we believe it is our continued responsibility to disseminate information about ADHD best practices whenever possible and serve as a resource,” said Dr. Johnson.

By making the workshop a part of required professional development, Dr. Johnson felt strongly that relationships between the school and students and their families would be greatly enhanced, whether students were being greeted by reception, attended to by the school nurse, or working with a teacher on a specific project. Parent questions or concerns would be better understood, whether parents are discussing contracts or bills with the business office, working with admissions or advancement, or participating in a parent-teacher conference.

After the workshop, participants were asked to complete an evaluation. The compiled results demonstrated that it had been an invaluable day for teachers and staff alike. In an audience comprised of first-year teachers, new and experienced administrators, and teachers who had been teaching students with ADHD for a decade or more:

  • One hundred percent of respondents said they would make changes in their teaching as a result of the training workshop. Specific examples of changes included: give choices for study habits, use more visuals, implement more peer-to-peer instruction, use the learning pyramid to plan lessons, institute systems for encouraging positive behaviors, introduce journals for impulsive students who can’t wait to tell me what they know, and incorporate more one-on-one conversations with students.
  • Ninety-five percent or more “felt excellent or good about” knowing at least five classroom interventions that will help increase the academic success of students with ADHD and at least five intervention strategies to address typical behavioral problems with ADHD.

While many school districts use CHADD’s Teacher to Teacher program for faculty, Commonwealth’s approach is different in that we strongly believe that each person within the organization must understand our students, their families, and their specific needs. We are proud to be leaders in taking this holistic, all-employee approach and hope that our success encourages other schools to do the same. With the right strategies and systems in place, teaching students with ADHD, and watching them attain previously unattainable goals, is pure joy.

Read the entire article on the CHADD website.

*Mari Foret is the director of communications at Commonwealth Academy. This is an abridged version of her article, which appears in the April 2012 issue of Attention magazine.

We’ve gotten past the hustle and bustle of the winter holiday, but the warmth of spring has yet to set in. Students in your classroom are just beginning to settle back and focus. However, Valentine’s Day looms… the day to tell your most tender thoughts to another, the day a young girls looks forward to that small gift, candy, flowers—and immature gents expect comments, looks, and flirtatious messages. Everyone wants this day to be their special time. Everyone wants to be remembered for all their positive charm.

ADHD impulsivity, however, often acts like a sword, cutting off the good feelings of others. Unexpected actions from the student with ADHD can make peers move away, and can make attempts to make friends fail. The more introverted type is defined as aloof and shy, giving the message that she wants nothing to do with the other girls, and to be left alone. The show-off guy who is always in trouble is labeled as the one to stay well away from.

As is so often true, teachers approach the day by encouraging decorated shoeboxes or paper bags for mailboxes, and by sending out class lists instructing that everyone gives a Valentine to everyone in the class. The intent is pure, but what really happens?

Only two classmates out of a class of thirty give Tommy valentines. How could that be? Susie gets strange and altered messages giving her a healthy belt of negativity. Her fragile self-esteem is stomped into the ground. She hears from those she fears and not from those she hopes will be her friend. Francis receives freaky mementos and his sensitivity raises his hostility. He is ready to take on anyone who may have sent him a message. Perhaps that message was harmless, but his interpretation shook his security.

Okay teacher, now what! You have a lot of emotional repair to work through. Sticks and stones are obvious, but words create lasting breaks in a child’s emotional security.

When possible, try a new approach.

Begin by asking your class for a list of words that describe nice things about another human being. What do they like about others? Talk about how all of us love to hear nice things said about us. Share some of your own favorite things that were said about you. Continue until you have a healthy list of “good” comments.

Next, hand out a list of all of the students in your class with ample space to write after each name. Have each student fill in his list by selecting at least two things from the board to describe each person in the class. Copy and send home the suggestions if necessary so the assignment can be completed. If the class is large, cut the list in half, distributing it to those on the list.

At the front of the room, have a “mailbox.” This could be a large envelope, basket, or a box. When finished with their list, students turn in their responses. It is possible to list a word more than once. They must list at least two positives for each one in the class.

