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.

From Sobbing Uncontrollably to Running onto the Floor within 60 Seconds

4 year old Jack walked in the door with his chin on his chest, eyes down and bottom lip quivering.

I greeted him with a big “Hi Jack!!!”, in the usual way. “Gimme five!”

Jack slunk past me without making eye contact and sat down. I followed him to his seat and asked him “What’s the matter?”

He looked down and shook his head and a tear trickled down his cheek.

I asked him, “Do you feel ok? Did someone make you feel bad?”

He shook his head and mumbled something.

“What did you say?” I asked.

“Karate is boring.” he sobbed and then more tears flowed from his eyes.

“Don’t you want to do class today and have fun?”

A shake of the head was all I received as a reply.

I then asked, “What’s your favorite thing in the whole world?”

He shook his head… “Nothing”.

His mother then said, “He likes X-men.”

“Which X-men do you like Jack?” I asked.

At that moment Jack underwent a “state change”. He shifted his focus from crying and feeling bad to enjoyment. I immediately saw the difference in his face. He lifted his chin and started to imagine…

“I like the guy with the claws!”

“You mean Wolverine?”


“Can you show me how Wolverine does his punches with his claws?”

Jack jumped up and started punching the air and making noises.

“Wow – that’s cool. Give me five Wolverine!”

Jack gave me a high five.

His mood had literally changed from negative to positive within 60 seconds. From sobbing to running towards the tatami for class.

The process I just described is a very powerful method for changing the mood of others, and subsequently their results. (You can do this for yourself too.)

World famous success coach, Anthony Robbins uses this method to change the lives of hundreds of thousands of people – and you can use it to for your students and yourself.

In plain and simple form, here are the basic steps.

1) When a student is feeling low, refocus their attention to something they absolutely love. It must be something they are passionate about, or you won’t get the results.

2) Ask them questions about whatever it is that makes them happy. Ask them to imagine that they are living that experience, or being that person. You’ll see the difference immediately in their posture and emotions.

3) Link this to their current situation. This creates a new “neuro-association” and changes their thoughts permanently. For example, I asked Jack to show me how Wolverine does his karate punches. This created a new neuro-association with karate – one of fun and enjoyment, instead of “karate is boring”.

Try it out and let me know what happens…

To your success!

– Jason