Behavior Modification Techniques and ADHD

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Introduction to Behavior Modification Techniques and ADHD

Behavior therapy includes interventions that are focused on modifying the physical and social environment of the child to alter or change behavior. However, behavior interventions have not always been found effective for children with ADHD. This is often because a lot of children with ADHD need pharmacological interventions as well. Furthermore behavioral interventions need to be adapted to cater to the needs of children with special needs. This article on “Behavior Modification Techniques and ADHD” suggests a few tips to help parents and teachers adapt regular behavior therapy techniques for children with special needs.

The regular ABC analysis, or analysis of antecedent, behavior and consequence will need to be carried out as usual, but while implementing the behavior therapy, the following aspects need to be kept in mind.

Non Competitive Incentives:

Children with ADHD are often not able to cope with or benefit from competitive incentives like “the first to finish will get a piece of candy”. Incentives for the completion of the activity are more effective.

Accommodations to Tasks and Assignments:

Children with ADHD naturally struggle with attention, and thus often need more time to perform tasks. They may also be unable to cope with the amount and level of homework that other children are able to do. Thus, they will need special accommodations for tasks and assignments to keep them motivated and avoid frustration. Teachers must aim to grade the level of tasks slowly to help the child experience success.

Focus on Teaching Children a Set of Skills to Replace Problem Behaviors

Regular children are able to learn new skills on their own when they are told that a certain behavior is wrong. However, some children with ADHD may have difficulty with this. Thus they need to be taught alternate skills to replace problem behaviors. For example, if a child is misbehaving at the table, they need to be taught different table manners and given opportunities to practice good manners.

Modify the Environment:

A lot of children with ADHD study and learn better with small modifications in the environment. A child’s study table must be free of any objects. The child must sit away from the window or door. Some children work better with ear plugs or ear muffs. In a classroom situation wooden panels on the sides of the table that block the view from the sides help children to concentrate and study. Study materials and stationary must be well organized.

Visual Representation of Rules and Instructions:

Children with ADHD often find it difficult to process and remember verbal instructions. They find it much easier if instructions are represented by a symbol or picture. Use pictures to set rules, give instructions and remind children of consequences. Picture schedules are also very effective in a classroom setup.

Rewards Must be Bigger and Rotated Frequently

When a child does something good, or right, reward him or her. For a regular child, the words “very good” may be sufficient, but a child with ADHD may need a tangible and a bigger reward to keep motivation high, and to encourage the continuation of the good behavior. Moreover, for children with ADHD, it is important to rotate the rewards frequently to make sure that they do not get bored of them.

Consequences must be Swift, Frequent and of High Magnitude:

Similarly, when children engage in problem behaviors the consequences need to be of a higher magnitude. It has been observed that milder consequences that work for other children do not always work for children with ADHD. Moreover, the consequence has to be delivered quickly and must be whenever the problem behavior occurs.

Prepare Children for Change in Consequences:

Some children do not behave the right way because they do not clearly understand the change in the circumstances or the expected behaviors. For example if the child is moving out of play time into study time, he or she may not realize that the time to have fun and make noise is over, and the time to be quiet and sit in one place has begun. Thus it is good to go over the expectations at study time before the change in activity. The rules can be emphasized with pictures to help children follow better. Similarly, going over expectations before the child enters the library, or any formal event helps the child to behave accordingly.


Barkley, R. A. (2006). Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: a handbook for diagnosis and treatment. Guilford Press.

Subcommittee on Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. (2001).Treatment of the school-aged child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Pediatrics, 1033-1044.