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April 8, 2010

Question:  “How do ADD/ADHD kids fit into the special needs community and children’s ministry? How can we equip our volunteers?”

Recently, an educator from a public elementary school candidly shared that her school’s staff struggles more to manage the children with ADHD than children with more significant special needs diagnoses.

BORED KIDS ARE BAD KIDS. No, we don’t like using the term “bad kids”.   Seldom if ever are there “bad” kids.  But for the purpose of making this point, the phrase sticks.

The lack of planned activities is the primary culprit for the eruption of consuming and destructive behavior often associated with ADHD. The key to minimizing ADHD disruptions is to plan more constructive activities and to keep children engaged throughout the period. When left to their own devices, children with short attention spans and an inability to self-regulate will seldom choose to color a pretty picture or play quietly in the corner. Rather, children with ADHD tendencies and many other special needs diagnoses will remain constructively engaged in a setting where they are offered a consistent schedule of structured and well-planned activities. The challenge becomes staying one step ahead of the child who struggles with ADHD.

Tips for creating a successful environment for children with short attention spans:

  • Engage all senses throughout a period, adding visual, auditory and kinesthetic components to every lesson and program setting.
  • Keep an additional craft or small project on hand such as a foam pegboard with plastic stackers or materials to construct a fruit cereal necklace. While other children may also desire participation,  often the children needing redirection will be the only ones with available energy.
  • Allow a child to play with a stress ball or fidget toy when you need them to listen or settle down.  See the blog post How a Slinky can Teach Creation for more on this idea.
  • Allow a child to chew gum.  As counterintuitive as it may feel, a piece of chewing gum is simply an oral “fidget”.  Many children will pay better attention and stay regulated when some part of their body is moving (try it, you’ll be surprised).
  • Provide a bouncy chair such as a Rody Toy for a child to bounce on during the lesson or when he/she is especially agitated.
  • Involve the high-energy child in classroom tasks such as setting the table or holding the door.
  • Allow the child (or the full class) to do one activity involving gross motor skills.  Oftentimes when a child is most agitated and likely to become disruptive, he/she is in need of a quick fix of gross motor play.  This can be especially true after a period a child has been required to sit still or maintain control of themselves.
  • Keep the child engaged by asking frequent questions about the Bible lesson,  what he/she ate for breakfast, or what his/her favorite activity has been so far.
  • Recognize that over-stimulation may spur destructive behavior. Allow a super charged child to sit on a bean bag or in a quiet place in order to simmer down.

Amy Fenton Lee

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  1. Ivriniel permalink

    Nice post. However, I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on including adults with ADHD in the church. For many of us, our symptoms don’t go away when we reach adulthood and sitting through a sermon can be difficult.

    For that matter, just getting ourselves organized to get to church on time on a Sunday can be a challenge.

  2. lvriniel –

    You ask a good question. I recommend going to as Dr. Grcevich is a physician and an ADHD expert. I have heard Dr. Grcevich speak at a conference on the types of churches that typically attract and keep ADHD adults. Some churches are much better at keeping people engaged with visually stimulating media and experiential “out-of the-box” messages. I am very familiar with North Point Community Church based in Alpharetta, GA. And I think this church does a good job of engaging all types of learners. Many churches follow the North Point model and are probably better suited for ADHD folks. You may want to look them up online.

    Good luck!

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