When the day is over, take these comments home and select the best for each child.

Have your Certificate of Valentine’s Day already printed and ready to go. Simply add three to four good comments for each child. Sign it as whatever is appropriate; for example, Your Fifth Grade Valentines. Everyone gets a controlled positive statement. Some of the students with ADHD in your class may never have been rewarded with such positive recognition before.

I did this for the students in a whole school, for many years running, and have had young adults come to me remembering, even to this day, what their good traits were. Some still have their cards. I was reminded of this when they came to help me celebrate my anniversary last year.

It’s too late, you say, save this for next year. Then use the idea with adaptation for St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, or another holiday (Uncle Sam reminds you that YOU ARE—).

Corny works, but the honesty of the feeling lasts forever. Working with adults, I so often hear, I wish someone had told me I was okay when I was in school, struggling and floundering. You have a chance to do it, right now!

Many hugs to you, teachers, and thanks for all you do on this Valentine’s Day!


You can hear this hue and cry from parents everywhere. But when the cry involves your classroom, it is up to you to decide how to respond. It is the professional’s task to help the family tackle the problem. By staying out of the picture, your job becomes harder and harder while the child’s difficulties accelerate. The true solution is to become involved so the presenting problem can be resolved. What does being involved mean? The answer to that question is the three C’s: Communicate, Cooperate and Collaborate

Teachers need to be empowered to understand their students. Knowing what your student needs is vital. Knowing how the child learns is as important as the solution to change. Teaching new and innovative strategies creates a useful and successful learning pattern. This innovative approach supports a new way of learning for the student that increases competency and self-esteem.

Parents know that answers to their problems exist, but they need to know how to ask for them. They need to know their rights. They need to know what programs are available and what a school system can and cannot provide. Parents need to understand that they must collect records and data in order to provide the information the school system requires to fulfill their obligation of seeing that each child learns according to his or her potential. Parents need to know the processes they must go through to gain services, what to expect from the system, and how to create a partnership with the professionals who can help their child.

Together professionals and parents need to be positive, looking forward, able to put emotions aside in order to allow action to begin. We all know that there is a lot of concern, but being specific and focused helps the process move smoothly. With this communication and open sharing, successful outcomes are possible.

By working together, professionals and parents ensure the child’s success and make sure every child receives the gift of accomplishment. These are your keys to success. To help you remember, I hope this key will become a constant reminder. I challenge each of you to print it and hang it on the refrigerator to remind you that only by being a team will the outcome provide the child success.

But, you may ask, how do I get the answers because I need to put this into place? Whether you are a parent or a professional, CHADD has a great program designed just for you. I have an inside track to know that several day-long workshops are planned that will be presented around the country to address how to advocate for each and every child! Is that awesome or what?

Parents and professionals will spend a day learning how to advocate for the child who has special needs. They will learn how to receive help in determining what services may be necessary in order to meet these various needs. Participants will learn what their rights are under the law, understand early intervention, response to intervention, 504, IDEA, ADA and other issues that may be new to them, or old labels that never made sense. Come learn how to communicate by creating a partnership between parents and school. Learn how to use positive interaction, be aware of the importance of documentation, and what questions to ask as you develop an IEP or 504 Plan.

Why bother taking the time and energy to be informed? Listen to a parent with a teen-aged son: “If only I had known how to tell the school what my child needed, he wouldn’t have had to struggle so long. Thank you for making our lives easier.” Or the parent of a ten-year-old: “This workshop cleared the way for my family. Now services are in place, my daughter receives support and is successful for the first time in her life.”

Spread the word! Here is the information about the first of these advocacy workshops.

My Child Needs Help!
Seminar on Child Advocacy
January 28, 2012
9:00 am – 4:00 pm
Atlanta, Georgia Area
Cumberland Academy, 650 Mt. Vernon Highway, Sandy Springs, GA 30338
Sponsored by CHADD
Presenters: Mary Durheim, CHADD National Past President
Joan K. Teach, PhD, CHADD Advocate and Special Educator
Local Hosts: Georgia Workgroup: CHADD-GA, LDA-GA, Kids Enabled
Advocates for all special-needs youngsters are welcome.

