ADHD meds shortages impact pupil learning. These charities are offering schools inclusive strategies to help

With Vicci Wells is Head of Sport at the Youth Sport Trust (YST), 

For the last three years, we at ASK Research Partners have been working with the Youth Sport Trust. As an organisation, they are committed to making physical activity and school sports inclusive for all children and young people. We have been evaluating their Inclusion 2024 project which focuses on including pupils with SEND by running inclusive events and providing high-quality training to school staff. We cannot wait to tell you all about that and the effects it has had very soon. 

But when we heard how YST were working with the ADHD Foundation, to help alleviate issues created by the shortage of ADHD medication, we thought it was something you might all be interested to know more about.

Vicci Wells, Head of Sport at YST is here to tell us more…

Helping schools to help children with ADHD thrive by Vicci Wells, Youth Sports Trust

The recent news about the worldwide shortage of ADHD medication left many parents, educators, and advocates concerned about the well-being of children and young people grappling with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Amid this global medication shortage affecting millions, the Youth Sport Trust, in collaboration with the ADHD Foundation, is stepping up to offer practical solutions for teachers. The partnership aims to navigate the challenges posed by ADHD through the lens of physical activity, shedding light on the importance of inclusive environments in schools.

As many of you will know, ADHD is a neurological condition affecting approximately 5% of the global population. It brings a unique set of strengths and challenges to those who live with the condition. While individuals with ADHD can be highly creative, energetic, motivated, and passionate, they may also grapple with attentional regulation, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. The ongoing shortage of ADHD medications has further heightened these challenges, with schools and families sharing that they are seeing increased impulsivity, inattentiveness, and forgetfulness in children and young people.

Greater understanding urged

In response to these challenges, the Royal College of Psychiatrists has encouraged schools to understand the difficulties their students might be facing and make reasonable adjustments. This includes practical measures such as implementing classroom seating plans, breaking tasks into manageable chunks, and most notably, increasing opportunities for physical activity. As the Youth Sport Trust's Head of Sport, I have joined forces with Colin Foley, Director of Training from the ADHD Foundation, to emphasise the importance of physical activity in supporting children with ADHD.

The Youth Sport Trust is a leading national charity in the UK, committed to transforming the lives of young people through sport and physical activity. We believe in the power of sport to enhance the physical, social, and emotional well-being of every child, regardless of their abilities. We work tirelessly to ensure all children with SEND can access inspiring and meaningful play, school sports and physical activity opportunities. Through a national network of Lead Inclusion Schools, each recognised for their expertise in inclusive practice, we identify local need and share resources, advice and guidance to equip teachers and support staff.

Physical activity can be life-changing

For children and young people with ADHD, incorporating physical activity into the school day can be a game-changer. Movement breaks, scheduled calming activities like walks or breathing exercises, and the allowance for stimming or fidgeting can significantly help with focus and concentration. We offer a set of free digital activity cards with a range of activities designed to provide a holistic approach to supporting young people with ADHD.

This has helped pupils like Billy, a pupil in Derbyshire who shared with me how much his ADHD and Tourettes got him into trouble, and he was stopped from doing the things he liked. Now at a new school, he’s provided with lots of opportunities to exercise and play sport, which is really helping with his tics and has helped him focus on his schoolwork.

Creating an inclusive environment

Creating an inclusive environment for children with ADHD involves strategic planning and consideration of the learning space. Our Top Tips, shared at the end of this blog encourage schools to plan for frequent movement breaks, schedule calming activities, and foster familiarity through routine. By adapting the learning environment and incorporating physical activity, schools can ensure that children and young people with ADHD have positive and meaningful experiences during their school day.

As the global ADHD medication shortage continues, we hope our partnership with the ADHD Foundation provides practical solutions for school staff. By championing the importance of physical activity and inclusive practices, we aim to create environments where every child, including those with ADHD, can thrive and reach their full potential.

Top Tips for ADHD-inclusive schools

This is a short version of our top tips - you can find a link to this and an expanded, free downloadable version here on our website

  1. Plan and prepare children and young people for frequent movement breaks in your lessons: Movement can help the brain to focus and reset. Particularly during this time of medication shortage, consider extra breaks throughout the day to support pupils.
  2. Schedule time for calming activities: For example, going for a walk, breathing exercises, or gentle play. For more ideas please visit here for a set of free digital activity cards that provide activities for both calming, organising, and alerting young people. 
  3. Ensure familiarity: Try to stick to a routine in your lessons, which helps the brain know what is happening/coming next.
  4. Let children and young people stim/fidget: It doesn’t mean they’re not listening or not interested. Children with ADHD need to move to focus and concentrate. If your lesson involves time sat at a desk or classroom, find opportunities to stand up and move around.
  5. Consider the environment you are teaching in: Is your classroom a welcoming space? How do you plan for pupils to connect and relate to others? Could you adopt zoning areas in corners of your classroom? For ideas on how to maximize the physical space you have available, and to hear how other schools have adapted theirs, please visit here and here.
  6. For external staff coming into school: Preparing young people for visitors is really important. For sport coaches visiting here is our Top Tip guide.

About Vicci Wells

Vicci Wells has light blonde shoulder-length hair with a wave. She’s smiling

Vicci Wells is Head of Sport at the Youth Sport Trust (YST), along with being a Trustee of a large Multi Academy Trust with responsibilities for SEND and Pupil Premium.

YST offer resources and guidance to schools and sports clubs on the benefits of PE, play and sport for children and young people with SEND and how to make sports and activity provision inclusive for all. 

Read about our targeted interventions here

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Amy Skipp

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