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ADHD Voice - Learn What It Is & The Practical Benefits for Students

What is ADHD Voice?

Student voice refers to a collection of practices and techniques used to elicit students’ perceptions and experiences of educational structures and practices (Thomas, 2011). ADHD voice is student voice activities involving students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Why use ADHD Voice?

Policy and Legislation

According to international (UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989) and national (National Children’s Strategy, 2001) policy, and Irish legislation (Children's Bill, 2012) insist that student voices should not only be heard but also listened to.


Practical Benefits of ADHD Voice

There are numerous benefits for students, teachers and schools:

  • Students are often the best experts in their own needs, and can contribute to an understanding of what works and does not work in practice.
  • Student engagement - When students are engaged they invest in their education and take ownership of their learning, which leads to academic improvements.
  • Feelings of empowerment, belonging and purpose increase students’ motivation, confidence, self-esteem and resilience, which has positive effects on behaviour.
  • Improving behaviour - Despite their exclusion from such practices, students with ADHD can contribute to greater understanding, positive resolutions and prevention of the problems which contribute to challenging behaviour.
  • Improved teacher-student relationships and the development of positive mutually supportive cultures and classrooms.
  • Improving schools and teaching practices – consultation with students can lead to methods tailored to fit the needs and preference of students and teachers.  Students can be involved in evaluating their own learning and teaching methods.
  • Saves time, energy and money in education – student voice is a simple and highly effective method for student, teacher and school improvement.  It can be used as an intervention for a range of problems, or as an educational technique. 
  • Listening to and respecting students’ opinions may buffer against other negative social interactions (e.g., family conflict or social stigma).
  • Personal development (e.g., communication, social and leadership skills).


(Bragg, 2007, 2010; Cefi & Cooper, 2010; Cooper, 1993; Field & Bragg, 2003; Kirby, 2004; Rudduck & Flutter, 2004; Shaw, Brady, & Davey, 2011)


ADHD VOICE - Techniques and Tools

The degree to which students are involved ranges from being allowed to express their opinions and being consulted about issues which affect them, towards greater participation and partnership, where students are involved in decision-making and have influence in school planning and procedures.  However, it is important to remember that students have a variety of informal techniques to express their voice, such as, disaffection and challenging behaviour.

Here are some ideas about how you can incorporate formal and mutually beneficial student voice:

  • Peer-support and mentoring relationships.
  • Student council.
  • Suggestion boxes / Graffiti wall.
  • Structured debates on important issues.
  • Drawing and other creative activities (e.g., school plays) provide an avenue for students to express their views and experiences.
  • Drama, storytelling and role-play provide a non-intrusive safe space to discuss problems, and get students to get creative in finding solutions.
  • Student press / newsletter.
  • Cyber-consultation - blogs, social networking site, discussion forums, texting, etc. can be used to gather views, provide support, disseminate information, collectively problem-solve and make decisions.
  • Involving students in the planning and/or evaluating of teaching and learning practices.
  • Advocacy education - students trained to advocate for their own needs or those of other people / community.


Tips for Teachers and Schools:

There are many ways to engage student voice.  However, there are also tokenistic practices masquerading as student voice initiatives.  

Here are some of the vital characteristics to engaging meaningfully with students:

  • Culture of respect and acceptance – sometimes the most important way to engage a student is to listen to them, and respect their point of view. 
  • Honest communication. 
  • Relationship building – engaging students is a process worth investing in.  Sometimes, life experiences and beliefs prevent student voice.  Whereas, with other students it may take time, learning to trust teachers and re-engage with their education.
  • Power sharing – this can often be a challenge for teachers, especially when the student has problems with boundaries or challenges authority.  However, in order to successfully engage students it is important that they feel a sense of ownership and responsibility. Teachers are often surprised when the more students with ADHD are given choice, control, challenge and opportunities their engagement in school increases; this in turn has positive impact on student-teacher relationships, academic achievement, well-being and behaviour. 
  • Meaningful involvement - students should be provided with meaningful opportunities to be involved in decision-making on matters affecting them (e.g., discipline procedures).  
  • Consider the “acoustics” of the school – student voice initiatives often prioritises the voices of students within the majority, especially those who are articulate and demonstrate leadership characteristics.  However, it is important to also engage the voices of minorities, especially those who are marginalized and disengaged.
  • Structure and expectations - Define the aim, scope, boundaries, rules and responsibilities beforehand. What are students to be consulted about? How are students consulted? Are the issues of concern to the student? What happens to their opinions? 



Listening to ADHD Voice in Irish Schools

These recommendations are based on preliminary findings from Ph.D. research in Trinity College Dublin, which investigated the perceptions and experiences of stress and coping in fifteen students (7 females) aged 7 to 18 years old.  Their parents and teachers were also consulted, in order to provide insights into the challenges of ADHD, in addition to identifying what works in practice.

Student’s suggestions for strategies:

Students with ADHD are often under estimated. They were found to be able to report on their own difficulties, and reflect on what they found helpful, and what would help them more. 

  • Give them “fidgets” - these are objects to fiddle / play with during class, which do not distract others (e.g., blue-tack or doodling).
  • Reduce stimulation - Students report feeling frustrated and overwhelmed with too much stimulation (e.g., people, noise, etc.). So, providing a calm environment, or time / space to get away and calm down is helpful. Try to have only one person speak to them at a time.
  • Provide Structure - Do not give them a lot of information at a time (e.g., multiple instructions). Break complex task, activities, or projects into more manageable pieces. Try not to make “sweeping statements” as they may have difficulty interpreting; instead give explicit and simple step-by-step instructions. You can also provide assistance grouping ideas or give them a template.
  • Be Flexible - Realize they will have “bad days”, and try to understand that they will forget things and be late. Think about the behaviour that is really important, and try to ignore smaller less important issues (e.g., uniform).
  • Consider Reprimands - This does not mean that the student does not receive sanctions / consequences. Impulsivity can cause students to act before they think. They report being aware that they are wrong and that they did not follow the rules. So, provide consequences without “making a big deal” out of it.
  • Be positive – not only does theory, research evidence and best-practice advocate the need to provide students with positive reinforcement; students also report its importance.  Students with ADHD often receive a lot of negative feedback, so it is important to provide encouragement, notice their achievements and believe in their ability.


For more information on ADHD voice in Irish schools contact Kate Carr-Fanning: