Virtual Learning and ADHD

A year ago, I advised that too much screen time is not good for our children and I encouraged parents to limit their child’s screen time to two hours a day or less. Fast forward to 2020 and I am writing an article about keeping your child engaged with online learning and focused on the screen. If you’re feeling confused, frustrated, or exhausted, you are not alone. 

Children who are learning virtually are expected to sit for extended periods of time, utilize verbal and nonverbal communication to recognize social cues, listen and follow directions while looking at a screen and 20+ people (not just looking straight ahead while sitting in their desk), and practice self-control by not clicking on other websites or engaging in other, more preferred and interesting, activities. They have to do all of this in order to learn the academic material being taught. 

It’s true. In the classroom, students are expected to sit, recognize social cues, focus their attention and engage in self-control. These are all skills that tend to be harder for students with ADHD to learn and utilize. What’s different about being online? Students are now in the virtual classrooms of teachers who are themselves learning how to teach, connect, and support students in very new ways and on the spot. In the classroom, teachers have developed tricks, strategies, and tools that help students follow along and engage in behaviors to help them learn. At home, you may need to work with your child and your child’s teacher to find modifications and strategies that will help your child be successful in the online classroom. Below are some suggestions to try:


  1. Allow your child to have a work space at home that includes different seating, standing, or leaning options. If helpful and not too distracting, allow them to have manipulatives to fidget with or to doodle on scratch paper while they listen to lessons.
  2. Work with your teacher to request if your student can turn the camera on and off to not be a distraction to their peers, allowing them to move and wiggle their body.
  3. Request that directions be given verbally, typed out in the chat box or a slide, and/or written on a card for your child to read. Our children often zone out and miss verbal directions, but if they see it, read it, and know where to find important information, they are more likely to follow through. Teach your child to utilize the appropriate means of asking questions or clarifying instructions (i.e., chat, raising a hand, unmuting).
  4. Set a timer (visual when possible) so they can prepare themselves for time remaining to listen to the teacher OR complete independent work. When the time is up, check in to monitor if they are on task. Some children can learn to self-monitor their on task behaviors by setting the timer for shorter durations.
  5. Set goals and rewards with your child in the morning related to task completion, for example: “If you get your math completed on your own, you can watch 1 YouTube video during lunch.”
  6. Many schools are using Google Classroom or a similar platform where information regarding the schedule, logins, and other important information is organized digitally. Consider creating physical versions (or printing out) a visual schedule so your child can quickly reference to work through their day. Minimizing the times they need to click through the digital platform can help prevent them from becoming distracted.
  7. If your child has 504 or IEP accommodations for extended time on assignments, work with your student’s team to verify those accommodations are in place and how best to implement this.
  8. Communicate with teachers regarding your level of involvement in your student’s school day. Are you having to reteach concepts? Are you having to prompt through independent work? In the classroom, teachers are able to take in this type of information about each student. They can adjust their teaching and approach to help their students. Open communication will help teachers make adjustments on their end as well as provide suggestions for how you can make adjustments on your end.
  9. By this point, you may have noticed patterns or routines in your child’s day and the types of instructions given by the teacher(s). If you recognize that virtual math typically involves listening to a lesson for a period of time and then working independently, break down “math” into those two parts. Help your child prepare for “what’s coming next” instead of waiting for the direction, which may be missed.
  10. Be patient, show grace, and be forgiving. Recognize how much is being asked of our kids, and that we probably would have a hard time meeting those expectations, also. Know that you are not alone. On a bad day, step back and just get through it. Later, work to figure out solutions to build skills and make it easier, trying some of the strategies listed here. On good days, celebrate!
Posted in Academic Services, ADHD, Articles, Parenting, School and Homework, School-Aged Children.