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Attention Disorders: Interventions for Adolescents

by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare

Center for Learning and Attention Disorders

Portsmouth, New Hampshire

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Skip directly to the area of difficulty:

Organization | Planning | Remembering | Following Directions | Written Production | Problems With Test-Taking | Social Skills | Cognitive Style

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Areas of Difficulty

Possible Interventions


Doesn’t do homework Homework Survival Guide (Communiqu?, June 1994)
  Incentive system
  Supervised study hall
  Alternative homework assignments
  Self-designed homework
  After school homework sessions in school
Loses homework/possessions? Daily check-ins (home/school) – monitoring system
  Organizational aids (checklists/reminders/routines)
  Targeted incentive system
Doesn’t come to class prepared Case manager or other monitoring system
  Spare materials in classes students can borrow/rent
  Targeted incentive system
Disorganized notebooks Monitoring system (e.g., daily notebook check)
  Don’t penalize (e.g., grading modifications)
Messy work? Computer access
  Specify clear criteria – have student redo if work doesn’t meet criteria
  Incentive system
  Modify expectations


Prioritizing Students with attention disorders need assistance in these areas and cannot be expected to perform these skills without adequate instruction and practice. This could occur in planning periods built into the student’s day. Instruction may follow a sequence such as: 1) define skill to be learned; 2) model skill; 3) have student engage in verbal rehearsal; 4) guided practice; 5) independent practice with follow-up. A second option is the use of a coach (described in Hallowell & Ratey, Driven to Distraction).
Breaking tasks down
Setting goals
Planning steps
Time management


Handing in assignments Case manager to monitor
  Home/school daily check-in
  Incentive system
Knowing when things are due Case manager to monitor
  Home/school daily check-in
  Incentive system
Bringing materials to/from school Case manager to monitor
  Home/school daily check-in
  Incentive system
Math facts/other rote memory tasks Memory aids
  Allow use of calculators
  Reduce demands/expectations
Sequence of steps to follow (e.g. math) Construct personalized instructional manual with templates, directions, examples of problems, models, etc.

Following Directions

Verbal Provide study partner
  Repeat directions individually
Written Check-in with student/clarify as necessary
  Highlight directions for student/have student highlight

Written Production

Poor fine motor skills/motor impersistence Allow to dictate written responses
  Allow the use of tape recorders
  Access to computers for writing assignments
  Reduce writing requirements
Discrepancy between thinking/writing speed Access to computers/recorders
  Opportunity to respond orally
Difficulty organizing thoughts Assistance with prewriting activities (e.g., brainstorming, mind mapping, outlining)
  Writing ideas on post-its, rearranging to outline
Problems with initiation/word retrieval Brainstorming vocabulary, key concepts
  Helping getting started
  Close-ended writing tasks
Proofreading problems Use spellcheck
  Have another student/adult proofread
  Use proofreading checklist to cue for specific errors

Problems with Test-Taking

Careless mistakes Allow test re-takes
  Supervise checking work
Can’t finish within time limits Allow extra time
  Break testing into several sessions
Writing problems Oral exams
  Short answer/multiple choice vs. essay
  Reduce demands/allow extra time
Distracted during testing Let student take test in quiet room
Anxiety Teach test-taking strategies
  Teach relaxation strategies
  Let student take test away from other students
Difficulties with retrieval Multiple choice tests
  Open book tests
  Provide sample items/templates
  Cues to aid retrieval during test
  Teach test-taking strategies

Social Skills

Impulsive Consider the following for all social skills problems:

Incentive systems

Disruptive Negotiated behavior contract
  Match student with teacher
Apathetic High rate of personalized positive feedback
  Alternative curriculum
Discouraged Credit for out-of-school learning
  Work-study programs
Depressed Hands-on learning

Cognitive Style

Fast and sloppy Assign shorter tasks with criterion for accuracy
  Teach self-evaluation/goal-setting re accuracy or quantity
Problems with initiation? Assign close-ended tasks
  Provide templates
  Help student get started (e.g., walk through 1st few items/brainstorm ideas, etc.)
  Assign study partner
  Use cooperative learning
  Assign shorter task/break tasks down
  Obtain verbal commitments (e.g., re start times)
Low frustration tolerance Modify assignments
  Ensure high rate of success
  Frequent reinforcement
  Provide individual help
  Self-designed assignments (brainstorm ideas)
Processing speed/simultaneous processing problems (e.g., can’t listen and take notes)? Provide individual help
  Tape lectures
  Provide note-takers or access to teacher notes
  Present material in organized, sequential fashion
  Reduce assignments/allow extra time
Craves novelty/hates repetition Avoid lecture style classes
  Avoid classes with heavy rote learning or worksheet requirements
  Use cooperative learning
  Use hands on learning/discussion format
  Self-designed assignments
  Individualized work contracts
  Assign to high energy teachers
  Avoid needless repetition
  Build in breaks/opportunities to move around
  Vary formats within/across class periods


Barkley, R. (1990). Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder: A handbook for diagnosis and treatment. ?New York: Guilford Press.

Dawson, P. (1994, June). Homework survival guide. Communiqu?, 22 (8). (National Association of School Psychologists.)

DuPaul, G., & Stoner, G. (1994). ADHD in the schools: Assessment and intervention strategies.

New York: Guilford Press.

Gordon, M. (1993). I would if I could: A teenager’s guide to ADHD/Hyperactivity. GSI Publications.

Gordon, S. , & Asher, M. (1994). Meeting the ADD challenge: A practical guide for teachers.

New York: Research Press.

Hallowell, E., & Ratey, J. (1994). Driven to distraction. New York: Pantheon Books.

Hallowell, E., & Ratey, J. (1995). Answers to distraction. New York: Pantheon Books.

Nadeau, K., Dixon, E., & Biggs, S. (1993). School strategies for ADD teens. Chesapeake Psychological Publications.

? 1998 National Association of School Psychologists, 4340 East West Highway, Suite 402, Bethesda MD 20814 phone 301-657-0270.

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