How to Help Children with ADHD Overcome Their Learning Difficulties

Expert insights on how early intervention programmes can help unlock the learning potential of children with ADHD

Introduction

Many children have trouble controlling their emotions, following instructions, or paying attention in school. As children get older, they learn how to regulate their behaviour, but some children continue to struggle with hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention. 

These are all signs of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a neurological condition that prevents children from thriving in school. Fortunately, educational specialists and psychologists have developed learning solutions and behavioural strategies to help children overcome their ADHD-related learning difficulties. 

In this guide, we discuss what ADHD is, how it impacts children, and how early intervention programmes can help children with ADHD succeed in school and later in life.

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What is ADHD?

What is ADHD?

Did you know that up to 7% of children have ADHD and that ADHD is more prevalent among boys? In fact, the condition is so common that the average person likely knows someone with undiagnosed ADHD. 

For parents, it’s important to understand that the symptoms of ADHD are not intentional, and that they do not reveal any character or personality defects. Many highly intelligent and capable children have ADHD. Children do not outgrow their ADHD — and that ADHD is not caused by bad parenting. 

While the neurobiological causes of ADHD aren’t fully understood, its symptoms can be clearly observed and diagnosed in children as young as four years old. All people with ADHD belong to one of three types:

 

  • Predominantly Inattentive Presentation — people with ADHD of this type have trouble following instructions, finishing tasks, and paying attention to conversations and details. They often forget details and are easily distracted. 

  • Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation — these individuals struggle to sit for long and often feel restless. They are prone to impulsivity and may interrupt others, grab things from people, fidget, or speak at inappropriate times.

  • Combined Presentation — those with Combined Presentation experience symptoms of the above two types of ADHD, including hyperactivity and impulsiveness.
ADHD Signs and Symptoms

ADHD Signs and Symptoms

ADHD is often called a disorder — after all, that’s what the ‘D’ in ADHD stands for. However,  it is more accurately viewed as a set of learning and behaviour challenges. Many people with ADHD report benefits to having the condition, including being able to hyperfocus on tasks that interest them. 

Despite these strengths, the symptoms of ADHD are not favourable for mainstream schooling environments, where success depends on paying attention and controlling one’s behaviour. 

Here’s a list of symptoms in children according to the type of ADHD:

  • Often talk excessively.
  • Fidget or constantly tap hands and feet.
  • Are unable to work or silently engage in leisure activities. 
  • Often feel restless or move about in situations where it is inappropriate.
  • Blurt out answers before a question has been completed.
  • Have difficulty waiting for their turn.
  • Interrupt conversations or activities.
  • Struggle to remain seated even when necessary.
  • Take over what others are doing without permission.
  • Have difficulty concentrating on tasks and activities.
  • May not seem to be listening when spoken to directly; appear to be distracted or daydreaming.
  • Are easily distracted by unimportant stimuli.
  • Often do not follow through on instructions. 
  • Fail to finish work or chores, or may start tasks but quickly lose focus and are easily distracted.
  • Do not pay close attention to details, or make careless mistakes.
  • Have difficulty organising tasks and activities, are messy, disorganised, or have poor time management.
  • Avoid tasks requiring sustained mental effort.
  • Often lose things, or are forgetful in daily life.

Children with Combined Presentation of ADHD experience symptoms from both types of ADHD.  Many people with ADHD also have overlapping conditions that share similar symptoms with ADHD. Parents should consider whether their child has ADHD, in addition to other conditions such as:

  • ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) — patterns of negative and disruptive behaviour, particularly towards authority figures, such as parents and teachers.
  • Conduct Disorder — a tendency towards antisocial behaviour, such as destroying property, stealing and aggression towards people and animals.
  • Depression — symptoms include low self-esteem and energy, poor concentration, lack of motivation and feelings of hopelessness.
  • Anxiety Disorder — causes nervousness and a tendency to worry much of the time. This disorder can cause physical symptoms, including sweating, dizziness and rapid heartbeat.
  • Learning Difficulties — ADHD often overlaps with other learning conditions such as dyslexia and autism.
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How ADHD Impacts Childhood Development and Education

How ADHD Impacts Childhood Development and Education

ADHD can have a huge impact on a person’s academic success, along with their mental and emotional well-being. This impact is so profound that children with ADHD are eight times more likely to drop out of school than their peers — as revealed by a study published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology.

People with ADHD should also be concerned about their professional careers. As a study published in The Journal of Mental Health Policy and Economics shows, people with ADHD are more likely to experience “lower employment rates, worse jobs, lower earnings if employed, and lower expected earnings overall.”

How do we explain these predictions? A key reason is that children with undiagnosed ADHD aren’t given the therapy or medication they need to succeed academically. Without intervention, children struggle to work, have trouble regulating behaviour and develop a poor attitude to learning. This gets worse as children transition from primary to secondary school, a vulnerable period where they have to manage additional risks and challenges. A poor transition to secondary school may lead to further disengagement from school — as revealed by research published in BMC Pediatrics

From unsatisfactory school performance to a poor relationship with learning, untreated ADHD can also lead to behavioural problems and low self-esteem. These factors compound and add stress to family life, leading to strained relationships with loved ones.

Targeted intervention makes a significant difference and is crucial to helping children with ADHD overcome their challenges. The importance of early intervention has been extensively researched and proven — including by papers published in the Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology and Sustainability

The first step towards intervention and helping your child with ADHD is to have them diagnosed by a specialist.

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The Most Important Step: Securing an Early ADHD Diagnosis

The Most Important Step: Securing an Early ADHD Diagnosis

The lives of many people living with ADHD have dramatically changed once they received a diagnosis. So, if you think your child has ADHD, then get an assessment as soon as possible.

