Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common developmental disorders in children and teens, affecting about 1 in 10 children.

The disorder is marked by inattentiveness, distractibility, hyperactivity and impulsivity, and can affect a child’s ability to learn and get along with others. And while medications and behavioral therapies are typically used to manage ADHD symptoms, parents are looking for alternatives.

How After School Programs Benefit Students with ADHD

Fortunately, after school programs can help. A new study found that children with ADHD who participated in after school programs had less severe symptoms of the disorder. And although children with ADHD are prone to miss school more often, program participants missed fewer days of school than non-participants.

Your after school program can also play a critical role in helping students with ADHD. Here are five things you need to ensure your after school program offers an inclusive environment for all students, including those with ADHD:

1. Structured environment

Children with ADHD typically have problems with self-control, but creating structure can help. Put simply, a structured environment is one that is organized and predictable. And the easiest way to create structure in your after school program is by establishing day-to-day routines and daily schedules.

Provide students with clear instructions on how to carry out specific routines. And if possible, post your daily or weekly schedule on a wall or bulletin board in your program. According to Everyday Health, written instruction is more helpful for children with ADHD than verbal instruction because they’re easier to remember and review.

As a result, students know what to expect, which provides them with a great sense of security. In turn, they learn how to regulate themselves and develop good habits on their own.

2. Clear rules and expectations

Tantrums, outbursts and defiant behaviors are common in children with ADHD. And some may even develop negative behavior patterns over time. The best way to handle behavior problems in your program is to focus on proactive strategies that reduce the chance of problems occurring.

One way to prevent behavior problems is by reinforcing program rules and expected behaviors. Like routines and schedules, it helps to post them in a place that’s easy for students to review when needed. You can also offer praise or rewards for good behavior, which is a great way to reinforce expectations.

If a problem does arise, experts suggest using discipline rather than punishment. According to school psychologist Dr. Sal Severe, discipline teaches a child how to behave, whereas punishment uses fear and shame to force the child to behave. Dr. Severe recommends providing an explanation of the inappropriate behavior and redirecting them to acceptable behavior.

3. Physical activity

There’s growing research that exercise can help treat ADHD symptoms in young children. In fact, a recent study showed regular physical activity decreased the severity of ADHD symptoms and improved cognitive functioning in children. Even more, the same study found that children only need 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise each day to improve their focus and mood.

To best serve your students with ADHD, schedule at least a half hour per day for movement and exercise. You can head outside and play sports or encourage free play on the playground. Or stay inside and dance, practice yoga or play indoor games. The key is to allot time each day for students to get moving.

4. Limited screen time

Although there’s no direct correlation between screen time and ADHD, a recent study found that children with ADHD can benefit from decreased screen time.

To limit screen time, provide a range of engaging, hands-on learning activities for students. Hands-on learning has shown to improve focus and spark engagement, which is beneficial for children with and without ADHD. But you don’t have to avoid screen time altogether. When using technology in your program, experts recommend limiting screen time to 1-2 hours per day for students with the disorder.

5. Parent involvement

Parents who are involved in their child’s education have a positive impact on their success as a student. Not surprising, research shows that parent involvement is also key to improving the academic performance and social skills of children with ADHD.

In order to engage parents in your program, communicate with them regularly about their child’s behavior and performance. Share any progress or setbacks they may have experienced, and discuss ways to either encourage or discourage the behaviors. Building a healthy relationship with parents can help you better understand their child’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as provide accountability for students. In turn, students will experience greater success in your program.

With the appropriate procedures and resources in place, after school programs can be an asset for students with ADHD. For more tips on creating an inclusive program environment, check out How To Promote Inclusion In Afterschool Programs.