Recognizing Signs of ADHD in the Middle School Classroom

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a common neurodevelopmental disorder that affects an estimated 6 million children in the U.S. ages 3-17. Its symptoms—inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity—can range from mild to severe, and students might exhibit a combination of behaviors. 

Although some children are diagnosed with ADHD before the age of five, this is more typically the case with children whose symptoms are considered severe. The median age of diagnosis for moderate ADHD is six years old (seven years old for mild ADHD).  

For teachers and parents, it’s not always easy to spot a child with ADHD. In the classroom, inattention can seem like a personality trait (e.g., the student is dreamy or always thinking). Being disorganized and forgetful are issues that many children struggle with, both at home and in school. So, if a student isn’t disruptive like a primarily hyperactive-impulsive type ADHD child and is able to keep up with their work and earn good grades, they can easily fly under the radar for years.  

Your job isn’t to diagnose, but you can watch for certain warning signs.  

If you teach middle school, you know all too well that this is a period when students go through a lot of change. School becomes more challenging due to increased difficulty and expectations, and that can be hard for many students. ADHD in middle schoolers is common, and teachers are often the first to notice certain symptoms. Although your job is to teach, it’s helpful for you to recognize when a child’s behaviors in the classroom might be indicative of ADHD. Here are some common signs to watch for:  

  • Lack of attention to detail – Students with ADHD lack attention to detail. They might skim directions on quizzes, tests and homework assignments, resulting in wrong or incomplete answers. Because listening isn’t easy, they might miss some or all of your verbal instructions during in-class work or activities. 
  • Struggling to focus – Maintaining focus isn’t a new problem for middle schoolers with ADHD, but it can become a more obvious issue due to the increased rigor and number of classes. You might notice that a student frequently hands in incomplete homework (due to it taking an overly long time to get focused and start, which causes them to run out of time to finish it). They could seem “zoned out” when you’re speaking or giving a lesson. During hands-on projects, they might appear disengaged or uninterested.
  • Forgetfulness – In middle school, students with ADHD often have a weak executive functioning framework, which includes memory and the ability to remember things and recall steps required to achieve goals. You might notice that a student is reluctant to use tools like checklists or a planner, resulting in missed deadlines and forgotten homework. 
  • Misplacing things – On its own, losing things like textbooks and jackets isn’t unusual for middle school students. But students with ADHD misplace items on a daily basis. Without reliable systems and routines—like getting their backpack ready the night before school (with all completed homework in it)—the problem continues. 
  • Fidgety – At a young age, children with hyperactive symptoms of ADHD are known to move around a lot and struggle to stay seated. By middle school, this may look a little different. They still might prefer moving to staying still, but it could be more subtle: tapping a foot or bouncing a knee, for example.
  • Impulsivity – Interrupting is a common habit of younger children with ADHD, and it can still be an ADHD symptom in middle schoolers. In the classroom, a student might talk more than they listen, blurt out answers to questions before you finish asking them, and cut off their classmates when they are speaking. It also can show up as procrastination due to weak self-control. A middle school student with ADHD might prioritize socializing and fun activities over school work.  

One of the biggest things you’ll notice in students with ADHD is poor academic performance as they fall further and further behind. If you have a student who is struggling, refer their parent to Huntington at 1-800 CAN LEARN. Our customized programs are taught by experienced tutors who incorporate research-based strategies into their instruction. We can help any student improve their grades and boost their confidence.