A concerned parent wrote to me asking about tips for teaching Quran to children with ADHD. Although I am not specialized in special education, my experience as a teacher for nearly a decade, coupled with my own struggles with ADHD enable me to speak from personal experience alone.
The Prophet’s pbuh community comprised of the young, middle aged and infirm. And there were companions who had special needs. Take Abdullah ibn Um Maktum for example, he was blind. But this did not prevent him from being a productive individual. On certain occasions, when the Prophet pbuh was out engaging in military expeditions, he appointed Abdullah bin Um Maktum over the administrative management of Medina al-Munawwarah. We know from the Prophet tradition that Islam makes accommodations for individuals who cannot stand for prayer. But specifically, we know of a narration outlining the divine reward given to those who struggle with the memorization of the Quran. The Prophet pbuh said, “The one who is skilled in reciting Quran will be with the noble, honourable scribes and the one who recites Quran and falters therein, and finds it difficult, will have a double reward,” Sahih al-Bukhari and Muslim. Notice the Arabic phrase, “Yatata’ta’,” which is roughly translated as “falter” and “struggle.” But in Arabic the connotation is that of having trouble committing it to memory and struggling with reciting it. As a result, I believe that any person who struggles to read the Quran due to it not being their first language, weakness of memory, or, in this case, due to personal and special circumstance such as ADHD, falls under this category. Hence they will receive double the reward for the difficulty they undergo.
Growing up, memorization of the Quran was very difficult for me. It took me a very long time to memorize as I did know how to memorize. I also felt that the memorization of Quran was difficult as I did not understand tajwid (the science of reading the Quran correctly). I also did not understand makharij (the points of articulation) for Arabic words. Nevertheless, here are a few tips on how to handle ADHD that I would like to share with you.
1. Make sure your child already knows how to read before you assume that they can memorize. Memorization is a skill that must be taught through piecemealing and repetition.
2. Focus on getting the student to read slowly and correctly. This would require proper pronunciation and correct intonation of the letters. This is very important because if a person is not acclimated to such good practices, they will be used to pronouncing letters wrong. Rectifying such habits is very difficult.
3. Definitely use a translation for them to understand. A translation I would recommend is T.B. Irving’s translation. I also recommend that you get “The Noble Quran Word for Word.” This book will help any reader to know exactly what words mean in each verse. This helps pin-point the meaning more precisely within the verse than what a translation provides.
4. Utilize online Quran reciters to aid your child’s memorization. Do not let this be their sole way to memorize Quran. It’s easy to become dependent on this method. But it’s only a resource. Stick to Shaykh Husari, Shaykh Menshawi, and reciters who recite slowly. Don’t listen to famous reciters who read fast and melodiously. That is not suitable for memorization.
5. Have someone work directly with your child. You need a teacher who knows how to teach, work with special needs kids and that is willing to sit one on one with the student to keep them on their toes. Large classrooms with many students do not work. They will look around and day dream.
6. Most kids with ADHD get bored quickly. Thus, employ mnemonics for difficult words. Find and develop activities and games that can completed along with the surah or verses they are memorizing.
7. Teach them how to write the Quran. A method employed by millions of students in North Africa is to write the Quran out and memorize it and repeat it over and over again (writing and reading). This will keep them occupied.
8. Remove distractions from the room. No cell phones. No laptops.
9. Follow up good work with lavish praise and encouragement. As always. No hitting and shaming. Be firm but do not make the experience negative.
10. Create a system that delivers swift rewards. Don’t set up a goal that takes a month to complete. Do a daily goal system with a reward. When you stretch out the goal, they get distracted, discouraged and uninterested. As the develop patience and grit, you can slowly and steadily make the goal achievable after a week, month or completion of a surah/juz.
11. Focus on verses with short verses. Focus on Surahs that have stories in it. Focus also on surahs have some rhyme to it such as: Taha, al-Rahman, Mursalat, Maryam etc.
12. Do not think too far down the road. Just focus on reading, accuracy, pronunciation, memorization, and revision.
13. Most importantly, do not treat the child’s special needs as the impetus to focus on the Quran simply because they are “not excelling in other subjects.” The Quran is not for the “losers” not cut out for medicine or engineering. That is disrespectful to the Quran and an insult to the child.