Classroom Incentive and Self-Management Strategies for ADHD


March 21, 2022

According to a small study published in the Attention Disorder Diary.1

The study found that redirecting students with ADHD to a task (incentive) and teaching them strategies to independently regulate their behavior (self-management) reduced disruptive behaviors and task initiation time and increased engagement in the task more than the implementation of popular classroom strategies such as pauses or the use of sensory objects or restlessness.

According to the study authors, prompts, pauses, and sensory proprioception are widely used accommodations for students with ADHD. The first two often appear as part of Individual Education Plans (IEPs). On the other hand, self-management strategies are a frequently recommended intervention not typically found in IEPs. The authors noted that research supporting specific practices over others is lacking, and that such research could inform IEPs.

Researchers evaluated the effectiveness of prompting, teaching self-management, encouraging sensory proprioception, and taking breaks in 15 sixth- and seventh-grade students over 20 sessions, each of a duration of 20 minutes.

Students were randomly assigned to one of the following four strategies each session.

  • Incentive condition: researchers pointed to the task or told a student to continue working if they were absent for five seconds.
  • Self-management condition: Students checked “yes” on a paper form if they remained on task for five minutes (indicated by a timer alarm) or “no” if they were off task when they heard the timer ringtone.
  • Sensory Proprioception: Students selected a sensory object (fidget toy, stress ball, etc.) to use throughout the task.
  • Breaks: Students took a five-minute break after working for ten minutes.

Data analysis showed that prompting and self-management strategies produced the most desirable outcomes in student behavior and engagement, while sensory proprioception resulted in minor or no desired effects.

However, the researchers noted that participants were not “fans” of prompting or self-management, viewing the former as “boring” and the latter as “distracting” (even though it encouraged them to pay attention to their work).

According to the study authors, the effectiveness of self-management aligns with recent research indicating that teaching students with ADHD how to independently manage their behavior is more effective than implementing strategies such as spend more time on assignments or distribute a copy of the teacher’s notes.

The findings of this study are also supported by research supporting the prioritization of classroom interventions for students with ADHD above accommodations.


1 Harrison, JR, Evans, SW, Zatz, J., Mehta, P., Patel, A., Syed, M., Soares, DA, Swistack, N., Griffith, M. and Custer, BA (2022). Comparison of four classroom-based strategies for high school students with ADHD: a pilot randomized controlled trial. Attention Disorders Journal.

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