Mary and I hope you will join us in the near future. Can’t get to Georgia? Bring us to you!


The daily life of a student begins with a list of instructions to follow. Directions are written by competent educators who use the clearest language possible, provide a clear list of what the student is to do, and describe the task with simple incremental steps. Following directions is the core of every academic assignment. Why is it so hard for some of our students to follow, when for us the outline and sequence are obvious and clear?

Why do youngsters with ADHD seem so unable to follow directions? Following directions involves the ability to complete one or a series of verbal or written commands. Students with ADHD are mentally able to grasp the concepts, but no matter how hard we try to make them clear, these students consistently fail to comply. Let’s analyze the reasons as they relate to inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity.
• Unable to sustain focus during the instruction time 
• Thoughts focused on other issues
• Possibly being distracted by things in the classroom
• Hearing only bits and pieces of the instruction
• Assuming the instructions were just like yesterday’s, so he doesn’t need to think about them
• Experiencing a language processing difficulty and getting stuck on one word or phrase
• Fearing failure, there is no need to listen

• Begins knowing what to do anyway
• Distracted and fiddles with objects around them
• I’m stupid and I can’t do it
• I hear you talking but I’m already in gear
• Hearing the first part of the instruction, student begins before taking in the whole plan

• My motor is already running, if you want me to do it, let me begin
• I’ll race you to finish first
• This is a piece of cake, why do it
• It has to do with writing, and I can’t force my motor to go there

For whatever reason, each student may need to be guided through baby steps to learn to follow directions. As adults we look at following directions as one unit, a thing, but it is not. Following directions is a process. The reason teachers get so upset and frustrated with students is that:
1. They wrote the directions.
2. Their directions were perfectly clear as to what they meant.
3. They have seen the same pattern of directions for years and can’t understand why the students aren’t getting it. It’s not their fault that this doesn’t work; it’s the way the system works!

Let’s get back to the reason students have difficulty. Learning to follow directions is a process. Like many processes in education, youngsters who have ADHD need to be taught in incremental baby steps, for some do not learn to process automatically. Each of us learns differently. Let’s look at the way following directions progresses and the incremental steps involved.

1. Basic Instruction
a. Give me the cup.
b. Draw a circle.
c. Turn in your paper.

2. Expanded One Step
a. Show me the one that is not red.
b. Do not pick up the brown one.
c. Pick up only the red blocks, no matter what size they are.

3. Basic Two Step

a. Draw a circle and a square.
b. Close the door, then sit down.
c. Write your name on the upper righthand corner of the paper.

4. Expanded Two Step

a. Throw away the trash from your lunch before you begin your assignment.
b. Write your name on the paper and do the odd problems from 9 –27 on page 345 in your math book.

5. Complex Directions

a. As you come into class, turn off your cell phones, turn in your assignments and be ready to fill in the parts of the cell body as shown on the board.

Our students want to comply and have the desire to please, but multiple sets of directions baffle them. The constant fear of failure, being wrong, and not doing the assignment right, completely debilitates a student, lowering his or her self-esteem. Punishment by giving the student a zero for incorrectly done assignments creates harm. The student’s reaction is: “I’ve failed again, so why try?” The zeros continue, and the student continues to fail, proving his own self-fulfilling prophecy. If he could have done it right, he would have. ADHD-related sensitivity leads to frustration and giving up.

Let’s look instead at ways to increase success and booster the skills needed so these students can have the equipment they need.

Just this month, a brilliant young ninth grader stormed into my office with a “Dr. Joan crisis.” He was so upset that I had a hard time deciphering what had happened.

Lance had returned to public school this year, and was determined to be a great, successful student. Four weeks into the school year, he is already frustrated. Apparently, he is taking advanced science and had a project that he just adored working on. He spent many hours at night researching, designing, constructing, and writing up his report. His dyslexia got in the way, his ADHD made time on-task agony, and his impulsivity made him re-do many parts of the construction as waiting for glue to dry just wasn’t his thing. But he finished on time! When the grade was announced, he got a B-minus. He asked the teacher why. He thought everything was perfect—but the report was to have been typed and put on poster board.

