How to Support your Students through ADHD Paralysis
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is often associated with hyperactivity, moving at a fast pace, and being surrounded by a constant whirlwind of activity—resulting in an increase in productivity. This isn’t the case for most with an ADHD diagnosis.
In fact, it could mean quite the opposite–with so much going on in an ADHD brain, channeling the energy and focus needed to complete a task can be burdensome, and you end up feeling stuck.
This feeling is referred to as ADHD paralysis, many youth who have an ADHD diagnosis could go through this, and it is not only important to understand what it is; it is also important to understand how you can support your students through these moments to set them up for success, both inside and outside of the classroom.
How can I help?
Sometimes it can be difficult to identify triggers, especially when you are in an overwhelming situation, whether it be:
- Too much stimulation: ADHD Overstimulation
- Too many thoughts: Cognitive Overwhelm
- Too many feelings: Emotional Overwhelm
- Too many tasks: To-Do List Overwhelm
- Too much stuff: Clutter Overwhelm
- Too many logistics: Logistical Overwhelm
There are 4 steps you can implement to help students gain a sense of balance and manage overwhelming feelings.
- Notice the signs - Help your students identify those red flags. What are you feeling, both physically and emotionally? The sooner you can help identify when these feelings begin, the sooner you can implement steps to work through them.
- Basic needs - Check in on your students to be sure basic needs are taken care of. Do they need to step away? Did they eat? Did they sleep well? If not, get them a snack or an opportunity to sit outside for a moment to help with their overwhelm.
- Identify - Several situations can cause an overwhelming feeling, work towards identifying which was triggered, overstimulation? Too many logistics?
- Set up a plan - Now that you’ve identified the sense of overwhelm, work towards a plan for each one. This will help students work through their overwhelming emotions and overcome paralysis.
Let’s break away from big tasks.
Big tasks can be daunting, a way to address this is to reduce the size of the task. By breaking tasks into smaller pieces you help your students better identify where to start, and find ways to make the tasks interesting.
Here is a helpful 3 step strategy to follow:
- Break it down - Making larger tasks smaller does make for an easier start, breaking it down into more manageable chunks.
- Focus on only the next step - Prevents getting lost in details that aren’t relevant yet and leaves space for your student to focus on the step they’re on.
- Hide your big list - Break down the tasks, create a long list of steps, identify the steps you need to accomplish, and then place the rest of the list out of sight.
Reducing the size of the tasks can help your students set attainable goals, these actionable tasks encourage students to meet their goals while reducing the risk of anxiety and feeling overwhelmed.
Start limiting options.
Having too many options and logistics in place can be an immediate trigger for ADHD paralysis. One way to simplify the process of choosing is to limit the number of options you give to students. This will help with overthinking and provides your students with a route to a more clear-cut decision, this does not mean that you are setting your students up for mediocrity. Rather, you are leading them to focus their time and energy on the task at hand.
Create a plan to help keep your students on track– a goal-oriented timeline can help students visualize a clear way to get to the finish line. Help your students by having the tools and information they will need before getting started; this will encourage them to see that this task is achievable and that they have everything they need to accomplish it.
Our team is aware that ADHD is different for everyone, and decision-making may or may not be challenging for some—but being prepared and having the right tools in place to develop strategies that can help your students overcome ADHD paralysis in the classroom is essential.
Social Cipher strives to empower neurodivergent youth and professionals to grow, play, and learn toward social-emotional success and self-advocacy through our game series.
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