Attention Disorders in the Studio

” It is important to not allow the ADHD to define the child by magnifying the disabilities and over looking the gifts”.

Kennedy et. Al., 2011

Jack is gifted with ADHD (Inattentive Presentation). He is one of many students with an attention disorder, all of which can present in different ways.

By understanding the presentations of ADHD (Hyperactive-Impulsive, Inattentive and Combined Presentations), along with the research undertaken in terms of effective accommodations, private music teachers are able to structure their lessons to create an optimal learning environment for gifted children with ADHD.

Depending on the presentation and degree of symptom, teachers may consider implementing one or more of the following:

“Teachers might state clear expectations and break complex learning into manageable tasks” (Abrano, 2015. Pereles et al., 2009). Specific and direct instruction assists a student with ADHD in following through on the instruction given by allowing them to focus solely on 1 item. Assigning the task ‘practice your pieces for homework’ lacks direct instruction as to specifically what the child should practice. Numbered tasks such “1. Work on the dynamics in bar two. 2. Block practice your rhythm in bars 5 and 6 ” etc. are clear in their requirement, providing specific instruction as to what is required. Practice charts also assist in providing clear expectations, keeping the student accountable and allow scope for effort reward.

 Click here for an example of a free, downloadable practice sheet.

Build rest breaks into activities to reduce over-activity and fatigue, as well as alternate academic tasks with brief physical exercise. Within a private music lesson, this requires monitoring the student closely to determine when a change in piece or musical concept is required. Activities such as rhythmic games with simple percussion instruments, or even body percussion, can provide the much needed movement the student requires. Gifted students can potentially become hyper-focused on a piece or concept, determined to delve deeper into it’s workings. Allowing the student to follow through with this requires flexibility on the teacher’s part.

Keep instructional steps to a minimum and provide steps in writing/pictures in order to refer back to. A study of 117 children, identified to have an IQ over 120 and a diagnosis of ADHD, demonstrated significant impairments in auditory verbal memory (Brown et. al, 2011c). Despite gifted intellect, children with ADHD simply cannot remember multiple instructions. Recognising and accommodating this challenge is is especially important for homework/practice direction. A simple note-taking book is useful for the student to recall what specifics items were set for practice. Students can be encouraged to highlight or tick-off each point as they work through it during the week.

Monitor and encourage the student to maintain focus on tasks (Jury, 2011). It is important to recognise when a student is beginning to lose focus. It may be a simple matter of drawing their attentive to the music by pointing out a concept or asking a question that involves a thoughtful response (as opposed to a yes/no answer).

Follow a predictable routine. Providing a predictable routine and clear structure is an important strategy for students with ADHD (Trail, 2011). Work with your student in order to collaborate on a workable routine for lessons. Write or type up the lesson routine and paste it into the front of the students workbook. This can be quickly referenced each lesson, thus providing predictability in structure. Individual students may wish to work around this structure or strictly adhere to ‘the plan’. Revisit the lesson structure in terms of review.

Encourage the student to set goals and make timelines (Hua, 2002). Work with the student to set short, medium and long term goals, taking into consideration what they would like to achieve from their music tuition. Collaborative timeline and goal ownership encourages the student to take ownership of their music learning, assisting in providing a positive reinforcement for seeing out their goals.

Modify the workload to avoid unnecessary repetition. By modifying both the amount and type of focus area during a lesson, private music teachers can assist their gifted students with ADHD with maintaining focus, concentration and thus progress. Careful attention to the repetition of an exercise can curb frustration and attention loss. Whilst it is certainly necessary to learn and establish correct technique in instrumental instruction, in a private music setting, teachers can monitor the necessary repetitions of an exercise which work in with the students’ high intellect, physical ability and ability to focus.

It is often better to move onto another varying task within the lesson than to risk loosing focus, or loosing the student altogether, as a result of unnecessary repetition.

Examinations: ADHD Accommodations  Accomodations for exams* can include:  (Crouse, 2013, ACARA, 2014, BOSTES, 2013)                                                                                                                     Music Theory exams:

  • Specifically defined rest breaks.
  • Being seated at the front of the examination room.
  • Specifically defined extra time.
  • Small group supervision.
  • Time to administer medication.

*Note: Examination accommodations are generally recommended by the students’ consulting medical professional, which is usually a developmental paediatrician or clinical psychologist. Teachers will need to contact their examination authority directly for detailed information as to the process by which recommended accommodations can be implemented within examinations.