It was definitely time to get to the teacher and play let’s make a deal. Yes, he failed to follow directions. Considering his considerable dysgraphia, and the fact that his handwritten report was both neat and legible—plus the fact that his accommodations mention his dysgraphia and ADHD—he made an appointment with the teacher to plead his case. He stated his difficulties and negotiated with the teacher to change his grade to a 98, considering the content of his presentation.

Lance learned that advocating for yourself in light of your weaknesses does indeed at times make a difference. But, failing to follow directions to the letter of the law can be debilitating. Lance’s next assignment is now underway. His strategies include:
• Rereading the directions at least once a week as he works on the project.
• Rechecking with the teacher periodically to be sure he is on-track.

Students with ADHD often find themselves in Lance’s shoes. Therefore, once you know the level of complexity of the assignment you are giving, look next at the number of processes each student must use to remember the list of directions they must follow. How many students in your classroom can automatically follow these directions? What can you do to increase the number that are successful?

Remember Charlie Brown’s teacher who wha, wha, wha’d, spouting the directions in a monotone, making it difficult to follow and understand? Many of us state what we want more clearly, but at times rely only on the spoken word to relay directions to our students. Although this is the quickest and easiest delivery method, it is the least productive for getting results.

Reflect on the following progression for attaining success.

Verbalbeing told
• The least efficient manner of instruction
• If we add a written list of instructions, our probability of success increases.

Verbal—being told

Visual—written list
• If we add visual enhancements such as drawings to our written list, our chance of success increases.

Verbal—being told

Visual—written list
 Visual ++ pictorial enhancement
• If we add a demonstration to our instructions, the impact on memory compounds.

Verbal—being told

Visual—written list
 Visual ++ pictorial enhancement-color coding
 Demonstration—playing charades
• If we involve the student in the activity by writing down the assignment, acting out the assignment, drawing the steps of the assignment, the student becomes involved in rehearsal and begins to internalize the directions. Think multisensory approach to learning, yes, even to following directions.

Verbal—being told

Visual—written list
Visual ++ pictorial enhancement-color coding
Demonstration—like playing charades
Student replicates all aspects of the directions placing them in memory by saying, writing, doing, drawing or more.

So often we write the assignment on the board, ask students to copy the list of instructions, and move on. Students with grapho-motor difficulties often cannot read what they have written, and the squiggles resulting have little or no meaning. With pictorial representations, students can at least get the visualization and perhaps copy their own graphics or hieroglyphics as the case may be. At the end of the session, before turning the students loose to work on the assignment, have several students demonstrate, tell, or pantomime how to do the assignment. You may say this takes time; however, if half of your students are not following directions adequately, I ask you, is the time really wasted?

Other techniques to help students retain your instructions

1. Hand out just the directions that commonly appear at the top of a math page. Highlight key words.
• Round the following numbers to the nearest hundred.
• Convert the measuring units as indicated.

 2. Teach the Problem Solving Notebook routine, step by step. Have them follow the steps below, which are slightly adapted for our students who have ADHD.
a. Read the problem carefully, out loud as a class chorus.
b. Highlight first process in yellow. Perform that process.
c. Cross out unnecessary information. XXXXXX
Pause: What do you do first, next? Proceed.
d. Always show your work, don’t do it in your head. 
e. Don’t erase your mistakes, cross out instead. XXX
Pause, check if you are on track so far.
f. Draw a picture that illustrates the problem.
g. Reread your problem and check your answers.
h. Write in your own words how you got your answer.
Posters and materials are available at;;

3. Online interactive stories that guide the student to write, invent, and process as they go, avoiding the need to have elaborate directions and develop successful creative writing. You can find examples here.

  4. George Washington Directions. Do not tell students, but if you follow the directions you will outline the silhouette of George Washington’s head. Washington’s profile is created on a grid 20 squares wide and 25 squares long. Directions found at Education World: George Washington Teaches Map Directions.

 5. The Magician’s Apprentice. Teaching the skill of following directions requires a little hocus-pocus in this lesson. Students re-create magic tricks, evaluate the clarity of the instructions, and teach an apprentice how to perform a trick.

