Practical Strategies for Teaching Students with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in General Physical Education Classrooms

By Mulrine, Christopher F.; Flores-Marti, Ismael | Strategies: A Journal for Physical and Sport Educators, January-February 2014 | Go to article overview

Practical Strategies for Teaching Students with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in General Physical Education Classrooms


Mulrine, Christopher F., Flores-Marti, Ismael, Strategies: A Journal for Physical and Sport Educators


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DUE TO FEDERAL MANDATES, physical educators are now being asked to teach a wide range of students spanning the entirety of the learning continuum in their classes. These mandates support and encourage students with disabilities to learn and grow in inclusive settings along with their general education peers (Harvey, Yssel, Bauserman, & Merbler, 2010). Students diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in particular, who are inattentive or have trouble following directions, can pose a challenge to physical educators; but there are strategies that physical educators can use to help these students reach their full potential.

What Is Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is diagnosed when an individual has chronic and serious inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and/or impulsivity that are present in multiple settings and give rise to social difficulties (Hallahan, Kauffman, & Pullen, 2012). It is a pervasive pattern of inattention (trouble paying attention to details, difficulty sustaining attention, problems with organization, distractibility), hyperactivity (fidgeting, leaving seat at inappropriate times, talking excessively), and impulsivity (problems waiting for one's turn, interrupting). Students with ADHD can be diagnosed as the predominantly inattentive type, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type, or combined type. Between 3% and 7% of the school-age population has been diagnosed with ADHD, and it is identified more frequently in boys than in girls. The cause of ADHD is unknown, but recent research shows a strong genetic or biological link. Research suggests the presence of neurological dysfunction in several areas of the brain that may affect cognitive functioning, found in such areas as the prefrontal lobes (executive control functions), basal ganglia (coordination and control of motor behavior), cerebellum (also for coordination and motor behavior), and the corpus callosum (communication between brain hemispheres; Hallahan et al., 2012). Researchers state that problems with neurological dysfunction can be observed in the classroom through diminished self-regulation and/or executive control abilities, such as the inability to wait for one's turn, to refrain from interrupting conversations, to follow rules and instructions, and to control emotions and impulsive responses.

Benefits of Exercise for Students with ADHD

Physical education teachers should be aware of the effect of exercise, substantiated by research, on classroom learning for students with ADHD. According to Bruen (2012), engaging in physical activity requires concentration and paying attention to one's bodily movements. Sports such as martial arts, ballet, yoga, dance, or any physical activity that requires deep concentration, memorization, and sequencing of behaviors can help a person with ADHD focus their attention. For example, when teaching dance, the teacher must be aware of certain modifications for students with disabilities, such as using a slower beat, which is easier to follow than a faster beat, and teaching movements that are repetitive and easy to memorize, like four claps followed by four raises of the knees.

Exercise helps students to cope more effectively with stress, have a more positive identity, and have clearer thought and improved memory (Akande, VanWyk, & Osagie, 2000). Exercise can increase mental performance in the parts of the brain involved in memory, attention, spatial perception, language, and emotion (Olsen, 1994), and there are indications that movement can strengthen learning and memory, as well as boost motivation and morale (Jensen, 2005). Other evidence indicates that exercise activities used throughout the day can help improve academic performance and can reduce disruptive classroom and social behavior problems (Barldey, 2004). Teachers should provide physical activity opportunities during the day to help students focus better and stay on-task for longer periods of time. …

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