While returning to school is an exciting time for many, some students — including those diagnosed with ADHD — face unique challenges that make it more difficult to succeed in the classroom environment. Karina Kazaryan, a California-based licensed marriage and family therapist, explained that young people and adults with ADHD often have sensory processing difficulties as a result of inadequate dopamine activity in their brains. Because of this, folks with ADHD can become overwhelmed during tasks and routines that other people may complete without challenge.
“Working with adults with ADHD, I have realized that during their early life they were reputedly told that they [were] always doing something wrong,” Kazaryan wrote over email. This constant negative feedback can impact the self-esteem of adolescents with ADHD, she explained, contributing to the development of anxiety and depression later in their lives.
Of course, most parents and teachers would never want to consciously affect young people’s confidence in this way. So what should those with loved ones or students with ADHD keep in mind? “My suggestions to teachers and parents are to identify at least one positive thing about the child once a day to help them feel good about themselves,” said Kazaryan. “Identify their sensory overload triggers, repeat the commands gently, have them repeat the commands themselves, [and] praise them for following through even if takes some time.”
Sipan Nazaryan, an associate family and marriage therapist at the Avedian Counseling Center in Los Angeles, also noted the importance of communication with teachers. “It can be helpful to communicate with your child’s teachers about their ADHD and any accommodations they may need in the classroom,” Nazaryan wrote over email. This way, parents can benefit from different perspectives of their child in different contexts, which will help children feel and be better supported.
Certain tools can also help students with ADHD regulate sensory overload in the classroom and during coursework. Read on for some of our sources’ recommendations.
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Squishy sensory fidget balls
Associate family and marriage therapist Sipan Nazaryan and Niari Markarian, Nazaryan's colleague at the Avedian Counseling Center
who is a therapist trainee with a master's degree in clinical psychology and is awaiting her licensing, both recommended stress balls to help students with ADHD cope with sensory overload. Stress balls "[allow] students to release their excess energy on the products rather than disrupting the classroom environment," Markarian wrote over email.
These are not the stress balls of your childhood, however: These quality squishy fidget balls that we found on Amazon contain water balls for an extra satisfying sensory squeeze and are made with a thick rubber outer layer to ensure durability during squishing, stretching and squeezing. They come in a pack of 12, so you'll have enough to share with your kid's friends and classmates.
Some textured sensory strips
Karina Kazaryan, a California-based licensed marriage and family therapist, suggested tactile fidget strips for helping soothe overwhelming emotions and sensory overload in kids with ADHD. (Reviewers also vouch
that these are gamechangers for students who struggle with attention and focus in the classroom.) These strips that we found on Amazon provide a tactile outlet for anxiety, and their handy adhesive allows them to be used subtly — you can just stick them on a phone case, notebook, laptop case, ID badge and more for easy access. They're available in 11 styles, including animal
, and watercolor
Noise-canceling headphones "can help students with ADHD to focus better in the classroom by blocking out distracting noises as well as playing brown noise or white noise," Nazaryan wrote. This model we found on Amazon was designed specifically for kids. It promises to be durable enough to withstand a child's activities and is adjustable so they can find the best fit. Reviewers vouch
for the quality of these headphones and note that they actually did help
their child calm down. (You might want to check in with your child's teacher in advance of sending them to the classroom.)
They are available in 10 colors; for high quality adult noise canceling headphones
, we recommend this highly-rated version
Squishy spiky rollers
Kazaryan also recommended spiky rollers for kids with ADHD. These sensory spiky rollers, which we selected from Amazon, are a compact, discreet option for sensory regulation that kids can quietly fidget with in their pocket or underneath their desks. The spiky texture helps provides tactical stimulation without any kind of pain. They're free from BPA, phthalates and latex, and come in a pack of four.
A physical planner
Utilizing a physical planner or to-do list can help children with ADHD form a clear, achievable plan of action for their assignments and goals, Markarian wrote.
We like this planner that we found on Amazon for helping kids stay organized and on top of tasks. It also comes with a sticker sheet to help draw visual attention to due dates and tests. It's designed for middle and high schoolers, though advanced elementary schoolers could benefit from it, too. It's available in two sizes.
I also love this dreamy weekly planner
from Hmong-owned small business Unicorn Eclipse
. I use it for myself and the sky aesthetic helps my tasks feel much less daunting; it'd be a great option for young people wanting to stay organized in a lighthearted style.
A push–pop fidget toy
Push–pop fidget toys are also suitable for young people with ADHD, according to Kazaryan. This version that we found is designed with both kids and adults in mind; to use it, press on the toy's "bubbles." It will produce a slight "popping" sensation you can feel and hear. I use these myself sometimes to help stay focused or quell anxiety. These come individually, with 12 options ranging from the rainbow square
and green octagon
pictured here to a rainbow astronout
and an ice cream
style. They're also available in various multipacks.
In addition, Kazaryan recommended twist fidgets. Kids can twist, turn and squeeze these sensory toys to help with overstimulation and stress. This version we chose from Amazon was actually developed as an alternative for ever-popular but sometimes disruptive fidget spinners.
They're available as a pack of six multicolored twists.
A sparkly gel lap pad
Kazaryan suggested gel lap pads for helping soothe young folks with ADHD. This version we found at Walmart weighs 7 pounds; the slight weight is meant to provide the kind of deep pressure that can help people feel more calm and grounded, as well as help with attention span and concentration. The pad is made with a non-toxic, water-based blue gel with sensory sparkles. Kids can make use of the lap pad while sitting in the classroom or at home.
A visual timer
Timers can help students with ADHD manage their time more effectively and stay on task, Nazaryan wrote. He noted that timers are especially helpful for the Pomodoro time management technique
, which involves separating tasks into 25-minute intervals punctuated by short breaks. "This technique can be useful...[for] helping to maintain focus and avoid burnout," said Nazaryan.
We like this Pomodoro timer that we found on Amazon and which I personally use for myself. It gives a helpful visual representation of time and is intuitively easy to use. It comes in 14 colors and requires two AA batteries
that are not included.