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Related to reduced executive function and working memory capacity, transitions are especially difficult for the ADHD student. What we call transitions are the times when attention has to shift from one focus to another. An assignment completed leads to another, a task ends and another activity begins, class starts, class ends, the list goes on and on. Life is full of transitions.

To the ADHD mind, a transition is an obstacle. Having devoted all one’s brain power to the job at hand, it suddenly has to switch off that job. Instead of smoothly switching gear to the next task or activity, the ADHD student’s mind is blank. Mentally, the child is still in the “groove” of the last activity.

The inability to shift easily into a new activity leads to frustration, which can directly result in distraction at best and misbehavior at worst. Distracted and with an empty mind waiting to be filled with whatever else comes along, except the task to be turned to, the child wanders off into another world and may take out frustrations on the next unfortunate classmate that happens to be near.

The technique that is usually most successful in helping the ADHD student with transitions is advance warning. The 5-minute rule is useful – giving 5 minutes advance notice that a transition is coming. In some children, 5 minutes isn’t enough – they may need 10 minutes warning, then a reminder at 5 minutes.

The effect of the 5-minute warning is that the ADHD child’s brain begins to shift its focus on the coming task. In effect, the transition is less of a transition or even eliminated. Mentally, the child is already disengaging from the first task and beginning to focus on the new task.

All this means the teacher needs to be quite organized in lesson planning and pacing. Not only does she need to plan the tasks to be accomplished to meet the lesson’s objectives, but timing and pacing is essential. It can make the difference between a smooth running class and one that degenerates into mayhem.

However, faced with ADHD students in the class, implementing a lesson schedule and pacing structure, with waypoints and providing advance warning for oncoming transitions can go a long way to help keep things under control and move students ahead in their goals.

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