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Environmental Modifications That Make a Difference

Structuring your child's environment can help him be successful. Try these ideas to make your home ADHD-friendly.

Provide as much structure and predictability in the home as possible. Establish some rules, routines, and schedules to help life run smoother.

Plan with your child a routine/schedule (e.g., for getting ready for school in the morning, homework, mealtime, bedtime).

Your child needs to know what is viewed as acceptable and unacceptable behavior at home, and the consequences (positive and negative) for both.

Help your child to organize his room for ease in locating, using, and cleaning up his or her belongings, and for creating a sense of order.

Provide your child with her own space for doing homework and studying (that will be removed from noisy siblings, and other constant distractions and interference).

Design your child's work space with easy access to necessary supplies and materials.

Provide well-labeled storage bins, containers, shelving, drawers, and trays.

Provide sufficient, uncluttered desktop space and storage space.

Provide a work space that is well-lit and ventilated.

Use color strategically to organize.

Post calendars and use master schedules. Write each family member's name and activities in different colors.

Minimize distractions that will interfere with your child's ability to focus and do his homework.

If your child has her own TV, restrict its use during homework hours or remove it from the room.

Try turning the family TV off in the house during homework hours.

If your child has his own phone in the room, you may need to restrict its use during homework hours. Consider an answering machine for teens.

Keep in mind that children with ADHD need their own space, and as much space as possible.

Experiment with playing a variety of music in the home. Different kinds of music can increase productivity, and stimulate our ability to think and be creative. Other kinds of music are calming, relaxing, and healing. Consider purchasing instrumental cassettes/CDs including environmental sounds (e.g., ocean sounds, rain forest), classical, jazz, etc. There is some research demonstrating the effectiveness of music with ADHD children that has 60 beats per minute (such as instrumental compositions by Gary Lamb). See Relaxation, Guided Imagery, and Visualization Techniques.

Realize that we all have our own learning styles and preferences. Some of us don't like to work at a desk/chair, and are more comfortable and productive sitting on the carpet or propped up against a backrest -- writing with paper attached to a clipboard or on a laptop desk.

Design informal areas for study and relaxation in the house. Consider big cushions, beanbag chairs, and low tables (with chairs like stadium seats).

We all need a time/place for quiet. Children with ADHD particularly need to be able to have a "quiet area" to be able to go and regroup and calm down. Try to establish some room/space in the home with quiet colors, perhaps placing an aquarium (to quietly watch the fish), and equipped with relaxing music (and earphones). Any member of the family should be able to "escape" to that quiet room when needed.

Some children are too distracted in their room to do homework there, or don't work productively when isolated. Allow your child to do his or her homework in another area of the house (e.g., dining room, den) where parent(s) are in the vicinity.

If your child shares a room with a sibling, consider allowing your ADHD child to do his or her homework in your room (perhaps on a card table).

If your child tends to be accident-prone or destructive, buy with this in mind, and place furniture and items strategically.

Consider covering a desk/table top with butcher paper for doodling/drawing.

If possible, design an area of the house -- such as the basement -- with furniture (or lack of), where rambunctious behavior is tolerated.

Many children with ADHD are skilled at and love to construct, build things/take them apart, do arts and crafts, and other hands-on activities. These activities should be encouraged, although they can be messy. Supply the necessary materials, tools, and storage containers.

Many working parents with late schedules restrict their children to the house after school (as it is unsafe to let them play outside unsupervised). Children with ADHD particularly need to be able to release their energy with vigorous activity (i.e., playing outside, riding bikes, participating in organized sports). Explore ways for your child to have this opportunity, such as after-school programs at a recreation center.

Excerpted from The ADD/ADHD Checklist by Sandra Rief, M.A.

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