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MAE News

Classroom Comfort: The Role of Environmental Factors in Supporting ADHD Students

In today's diverse educational landscape, understanding the intricacies of student needs extends far beyond the realms of curriculum and pedagogy. For students diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), the environment in which they learn can play a pivotal role in their academic success. Just as we acknowledge that a plant requires the right balance of sunlight, water, and soil to thrive, students with ADHD similarly flourish when provided with an optimal classroom environment.
Published: February 5, 2024

In today's diverse educational landscape, understanding the intricacies of student needs extends far beyond the realms of curriculum and pedagogy. For students diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), the environment in which they learn can play a pivotal role in their academic success. Just as we acknowledge that a plant requires the right balance of sunlight, water, and soil to thrive, students with ADHD similarly flourish when provided with an optimal classroom environment.  

Delving into the subtle yet significant environmental elements, this article, courtesy of the Mississippi Association of Educators, highlights how classroom comfort can be a game-changer for ADHD students, paving the way for enhanced focus, reduced distractions, and a more inclusive learning experience. 

ADHD and Sensory Overwhelm 

Sensory overwhelm is a multifaceted challenge that many ADHD students grapple with daily, transforming seemingly ordinary classrooms into arenas of excess stimulation. Auditory stimuli, such as the hum of lights or whispers, can drown out a teacher's voice. Visually intense surroundings, from bright lights to vibrant posters, can scatter focus. Tactile distractions, like the texture of desk surfaces or clothes, can cause discomfort, manifesting in fidgeting or restlessness.  

The spatial setup, whether too cramped or overly expansive, can evoke feelings of confinement or vulnerability. And strong olfactory inputs, like potent cleaning products or personal fragrances, can further pull their attention away from learning. Recognizing these environmental triggers is the first step toward creating a comfortable space that mitigates sensory overload and better supports ADHD students. 

Strong odors can also lead to sensory overwhelm. When it comes to cleaning, avoid using harsh or strong smelling cleaning products in the classroom. You can always use natural cleaners – like baking soda and tea tree oil – that you can mix yourself instead of using store-bought chemical cleaners to keep odors at bay. 

Exercise to Reduce Fidgeting 

Borderline Personality Disorder and Emotion Dysregulation notes that there is increasing evidence that exercise helps ADHD people with focus and fidgeting. Something as simple – and free – as walking is a great way to get in a few minutes of activity while being outdoors. Look for areas that have a high Walk Score of 70 and above, which are pedestrian-friendly and offer ample opportunities to exercise. This can take place during recess time or right after lunch. 

Temperature Considerations: Striking the Perfect Balance 

Temperature plays a subtle yet profound role in shaping the learning environment, particularly for ADHD students who may exhibit heightened sensitivity to thermal discomfort. An environment that's too cold can lead to restlessness, as students find themselves shivering or unable to focus due to physical discomfort.  

Conversely, a classroom that's too warm might induce feelings of lethargy, making attentional focus even more challenging to maintain. For students with ADHD, these temperature-induced distractions can compound existing challenges, making tasks feel insurmountable and further diverting their attention from instructional content. As such, maintaining a consistent, comfortable temperature — preferably with options for individual adjustments, like layered clothing or proximity to fans or heaters — is vital in fostering an environment where ADHD students can thrive academically. 

Humidity's Subtle Impact on ADHD Students 

For students with ADHD, having consistent and comfortable atmospheric conditions, including humidity, can be even more critical in preventing distractions and maintaining focus. Elevated humidity levels can make the environment feel oppressive, leading to discomfort and potential distractions. Low humidity can result in dry eyes and skin irritation.  

Using a sensor can help educators and facility managers monitor classroom conditions in real-time, ensuring they remain within optimal ranges. When integrated into a larger building management system or paired with automation, such sensors can trigger actions, like activating dehumidifiers or adjusting HVAC systems, to keep the environment comfortable and conducive to learning.  

Modern Technological Aids: Accessibility and Classroom Comfort 

Modern technology aids have significantly transformed the educational landscape, offering invaluable support tailored to ADHD students. Interactive digital platforms and apps can provide customized learning experiences, allowing these students to engage with content at their own pace, thereby reducing potential cognitive overload.  