6. Critics of Cuisine. As food critics, students follow directions to create culinary delights and then critique the recipes and the flavor of their products! This lesson seeks to capitalize on the healthy appetites of kids and their love of cooking to improve their skill in following directions.

Be the ultimate teacher by providing interactive ways to follow directions. Be sure you understand the language ability of the students in your class.
•  Keep directions short, simple, and action-oriented.
•  Make eye contact, especially for that child who may need your assistance for focus.
•  Use visuals, over and over again. Create a pattern—for example, GREEN means it is important; RED means watch out, something may trick you, etc.
•  Provide written lists of important instructions, homework.
•  Print extra instructions to staple in students plan books when handwriting is an issue.
•  Post your instructions on your teacher e-page so everyone has a chance to get it right.
 •  Use voice modulation to get your message across. Sing the assignment; clap to the to-do list; rock-n-roll; beat out the word; whisper or chant, holding hands in a circle.
• Remember variety is a necessity or the message gets lost.
•  Constantly have students rehearse what they are to do.
      At the end of the day do a STOP-LOOK-LISTEN.
      STOP: do you have x,z,y assignment?
      LOOK: do you have the book, page, etc.?
      LISTEN to rehearsal of full assignment.
•  Encourage the use of technology: digital memory recorders to tape assignment pages, etc., and the more sophisticated APs for tablets and players.
•  Break everything down into baby steps.
 • Use photos to create timelines, large calendars with circled dates.
•  Encourage checklists, teach backplanning.
•  Add rewards or naturally occurring perks.
•  Redirect noncompliance, as punitive measures fail to increase compliant behavior.
•  Visit Tina’s World, an interactive video based on following directions from earobics.
•  Try How Well Can You Follow Directions?
•  Following Directions with Goofy.

For classroom fun, try some of the following.

Create a bear hunt.
• Each child brings in a bear (or other toy) to hide.
• Each child creates the directions to find their bear.

Scavenger hunt

• Hunt for items.
• Describe where to find the object.
•  Teams follow directions.

Follow directions to make a sandwich
•  Teams construct the sandwich according to different instructions.
•  One team member records sequence of events.

Phil’s Bait Shop
Playing roles as new employees in a pet shop, students offer advice to customers, answer questions, and create a handbook of instructions for new fish owners.

Follow a recipe
Everyone knows what happens when a cup of flour becomes a teaspoon, and a teaspoon of salt becomes a cup.

Simon Says
Active activities lead to conscious need to follow directions.

Following directions worksheets can be found for all levels to middle school.

Parachute Drop
Students experiment with gravity as they follow directions to create parachutes that will carry paperclip passengers safely to the ground.


Find 16,000, free create-your-own via themes, history, math. Try the ages 3 to 6 worksheets on Following Directions.

Intersperse activities throughout your curriculum. Make your focus to deliberately teach the skill of following directions.

Directional worksheets
Draw a small fish in the middle of the page. Draw a large shark over the fish. Put a small x at the lower left corner of the page. Color the shark blue and the small fish red.

Puzzle activities that require sequencing
Word search
Hidden pictures
Color coding labeled areas that create pictures ( color all 4’s blue)
Draw a _____ in this box (

YouTube type language enhancements for following directions; lively and fun

And last, but not least, try this age-old spoof on following directions. Write a list of directions as follows:

1. Read all of the following directions before you do anything.
2. Print your name, last name first then your first name and middle initial (if you have one), at the top of the page.
3. Draw a line through the word “all” in direction 1.
4. Underline the word “directions” in direction 1. 5. In direction 2, circle the words “your first name.”

[continue listing directions numbered from 4-12]
13. Place a circle in the center of the square.
14. Place an “x” in the center of the triangle.
15. Now that you have read all of the directions as instructed in direction 1, follow directions 2 and 16 only.
16. Please do not give away what this test is about by saying anything or doing anything to alert your classmates. If you have reached this direction, make believe you are still writing. See how many of your classmates really know how to follow directions.

