Transitioning smoothly from one activity or setting to another can be very challenging for students with ADHD. Somewhat surprisingly, difficulty managing transitions is actually one of the least talked about problems associated with ADHD, yet it is at these times of the day that students with ADHD are typically the most disruptive or emotional.
Fortunately, there are some fairly simple strategies that help make transitions infinitely easier for students with ADHD.
Identify trigger points. Most students with ADHD who struggle with transitions have a few points in their day that are the most difficult for them to manage. Start by thinking of the most challenging of these times and consider the factors that may be most triggering. Is there something about the other students in the mix at that particular time - maybe someone who the student gets particularly silly and excitable around, or someone who always seems to push his or her buttons? Is there a consistent time of day when the student struggles the most with transitions? Is there something about the activity being transitioning to or from that may make the transition harder for the student? Having a clear understanding of the factors that make a transition particularly difficult for a student will help you see the situation from his or her perspective and troubleshoot more effectively.
Make simple adjustments. Whenever possible, make simple adjustments to minimize triggers. For example, if a student consistently seems to have difficulty with a particular classmate at a given transition, make sure these students are not in the same group or area of the room at this time. If the difficult transition comes as lunchtime is approaching, consider whether the student is overly hungry and may need a mid-morning snack to help them make it all the way through until lunch. It may seem simple, but sometimes this is all it takes to smooth out a rough point in the day.
Consider medication effects. When a student with ADHD seems to handle transitions fine in the morning, but can’t manage them well in the afternoon it’s important to consider the possibility that his or her medication is not as effective as it should be throughout the entire school day. When a medication wears off too quickly, the effects are often most obvious during transitions when emotions and disruptive behaviors are at their peak. In these cases, a medication adjustment may be needed to ensure that the medication is providing the proper support all day long.
Announce schedule changes well in advance. Kids with ADHD rely on their daily routine to help regulate their behavior and emotions. Abrupt changes in their schedule or routine are often accompanied by abrupt change in their emotions and behaviors. Making sure the student is aware of the change well in advance will help him or her stay calm and regulated.
Make them a “helper.” Students with ADHD often do best during transitions when they are engaged in structured tasks. Since transitions are often a relatively chaotic time in the classroom, placing students in the role of classroom helper can add some structure and focus to this otherwise unstructured time. The tasks can be simple, like making sure all of the desk chairs are pushed in as everyone lines up, or counting the student in the line to make sure everyone is accounted for. Just remember to praise the student and thank him or her for the help, so he or she will feel confident and motivated to keep helping day after day.
Helping kids with ADHD manage transitions calmly and independently requires some initial planning and problem solving, but once a new routine is in place the student will thrive and problematic transitions will be a thing of the past!
ABOUT DR. MARY ROONEY
Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.
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