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Can Technology Help Students With ADHD – Or Just Add More Distraction?

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With the rising prevalence of ADD and ADHD, as well as other sensory processing and learning complications, it’s natural for educators to be concerned about students’ well-being.

As technology becomes more readily available both inside and outside the classroom, as a teaching tool and as a recreational one, it’s natural to worry about those students for whom concentration and retention aren’t a strong suit.

Many educators and parents are worried about how best to help their children succeed in the classroom. And with its many distractions, is technology more of a help or a hindrance?

There’s no easy answer, but the data points to technology as a help in the classroom for students with ADD, ADHD, and sensory processing problems. That is if used correctly. This article outlines the best ways to utilize both personal tech, and what’s available in class, to help vulnerable students reach their full potential.

ADHD Symptoms That Affect Students’ Performance

ADHD can have a devastating impact in the classroom, to even the brightest and most motivated student. Executive function troubles, such as compulsive procrastination and lack of personal care, are just the beginning. ADD and ADHD can also impact concentration, time management, and memory. That makes it difficult for a student to remember meetings, keep organized study notes, and retain information.

ADD and ADHD students also tend to experience test anxiety at a higher rate, making them more susceptible to poor academic performance, regardless of their study habits. Technology can help students who struggle with these symptoms do better in school, as well as handle the stress of college life better.

The Risks of Technology

The impact of video gaming, social media and smartphones can be negative, to any student who needs to focus and be productive. Especially with regards to individuals with ADD/ADHD it seems they are more vulnerable to addictive behavior using these applications. With this in mind, any excessive, mindless use should be avoided, and any signs of addiction should be identified as soon as possible. That said, however, there are ways in which using digital tools in the classroom can be beneficial.

Helpful Technology for ADHD

With all the software, equipment, and apps available for study aids, note-taking, and organization, it can sometimes be confusing to know the good from the bad. But listed here are just a few ideas for helping students utilize technology to improve their studies and overall college experience.

Timers

Using technology to set study timers and schedule tasks is a big help for people who struggle with executive functioning. This is more than procrastination. Students who experience executive dysfunction as a result of their ADHD/ADD may know the steps to get to where they need to be, in terms of scheduled class times or homework, but be physically or mentally incapable of taking them. Having a timer and scheduling in regular breaks can help you push through the difficulty and keep you motivated.

Scheduling tasks with an alarm is one more way to use timers to help stay focused. Assisting the students in inputting classroom schedules, advising hours, and other important deadlines can help them stay focused on upcoming tasks without the extra distractions.

Distraction-Free Apps

Speaking of distractions, so-called distraction-free apps can be a huge help for a student who can’t stop fidgeting or scrolling. These are apps that limit access to certain internet pages or mobile apps, like Facebook and Instagram. An example is “Anti-Social”, an app that blocks all social media networks but gives you access to the internet for research and study purposes. When a student has a writing task, they can use “FocusWriter”, which will block anything on the screen that is not related to writing.

Installing distraction-free apps on a phone, laptop, and tablet can help block out annoying social media and prevent mindless scrolling. That means they’ll be able to focus during class time and stay on task for projects and study periods.

It’s common for students who struggle with ADD/ADHD to have trouble switching from one task to another. That makes even a few minutes’ distraction difficult to manage. Investing in some good blocker apps and keeping them on both a laptop and tablet can help push past the temptation to check notifications, which can pull a student out of a studying mindset.

Syncing Laptops, Tablets, and Phones

Keeping a schedule is vital for students who struggle with concentration and memory issues. Apps for to-do lists and scheduling work wonderfully, as long as they stay updated. Syncing scheduling apps across all platforms can keep students on task. Having a designated study tablet may also be a good choice for a busy student. That way, it’s a single device to update, and everything else takes care of itself.

Encourage students to choose a cloud service to go with to-do list and calendar. Using cloud document services can help ensure a student is always prepared: All the work is right there in the cloud, easily accessible during class hours, study hours, and even on the commute. It means students struggling to remember everything they need to do in the morning won’t worry about having packed the right books, having access to the right notes, or keeping a backpack organized.

Use Apps To Create The Perfect Study Setting

Students with ADHD and ADD have a lot of trouble concentrating, owing to sensory and concentration issues. Some students use distraction-free apps, as previously mentioned. Others struggle to concentrate in quiet study environments. They tend to become hypersensitive to every small sound. This is also why students may struggle with test taking. Using the right apps can help students create a study environment that is more conducive to their work style.

There is a variety of options, and the effectiveness depends on the student and their specific circumstances. For instance, there’s “Headspace”, a guided meditation app to use before a project, to calm a busy mind. Another tool is “Brain.fm”, which provides an AI generated soundtrack to help stimulate parts of the brain that are optimal for learning. An alternative to this is “White Noise”, a sound app that gives restless listeners different types of white noise for relaxation and focus.

Mix Up Study Styles

Speaking of study styles, researchers have outlined many different learning styles. Tapping into the right style for individual students can improve grades and help students feel more comfortable about their classrooms and academic performance. Technology plays a huge role in allowing students to study at their own comfort level and pace. For students who struggle with note-taking, using an audio recording or the camera on their phone to avoid having to keep up with a lecture can make the difference. Keeping PDF versions of textbooks rather than physical copies isn’t just about saving money. It can also make keeping track of notes and pages easier.

Audiobooks and reading software make it easier for students who struggle with reading comprehension or retaining information visually. And there are plenty of flashcard-style study apps that use spaced-repetition methods to help with retention of information. Whichever way a student best learns, there’s an app, software, or hardware device to help.

Going beyond the use of several tools, educators could apply principles of video games to their teaching methods. The concept of “gamification” in the educational system could be highly effective to keep students motivated, especially when they are struggling with a learning disability.

Where to Start?

Technology is so ubiquitous; it’s no wonder it’s made its way into the classroom. Using technology can be an excellent way to get students engaged with learning, as well as get connected to each other and to their teachers and instructors.

The goal of applying it should always be clearly defined, and the effect accurately measured, in order to adjust teaching strategies when needed. There are many online resources available on teaching to these types of students. Here you can find a highly useful resource list to start with.

Some of the most vulnerable students are those who struggle with ADD or ADHD, which affects memory, retention, and concentration, among other things. But with the right technology, even a student with a diagnosis can excel in the classroom.

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