You can view samples of this spoof on the following websites:
High Reach Learning even provides teachers with a credit-based training module. Their approach is to help guide your thinking of how you can train Following Directions in your students.

Throughout the ages our students have faltered and failed by not following directions. One of the most common errors made during exams is failing to read and understand those constantly interfering directions. You are our teachers: My ADHD friends and I challenge you to look at our shortcomings, but support our need to learn. Directions will be with all of us for a lifetime; help us improve now.


It was overly hot here in Atlanta, and I had scheduled a morning in the dentist’s chair. It was not, however, one of those sessions of poke and drill, but a chance to use a gift of a teeth-whitening session. This was an entirely new experience for me and I was feeling just a little apprehensive. But I was looking forward to a much whiter smile.

When they told me I would have to sit still for two hours, I was shocked. Then panic set in. As some of you are aware, with my own ADHD I have only two speeds: full speed ahead and dead stop. I knew I didn’t have any gears that fell in between. I seriously wondered if I could really sit still that long, but faced with the challenge, I was going to try.

The technician began the prep work and soon I was fitted with a mouth full of rubber, space-age glasses that wrapped my face, and tilted in the chair so that a light was peering intently into my frozen grin. I had briefly considered reading via my Kindle, but the apparatus and position made that impossible. I did want to sit still… but how was that going to happen?

I soon became petrified that I would just explode and run out of there like a scared rabbit. I instantly remembered the kids who resembled deer in headlights as they approached one frightening school moment after another. I related to that feeling of insecurity, being scared, knowing that any move was the wrong one, unsure, completely frozen, and feeling that you were not quite alive on this planet.

As I sat there trying to calm my desire to flee, I tried to place myself in the minds of those youngsters who were just as frightened as I. My brain hopped relentlessly from one situation to another, dredging my web of experiences to find just what I had used to calm their fears and keep my need to be in motion in quiet submission. I had calmed many a youngster over these past fifty years. Surely I could control myself now!

Then it hit me: I could try QiGong, the art of slow meditative movement, but more importantly, the act of slow, deep breathing to create relaxing control.

Long ago, there was a parent at my school who was related to a QiGong master. One year he gave a session to the teachers prior to the opening of school. We all felt relaxed, revitalized, and ready to take on the year’s challenges. We started using the breathing and movement to begin our weekly staff meeting and we all found it helpful. With his support and guidance, before long we began to have QiGong exercises at the beginning of the day, sometimes as part of recess.

We came to rely on the calming effect of QiGong. When minor upsets occurred during the school day—when classrooms went from okay to chaos in a flash—teachers initiated a QiGong break to regain calm and help the youngsters to learn to relax. It wasn’t a magic bullet, but through its soothing, relaxing effect, calm began to take hold.

We decided to do in-house research by observing our students. We began by rating the children on a behavioral scale that scaled acting-out behavior. The entire school was dedicated to the needs of the neurobiologically challenged youngster, so acting out was part of our daily lives. By the end of the first year, 80 percent of the youngsters prone to explosive outbursts,  showed a  20 percent reduction in the number and frequency of their explosions. By the end of the second year, most of the youngsters showed the ability to initiate their own calming when given a hand signal reminder. At the end of the third year, youngsters who began off the scale in acting-out behaviors were beginning to find their own calming devices.

I do not present this as a research-founded program, but one that was easy to implement and showed great benefit for those who took part. After the first year, new students readily patterned those who were already in the program and those reticent to participate began to change their minds.

Why did we choose QiGong? First, because it was readily available, but then we realized that the deep breathing basis of the movement was giving the youngsters and staff a feeling of calm that they were not used to experiencing. Secondly, you don’t just tell an ADHD youngster to stop moving. Using storylines and other patterning techniques, the youngster could follow the movements, their sequence and feel a part of the experience. As with dance and music, the body flowing together was significant for relaxing and calming.

I sincerely believe that most of us had never really known what that feeling of calm felt like. Regulating body, breath, and mind created a new sensation and laid a foundation for control that was not otherwise available. The storylines began with those available, but soon the children created some of their own as they had more meaning. Look to the end of the blog for a few samples.