This includes designing your website with accessibility in mind. Be sure to factor in easy navigability, images that include text, and color contrast that’s ideal for all users. Having an accessible website is crucial because it ensures inclusivity, allowing people of all abilities to access information and services. 

White noise machines or apps help mask distracting ambient sounds, creating a more focused auditory environment. Furthermore, assistive technology tools, such as text-to-speech or distraction-reducing apps or software, can cater to the unique needs of ADHD learners, helping them process information more efficiently. The integration of these technology aids is a testament to the evolving commitment of educators to ensure an inclusive and supportive environment for every student. 

The Power of Proper Lighting in Learning 

Lighting plays a pivotal role in shaping the classroom environment, and as Inflow points out, its effects are often more pronounced for students with ADHD. Research suggests that improper lighting—whether it's too harsh, dim, or inconsistent—can exacerbate attention and focus challenges common among ADHD students. Flickering fluorescent bulbs can be not only distracting but also cause strain, leading to fatigue and decreased concentration.  

On the other hand, natural lighting, or lighting solutions that mimic daylight, can enhance mood, boost attention span, and even improve academic performance. By opting for adjustable LED lights, using diffusers to prevent direct glare, or maximizing natural light access, educators can establish a visually comfortable environment that minimizes distractions and supports the unique needs of ADHD students.  

Addressing the Noise Quandary 

Classrooms fraught with unpredictable auditory stimuli, such as the clatter of chairs, whispered conversations, or even sounds from adjacent rooms, can become arenas of constant distraction for these students. Such intermittent and unexpected noises can divert their attention, making the task of concentrating on lessons or tasks exponentially more challenging.  

Moreover, for some ADHD students, heightened auditory sensitivity can transform seemingly innocuous sounds into major distractions. Implementing noise reduction strategies, like acoustic panels, carpeted floors, or even white noise machines, can help create a more controlled auditory environment. Ensuring that classrooms offer a stable sonic backdrop not only reduces potential distractions but also fosters a setting where ADHD students can more readily engage with their education. 

The Art of Classroom Layout: Crafting an ADHD-Friendly Space 

The layout of a classroom is more than just an arrangement of desks and chairs; for ADHD students, it can be the difference between a productive learning session and a day filled with distractions. An optimal classroom layout considers the spatial needs of these students, offering clear sightlines to the teaching area, minimizing high-traffic zones, and providing designated spaces for breaks or one-on-one instruction.  

Flexible seating options, ranging from traditional desks to soft furnishings or standing desks, can cater to varied sensory and movement needs, allowing students to choose a setup where they feel most at ease. Additionally, ensuring that materials and resources are organized and easily accessible reduces unnecessary movement and potential distractions. 

The Importance of Visual Aids 

Incorporating visual cues in educational settings is particularly important for students with ADHD, as these cues play a crucial role in enhancing their learning and engagement. ADHD often impacts a student's ability to focus, organize information, and follow lengthy verbal instructions.  

Visual cues, such as charts, images, color-coded systems, and graphical organizers, provide concrete, easy-to-process information that can help these students better understand and retain educational content. You can easily use online tools, such as free flyer templates, to customize your message with your own text and graphics. Some sites offer more than 8,600 such templates, so your options are virtually limitless. 

Creating an environment where ADHD students feel comfortable, focused, and valued requires a multifaceted approach that addresses both overt and subtle classroom dynamics. From the lighting overhead to the very layout of the room, each element carries the potential to either support or hinder their learning journey.  

As educators and administrators, the responsibility lies in recognizing the profound impact of these environmental factors and adapting them to be as inclusive as possible. By doing so, we not only champion the academic success of ADHD students but also underscore a broader commitment to holistic education—a realm where every student, regardless of their unique challenges, is given the best possible chance to thrive.  


The Mississippi Association of Educators advocates strong public schools for every student by empowering members, providing services, and promoting parental/community involvement. Contact us today to learn more! (601) 354-4463 


Advocating strong public schools for every student and every public school employee

Mississippi Association of Educators (MAE) represents thousands of Mississippians—educators, students, activists, workers, parents, neighbors, friends—who believe in opportunity for all students and in the power of public education to transform lives and create a more just and inclusive society.