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special needs

Module 5

Learning with ADHD

Today, our exploration of special needs takes us to our final stop - Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). 


As with ASD, ADHD affects each child differently. One child may appear to bounce off walls, another is often daydreaming, while yet another struggles to follow instructions. These signs stem from neurological deficits. The child with ADHD is not being “naughty” or “disobedient”.


Lucas has a 7-year-old friend named Emily, who has ADHD.


Emily has to adjust to Home-Based Learning as a result of the pandemic. She’s also unable to spend as much time outdoors playing as she would like. It has not been easy for her and her parents.25

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How can adults better support Emily to learn?

Organise, organise, organise.

Emily has trouble following instructions. She may learn better if adults help her to get organised - using lists, colour-coding, graphics, mind maps.

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Keep it short and take movement breaks.

All young children need help to develop their capacity to concentrate. Kids with ADHD need additional support. It also takes longer for them to refocus once they get distracted. 


Set up their learning space in a way that minimises distractions. For example, seat the child away from doors and windows. Keep pets in a separate space. Break assignments into smaller chunks. Use time keeping devices, like an hourglass, to signal how long a task will last. Schedule regular breaks for the child to move around.

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Play memory games.

Kids with ADHD don’t always have a very strong working memory, also known as short term memory. One way we can improve our working memory is by doing brain exercises and puzzles such as Sudoko, “Where’s Wally?” or “Spot the Difference”. You can also come up with creative memory games that interest your child.


For example, Emily loves dogs. She also likes the colour red. Her parents tap on those interests to help develop her memory.

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Eat more "brain food".

The brain is responsible for much of our focus and concentration, so we need to make sure that it gets the right food. Studies have found that eating breakfast may improve short-term memory and attention. “Brain-fuel” foods include high-fibre whole grains, dairy, and fruits. Another important food is fish. This is rich in omega-3 fatty acids that are key for brain health. In addition, foods such as dark chocolate have powerful antioxidant properties, and it contains natural stimulants like caffeine, which can enhance focus.

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We have come to the end of this exploratory journey on understanding special needs, but the truth is that this is a complex area of study. Not all of us can become experts in this area, but each of us can play a role in making Singapore a more inclusive and caring society. 


We may know someone who has a child with special needs. Or our children may have a classmate with special needs. You may cross paths with them at the mall, or on public transport. Slow down to observe, and consider that behaviours you find odd may stem from a special needs condition. A little kindness and understanding goes a long way.

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