Breathing my way to calm

Okay, so what happened to me in the dentist chair? I couldn’t stand sitting and doing nothing, and as soon as my mind went into problem solving or organizing mode, my fingers twitched because I couldn’t write notes (so necessary as my short-term memory is always absent). I began to do the deep breathing from my days with QiGong. I was a wonderful patient and voice student as I reached deeply into my diaphragm and brought air in an incredibly slow manner, releasing it just as slowly instructing my body to relax segment by segment from head to toe. I counted the breaths and moved in and out.

After the first fifteen minutes I discovered I could pace my breathing to seventy deep breaths every fifteen minutes. For the mathematically inclined this is about one breath every thirteen seconds to sanity. The first fifteen minutes were trial at best, but by the last I had it down pat. I was in control and frankly so relaxed I almost fell flat on my face when I got up from the chair. I had met my challenge, but also remembered so many of my youngsters who went from frazzled to calm. I’ve learned that some are still able to pull it together when our closing hand signal clues them.

I gave up the daily QiGong practice long ago, but the calm I felt in the dentist’s chair that day led me to return to breathing and movement as my own therapeutic move toward wellness and control. And now I share the experience with all of you.

We all have times of being frazzled and spent. This gift is your small antidote to teacher burnout and a return to sanity. You don’t need formal training. The Internet and YouTube are full of instructional packages. 

We began with simple breathing and movements. Eight Pieces of Silk was the pattern the youngsters felt indicated their success when they could accomplish this with slow, focused rhythm from beginning to end.

Deep breathing. Very slow, gentle raising and lowering of body and arms. Good for opening a QiGong set.

Gentle side to side turns of the waist and neck. Very calming and soothing.
Arms relaxed, out to the side like floating limbs and leaves.

Reach high into the air, breathe deeply.
Catch the rainbow.
Pull it to you. Push it to the ground
Wrap it around you, feel the colors making you warm and happy
Lullwater Student edition 1999

Gentle reaching to the sky, turn the waist and neck.
Place the cloud in your hands, put it on one hip, reach and catch another, bring it back, place it on the other hip.
Release each cloud back into the sky. It will go back again to the sun.
Lullwater Student edition 1999

Good exercise for all areas of the back. Incorporates calf raises and sweeping shoulder movements. Also good for clearing the lungs of stale air and promoting better balance.

Standing with feet shoulder width apart, arms at side.
1. Push up the heavens
2. Draw the bow
3. Raise the arms one at a time
4. Turn the head from side to side
5. Circle the arms (swaying the head and wagging the tail)
6. Stretch out the hand, grab, pull, and spear hand
7. Lift the jar and pound the legs
8. Bend the back

Execute the cycle once. Repeat most steps several times before proceeding to the next. General applicability, works the entire body.

QiGong for Beginners—simple QiGong concepts and the best QiGong guidance.
Learn Zhan Zhuang QiGong—Standing Meditation.

The Fourth of July is over, so summer’s almost gone. Close on its heels comes the first day of school. Here in the South, day one begins as early as August 1, and this year our local system starts on August 8. 

When looking forward to a new year, teachers both young and seasoned anticipate the blend of youngsters they will face that very first day. At that moment, the blend of personalities coming through your door will create a classroom atmosphere that will determine how the year will play out.

There is the shy, inattentive youngster—taking everything in, feeling inadequate, and questioning whether she is ever right. There is the overly self-confident youngster, sure only her way is the right one. The loud and bombastic character makes his voice an imprint in the class community. The opinionated student knows he’s always right and his way is to be known. Then there is the tormented soul, who never agrees with anyone. The impulsive but creative student thinks out of the box and shows an understanding beyond all others. These are the many faces of our youngsters with ADHD. Each contributes his or her own uniqueness. Each has a radar of sensitivity that questions himself or herself but defends others.

You, as their teacher, have the job of creating a warm atmosphere. You strive for an environment that exudes acceptance of others, an understanding of differences, with tolerance and forgiveness. It is your job to see that all your students are supported and honored for the gifts they bring, that they are safe to explore the unlearned and unknown.