The earlier a child receives support, the more can be done to limit the symptoms of ADHD before they impact their well-being. As children develop, they experience ‘windows of opportunity’ where they find it easier to pick up the foundational skills needed to succeed in school. The longer you wait, the more difficult it becomes to learn these skills.

Another reason to seek an early ADHD diagnosis is that your child may have a different learning condition. A specialist can pinpoint exactly what challenges your child is facing. They will then recommend a tailored programme to target their struggles and help them cope with ADHD at school. They will also provide assistance and tips to help parents guide and communicate with their child. 

Where to Test for ADHD in Singapore

In Singapore, ADHD can only be diagnosed by clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, developmental paediatricians and educational psychologists. Generally, parents looking for an ADHD diagnosis have two options:

 

For the most accurate diagnosis, parents should consider staff expertise, qualifications, and the range of testing procedures used in their diagnosis. At Thomson Kids, we use a battery of standardised tests such as the latest edition of the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence-Fourth Edition (WPPSI-IV), NEPSY-II and Conners-Third Edition. Our assessments also profile your child’s cognitive, learning, academic, emotional, and social skills needs. 

Significantly, parents should avoid seeking free or paid online ADHD tests. Unlike in-person testing, online tests are unable to distinguish between different conditions. This can lead to misdiagnosis, as ADHD symptoms resemble those of many other conditions. On the contrary, a professional diagnosis can help you better understand your child’s condition and how to support them. 


 

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How Early Intervention Programmes Help Children With ADHD

How Early Intervention Programmes Help Children With ADHD

Selecting the right early intervention programme is key to helping your child overcome ADHD-related symptoms and learning challenges. The simplest way to do this is to enrol your child in a specialist school that offers such programmes. This is because these programmes are designed by experts to maximise the learning potential of children with ADHD.

Why Children with ADHD Benefit from Specialised Curriculums

As ADHD affects concentration and memory, students often miss important details, don’t adequately plan for tasks, and have difficulty organising their thoughts. These learners also take longer to process information, so they don’t always complete work on time. 

While ADHD requires different treatment plans depending on the student's age, tackling these challenges always requires complex and holistic intervention that targets a child’s behaviour and ability to self-regulate. This can involve helping children improve their executive functioning — skills that include planning, organising time, making decisions, and controlling emotion. These programmes identify and then teach the specific skills and strategies that children need to succeed in school. 

The most effective programmes also provide parent training. This brings parents into the process and shows them how praise, positive reinforcement and enforcing consistent consequences can teach children to regulate their behaviour. For many families, parent training is crucial to building a functional and happy family dynamic. 

These schools also tend to teach in small group settings, create their own tailored learning exercises, and offer the personalised attention that children with ADHD need to overcome their symptoms.

Thomson Kids’ Unique Approach to Teaching Children with ADHD

Thomson Kids’ Unique Approach to Teaching Children with ADHD

 

Thomson Kids is a Singapore-based centre for children with learning difficulties. As a member of the Thomson Medical Group, we offer ADHD assessments and English and Chinese programmes based on the MOE syllabus. 

Our lessons are taught using specialised materials and teaching methods that make it easier for children with ADHD to learn. For instance, we often teach using multisensory activities. We also employ bite-sized learning, where lessons are broken into manageable chunks. This helps learners to maintain focus and results in faster learning, especially as students progress through lessons without feeling overwhelmed. 

We strongly believe that every child has different learning needs. This is why our team of child psychologists, special needs teachers, and curriculum writers develop unique programmes that can be adapted to your child’s needs. Our teachers go one step further by creating lessons and educational materials that are activity-based and highly engaging. At the same time, we focus on instilling confidence in students while motivating their desire to learn. 

From our extensive experience working with children with ADHD, we have seen how learners can thrive with an instructional approach based on these principles:

1. Accurate psychological assessments

The first and most important step is to accurately diagnose your child’s learning difficulties. An accurate assessment enables us to enrol your child in the right programme and adapt our teaching to their needs.

Accurate psychological assessments

 

2. Learning materials that scaffold concepts into parts

Scaffolding breaks learning into chunks. This makes it easier for children with ADHD to master skills and understand content. Successful scaffolding requires the teacher to have a comprehensive understanding of the student’s learning abilities and needs.

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3. Evidence-based instructional methods

To help students overcome their unique challenges, our teachers employ the latest evidence-based instructional methods — methods that are supported by our specially developed teaching materials.

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4. Emphasis on helping students acquire essential life skills

We help students build confidence and a love of learning. A key focus is to foster a sense of independent inquiry by splitting learning into manageable parts that challenge but do not overwhelm.

Helping Your Child Overcome Their ADHD-related Learning Difficulties

Helping Your Child Overcome Their ADHD-related Learning Difficulties

If your child has ADHD symptoms, securing a professional diagnosis is the first step in helping them overcome their learning and behavioural challenges. ADHD diagnoses are provided by private centres like Thomson Kids and health institutions like the Institute of Mental Health, the National University Hospital (NUH) and the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

After confirming a diagnosis, you’ll be well-positioned to pursue tailored interventions, like those offered by specialist schools. 

As a member of the Thomson Medical Group, Thomson Kids leverages over 40 years of experience in children’s health and development, to provide accurate ADHD assessments and effective instruction for children with ADHD. To learn more about our assessment process or teaching curriculum, fill out the form on our ADHD assessment page and one of our team members will get in touch. We can also chat about the learning challenges your child is facing.

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