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Q: “Is It Fair to Ignore Inappropriate Behaviors from Students with ADHD?”

November 18, 2023

Q: “As a teacher, I sometimes struggle to ignore negative or inappropriate behaviors from students with ADHD. I worry about the fairness of ignoring these behaviors that other students would otherwise be called out on.”


The longer I’ve spent in this field, the more I’ve come to realize that the strongest educators are skilled at ignoring mildly inappropriate behaviors from students. This is a different tune from approaches of the past that emphasized, for example, trying to get students to face forward and not move a muscle while in class. Today, many teachers understand that as long as a student is learning and producing work, it’s okay if they have to stand or squirm around a bit during class.

As far as ignoring behaviors in some students, an educator put it to me this way: Fair doesn’t always mean equal.

[Get This Free Guide: Solving Classroom Behavior Problems]

The reality is that there will always be some students who are going to need more or different approaches to help them achieve the same goals that all students are being asked to achieve. This applies to students who struggle with behavioral challenges due to ADHD and/or other conditions that affect learning.

Children with ADHD are more likely than their neurotypical peers to be on the receiving end of commands, reprimands, criticisms, and negative comments because of ADHD-related behavioral challenges. These experiences add up, causing low self-esteem, academic underachievement, and other functional impairments. This is what makes a positive learning environment especially important for students with challenging behaviors. They need much more praise than probably all the other students in the class combined to counteract all the negatives that are dumped on them. These students don’t need further negativity, and that’s where planned ignoring comes in.

Keeping things positive for children with challenging behaviors — by focusing on the good and ignoring minor behaviors here and there, especially if the behaviors are attention-seeking — will help keep them motivated to continue to produce and succeed in the classroom.

Besides, if you maintain a positive environment for the entire classroom — liberally praising and encouraging all students — then every student is getting their fair share of positivity, which is what matters most.

Planned Ignoring for ADHD Behavior Problems: Next Steps

The content for this article was derived from the ADDitude ADHD Experts webinar titled, “ADHD Understanding and Services in School Settings: An Evolution in Education” [Video Replay & Podcast #461] with Gregory A. Fabiano, which was broadcast on June 28, 2023.


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