Many of the strategies and materials offered in this topic section can be applied to English Language Learners who exhibit symptoms of ADHD or problems with concentration and memory. This is particularly true for lessons that normally rely on oral and written language. Because many people with ADHD have limited working memory, instructional strategies offered here are designed to minimize the amount of verbal material they must absorb at once. This approach serves the ELL student, too.


The reported incidence of ADHD and similar disorders appears to be similar in many countries and continents worldwide, which many experts believe lends support to the belief that a tendency to develop ADHD is genetic. When symptoms appear among a higher proportion of individuals arriving in the U.S. as refugees, there are several additional conditions that may contribute.

A disposition toward ADHD may evolve into a full disorder amidst the extraordinary conditions to which an individual has been subject before and during his or her flight from the homeland.

  1. PTSD, an anxiety disorder, represents the chronic effects of life-threatening experiences. The persistent, intense anxiety that is symptomatic of PTSD has a direct affect on the student’s ability to concentrate and an indirect impact on memory over time. Poor sleep patterns reduce attention and memory indirectly. Difficulty sustaining a full night’s sleep almost always accompanies this disorder.
  2. Other forms of anxiety—such as those that accompany economic hardship, domestic strife, and incarceration or threat of incarceration—can contribute similarly to reduce attention and memory.
  3. Individuals who leave their homeland and face a foreign place, people, customs, and language often become depressed, particularly if they have left loved ones behind and if they fear for their safety. Chronic depression is typically accompanied by cognitive changes such as reduced concentration, memory, and initiative.  Anxiety and depression often co-occur in this population.

Additional information on possible co-morbid conditions affecting ELL students in found in the Mental Health section.