I have a challenge for you… begin your year with Rachel’s Challenge.

Rachel’s mission, and now that of her family, is “to inspire, equip and empower every person to create a permanent positive cultural change in their school, business and community by starting a chain reaction of kindness and compassion.… If one person can go out of their way to show compassion it will create a chain reaction…”

This activity is simple. Use it instead of asking your class to write the traditional return to school piece describing their summer vacation or activities. Ask instead for each child to record those acts of kindness they did for others. Hand out colored paper strips preferably printed with Rachel’s Challenge – My Act of Kindness and Compassion.

 If your students are more mature, copy out some of Rachel’s statements from her website that share her philosophy of life. Paste these strips into rings, joining them into a chain much like we often do to decorate for holidays and celebration.

Record your own acts of kindness and how you show tolerance of others, how helpfulness becomes a gift. Starting your class on this road to discovery, the chain then becomes a constant reminder of all the acts of kindness and compassion streaming from your classroom.

You may choose to have the students tell about their acts out loud, sign them or not, depending on the nature of the group and your own comfort zone.  But be sure to start your year with positive affirmations.

By now you are probably asking, Who in the world is Rachel? Rachel Joy Scott, age 17, was the first victim of the Columbine High School attack on  April 20, 1999. 

This probably happened before your students were born, and certainly was an incident that should never have happened. Two boys, reacting to negative pressure and bullying had the Columbine High School on lockdown as they went on a shooting spree, leaving death and destruction in their wake. Something good has come of that tragic event, however.

Rachel was a unique teen with a winning smile and inward glow that had a desire to make a difference. Even at age 17 she had goals which included doing for others—including standing up for the other person through acts of kindness and compassion. She was confident and okay with whom she was, okay with being different, and didn’t feel dorky or weird. She expressed this when she wrote to a friend, “Don’t let your character change colors with your environment. Find who you are and let it stay in true color.”

Help your students begin the year by learning Rachel’s message. Help them to define what makes a good person. How understanding works when a person is supportive of others. How it is important to make a best first impression, to be challenged to think of others, and to identify what kindness and compassion are. Help your students to find those acts they have performed: “I opened the coke can for grandma as her arthritic fingers were hurting.” Students need to learn and identify small acts of kindness and learn to celebrate them so they can grow.

Yes, most of your students have been through an antibullying seminar by now, but this is the chance to invest in the positive interaction with one another. It is this understanding that will hit home on a personal note, developing a feeling of inner compassion and become one of the most power preventive measures we can have. The chain becomes a constant reminder and reinforcement of the good one can do toward another.

Hanging the first chain is just a start. Encourage additional chains all year long. Teachers, you will be leading the way by pointing out acts of kindness happening in your class, adding them to the chain becoming a model, encouraging students to add more.

Variations can be made on this common theme, depending on you own creativity, but never limited by thinking out of the box. Students can enlist chain making at home, perhaps bringing them in to share at Thanksgiving.

You can decide to go online and have your class record an Acknowledge an Act of Kindness Card, a postcard of kindness that gets sent along throughout the world. 

Capitalize on Rachel’s words written into an outline of her hand: “ These hands belong to Rachel Joy Scott and will someday touch millions of people’s hearts.” Why not try stringing hands with messages, or create a chain of people joining hands? I can envision first-grader Jamie writing, “I helped my Mom without being asked.” And Sam—“I fed my dog.”

However you decide to proceed, the environment of your classroom will be changed. Think of what a better world we could have if everyone did just one nice thing for someone else every day. You will be helping each child to identify with his or her own self-worth and extending this feeling of confidence in self to the act of kindness and compassion for others. You are giving the message that your students’ ADHD, LD, Asperger, Tourette, OCD, ODD or whatever alphabet soup you encounter can be able to find themselves and be comfortable in being just who they are. Rachel is counting on you and so am I.


P.S. While you’re preparing for the new school year, be sure to visit the School and ADHD and Teacher to Teacher sections of CHADD’s website for more information on teaching students who are affected by ADHD.

Many thanks to the folks at Learning Rx in Buckhead, Georgia, who introduced me to Rachel.