In Driven to Distraction, authors Ned Hallowell and John Ratey offer the metaphor of a sports coach to explain the role of an ADHD coach. They write that a coach is “an individual standing on the sidelines with a whistle, barking out encouragement, directions, and reminders to the athlete. The coach may be a pain in the neck or a solace to the player, dogging him to stay alert or supporting him when he’s ready to give up. Mainly, the coach keeps the player focused on task and offers encouragement along the way.”
An ADHD coach plays a similar role. She works with your child to identify his strengths, then teaches him ways to utilize his strengths to achieve greater success academically and socially. This new awareness improves self-esteem, which is particularly important for children with ADHD who may have experienced repeated failures.
It is important to note that a coach does not take the place of a therapist, nor is the coach a friend. Rather, the relationship should be viewed as an active partnership with mutual respect, enthusiasm, and commitment between your child and his coach. In order for coaching to work, your child must agree and be open to the process. If he is resistant, coaching should be postponed until he is ready and, in the meantime, another form of support should be considered.
Executive Function Deficits
Students with ADHD often struggle with executive function skills (link to Exec Function Overview), such as planning, organizing, and time-management. These students have trouble identifying a goal, developing a plan to achieve the goal, and sticking with it through completion.
That’s where the coach can help. Her purpose is to teach your child the executive skills necessary to accomplish personal and school-related goals. Through repetition and consistency, she teaches the skills and how to apply them so that your child can internalize them. Once that happens, he no longer needs the support of the coach and is ready to succeed on his own.
Coaching Learning & Life Skills
Successful learners need a great many tools to make schoolwork easier, and they must know when, where, and how to use them. Here are some basic areas for skill development that lend themselves particularly well to ADHD coaching:
1. Goal Development
Having goals allows a student to see the discrepancy between his current performance and where he hopes to be. The process works best when goals are student-driven and realistic. A coach can help to
- Identify goals (e.g., score 85 on the English test, complete science lab by Monday, finish household chores before the weekend)
- Break each goal down into manageable steps
- Identify obstacles (e.g., sibling distraction, watching TV for too long)
- Determine how long each step will take to complete.
In subsequent sessions, the coach follows up on the student’s activities, ideally pointing to progress as evidence of success, which will increase the motivation to succeed.
2. Time Management
Children must learn how to estimate how long a task will take and how to prioritize activities. While it’s normal to give nonacademic goals priority over academic goals, it is the coach’s job to help your child strike a healthy balance and to recognize that improved time management will result in more time for activities he enjoys.
A coach can help your child to assess and restructure his physical environment to fit his needs, including workspaces at home and at school. This may include helping to clean out desks and lockers, providing a list of necessary supplies, identifying distractions that interfere with concentration, and locating places to study that minimize distractions.
4. Social and Self-Advocacy Skills
A coach may help with social skills including interaction with friends in and out of school. A coach may also help to develop the skills to seek help from teachers. Your child may feel intimidated or embarrassed by the thought of spending one-on-one time with his teachers, but a coach can help by providing encouragement and setting up weekly schedules for acquiring extra help.
The author is a former high school psychology teacher.