Students with attention-deficit disorder face unique challenges. Here, education expert Barbara Dianis offers ideas for how tech tools can help better support to these students.

My son was in the third grade when he was diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder (ADD). His teacher, during a parent conference, told me that though my son was bright and creative, he often drifted in class, struggled to retain information and had difficulty completing assignments on time, on his own. She gently suggested I have him tested for ADD. A trip to his pediatrician a week later confirmed she was right.

Fast forward 14 years. That same child is now in the home stretch of his senior year at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He whipped most of the challenges he faced as a student with ADD. He is punctual, self-directed and can focus for sustained periods of time.

And we owe much of his success to technology. Phone apps helped him learn and master time management skills. He attended high school online and was highly successful. The environment suited his learning style and he developed effective study skills.

My son’s story raises the question: How can students with students with ADD and ADHD benefit from tech tools? Many, like my son, are highly intelligent, creative and capable but the daily struggles of managing their disorder interfere with their academic achievement—and take a toll on their self confidence. I spoke with Barbara Dianis, education expert and author of Grade Transformer for the Modern Student to get her take on how devices and apps can help students with ADD and ADHD succeed in the classroom and life.

What challenges do students with ADD and ADHD face in the classroom?

The ability to focus and to sit quietly at a desk is often associated with a student’s level of academic success. For students with ADD and ADHD, however, these are near impossible tasks. Listening to directions, retaining information and completing assignments are daunting experiences for them, as their minds wander and they attempt to take in everything going on around them. It’s common for them to absorb only a fraction of the information from their daily lessons.

How can digital tools help better support them?

Devices and apps, used properly, can help combat issues with focus and help these students stay engaged in their work. For instance, interactive whiteboards provide visual stimuli – such as the use of color to help highlight key ideas – that help these students attend for longer periods of time.

Younger students can benefit from tools that teach fundamental skills. Digital apps that have received high ratings include Starfall, Cool Math, ABC Mouse, Brain Pop and Fun Brain.

Older students can benefit from apps that support study skills. Some good ones include The Chemical Touch, World Atlas, Graphing Calculator and AccelaStudy for foreign language study. Gantt Charts for mapping out assignments can help students organize, sequence and plan homework assignments as well as create visual learning review guides for test preparation.

What should parents and educators watch for when giving children with ADD and ADHD a device or an app?

Digital tools can help students stay on task, improve focus, remind them to turn in their work and create a higher level of productivity.

Monitor students to ensure they aren’t just appearing focused but are truly concentrating and learning from the app or device. There is always the chance that students are using their devices for non-learning related activities. Students’ grades should improve but if the opposite occurs, be prepared to make adjustments to their technology use.

Also, be sure the technology does not become a crutch. Students still need to take instructions from teachers, connect with their lessons and perform academic skills using the traditional paper-and-pencil method. If students can only accurately perform educational skills using a device then the transference of knowledge from the technological device or app may not be present.

Students with ADD and ADHD commonly struggle with time management. How can tech tools help them manage these issues?

Electronic timers and alarms can help students stay on task and pace themselves through their work.

Easy As This Concentration is a timer that helps students determine how much time they’re spending in focused versus unfocused activity. Students play games to help them improve concentration and time on task.

Attention Control aims to help improve concentration through brain-focusing training. The app, created by neuroscientists and psychologists, is designed to help teach students how to block out distractions and concentrate for sustained periods of time.

Studious can help older students with scheduling. Younger students can use Choiceworks. This app is designed to teach young learners how to make schedules. It includes templates students can use to make visual schedules.

Kanoe Namahoe is the editor for SmartBrief on EdTech and SmartBrief on Workforce.

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