Gold Medal Methods to Manage ADHD Symptoms

Hyper-active, never stops talking, has a ton of energy, inability to sit still, talks excessively, nudging other kids…these were words used to describe Michael Phelps’ behavior, an Olympic gold-medalist swimmer, during his preschool and elementary school years. Perhaps he was bored in school? Maybe he was just an immature boy?

At the age of nine, when his symptoms continued to impact his academic performance, Michael’s mom consulted a doctor who diagnosed him with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). According to the definition provided by the National Institute of Mental Health, ADHD is a brain disorder involving a constant pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development.

Upon diagnosis of ADHD, Michael was prescribed stimulant medication, which successfully helped him slow down and focus on his academic tasks. However, around the age of 12, Michael began feeling stigmatized by having to visit the nurse’s office for his daily medication. After careful consideration, his doctor agreed to allow Michael to go off his medication with the understanding that he would need alternative ways to manage his ADHD symptoms.

Outlined below are four methods that were used to help Michael successfully manage his ADHD symptoms, along with related suggestions to accommodate students with ADHD in your classroom.

Physical Activity

Even at a young age, Michael excelled with sports including: baseball, lacrosse, soccer and, of course, swimming. “Being able to get in the water, I felt more relaxed,” Phelps says. “The more time I spent in the pool, the more relaxed I found myself. It was something that was exciting and challenging, so I decided to stick with it.”

In your classroom, promote physical activity by incorporating “movement breaks” throughout the day. This could be as simple as standing up to stretch, striking a fun yoga pose, or taking a quick lap around the school. Another idea is to throw a “one song dance party” at least once per week. I have found this to be a great way to re-energize and refocus everyone involved. Students can make song requests for upcoming dance parties and they can invite special guests, such as the principal, to join in on the fun.

Consistent Schedule

Michael’s mom, Deb, saw the value and benefits of keeping Michael on a consistent, structured schedule, which consisted primarily of: schoolwork, nutritious meals (low sugar), and swim practice to keep him focused. Michael never missed a day of swim practice; you could even find him in the pool swimming laps first thing in the morning on Christmas Day.

Help keep your students focused by posting a consistent, structured daily schedule or agenda on your classroom wall. Students thrive when they know what to expect throughout the day. When there is an inevitable schedule change, inform students in advance any changes. During independent work time or other less-structured parts of the day, consider using a timer to encourage students to work on a given task until the timer goes off.

Interest-Based Learning

In an interview from additudemag.com, Deb Phelps explained how she applied her son’s interest in swimming to help him learn. She encouraged Michael to read the sports section of the newspaper and books about sports to motivate him to read. When Michael appeared uninterested in math, Deb had his math tutor modify word problems based on swimming (for example: How long would it take to swim 500 meters if you swim 3 meters per second?).

Find out what your students are interested in and tailor your lessons around their interests, whenever possible. Get to know your students by allowing a brief “share time” on a regular basis. For example, students might tell the class what they did over the weekend or they might share something they are looking forward to later that day. Through share time, teachers can learn so much valuable information about students that can be used to pique their interests which promotes learning.

Calming/Relaxation Strategies & Visuals

In the same interview, Deb Phelps recalls a time when Michael furiously ripped off his goggles and threw them on the ground after coming in 2nd place at a swim meet. After having a heart-to-heart talk about sportsmanship, Michael and his mom agreed to a visual hand signal (the form a ‘C’) which was a reminder for, ‘compose yourself’. Deb used the hand signal whenever she recognized that Michael was getting frustrated.

Students need to learn and practice calming/relaxation strategies before experiencing strong feelings or losing control. Some basic calming techniques include: deep breathing, slowly counting backwards from 10, using positive self-talk, requesting a walk to the drinking fountain or to the bathroom, drawing, reading a book, looking at a bubbler, listening to calming music, and squeezing a stress ball. Practice various techniques as a whole group on a regular basis (perhaps during your morning meeting time). Using visuals, post a menu of your students’ favorite relaxation techniques on the wall to refer to as needed (for example: a picture of a student listening to music). Visuals are an effective method for students with ADHD to regain control of their emotions and behaviors.

Our students with ADHD might not be gold medal Olympians, but they are champions in their own ways, with struggles that Michael Phelps can relate to. Research supports the positive impact in which one adult role model/mentor can have on a child’s life for determining future success. Michael’s mom, Deb, believed in her son and advocated to get the supports he needed. Michael acknowledged the important role his mom played in his life by presenting her with the flowers he received after winning his first Olympic gold medal in Athens. Who do your students have in their lives to guide and encourage them to victory? Perhaps you are that person.

Interested in learning more about ADHD, along with proven teaching strategies to help your students be more successful in the classroom? Register for our new course – ADHD: Teaching and Learning Strategies.

Sources:

  • http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20307161,00.html#michael-phelps-2
  • http://www.mensfitness.com/life/sports/mf-icon-michael-phelps-revealed#sthash.1Jp9NncQ.dpuf
  • http://www.additudemag.com/adhd/article/1998.html
  • http://www.everydayhealth.com/adhd/living-with-adhd/mylife/debbie_phelps/landing.aspx
  • http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd/index.shtml

Jill Rockwell