Dealing with ADHD

Last week I received an email from Tom who wrote…

“I am starting to have kids in my class who are ADHD.   Any suggestions for drills or teaching techniques that will help address this issue?”

Ahhhh… the good old ADHD challenge!

I wrote about this a while back in regards to PPS, and also a bunch about visual learners here.

But today let’s assume that your student is in fact a legitimate ADHD candidate, and not something else.

In a nutshell think of it like this…

  • In the  student’s head, there are 10 things at once competing for attention. Someone once described ADHD to me as a TV inside the mind that keeps switching channels, so the focus is extremely short until they find something that can hold their attention.
  • What you’re teaching has got to be top of that list otherwise they tune out, look at other students, people walking by, a fly on the wall, etc.


teaching karate to adhd kids
ADHD can be like trying to watch tv when someone else keeps switching channels.


I’m not an  expert in the field of ADHD (though I do have a BSc in Pharmacology and Physiology). However I have taught over 1,500 kids with quite a few with legitimate attention deficit disorder, Asberger’s and autism. I’ve also taught both blind and deaf students. All are challenging in different ways, as are people with bad knees and backs, or some other kind of physical disability. The important thing to remember is that we are all people, and in most cases are doing the best we can. So the first thing is to realize this important point, and to have patience.

ADHD can be severely affected by diet, food coloring and emotion just to name a few things. Most of this we can’t control, but somehow we’re expected to help fix. So it’s particularly important that you don’t over-excite an ADHD student as they can take hours to calm down. Similarly try to avoid negative reinforcement with ADHD students as this can send them into a death spiral of negative emotion which results in resentment and unresourcefulness.

I’ve found that ADHD kids perform better with a little encouragement. Think about it – for most of the day they’re told, “Just focus!” and “Concentrate!!!”. So I’ll walk by that student in class and whisper to them, “Great job, Max. You look like a black belt when you do it that way.”

Little things like that seem to pep up their self esteem. They feel better immediately, try harder and focus more.

People have also asked me if I change the way I teach the class when I have ADHD students?

I don’t. I still do the same karate drills and exercises as the rest of the class. And just like all other times, I make sure I’m ENGANGING my students by making class INTERESTING and CONCISE.

Get to the point QUICKLY, make the drills EXCITING and CHALLENGING and students will respond well.

Long drawn out  explanations about body mechanics and power generation aren’t really what kids are interested in. Cut to the chase, demonstrate so they can SEE it, then get them to DO it. Kids are pretty good at copying…  but not as good at listening whether they have ADHD or not.

I feel it’s important in closing to say that we don’t want to make students feel left out or different to the class. Aim for 100% inclusion. Teach and address the group as a whole, but be sure to give each student some personal feedback during class.