Role Playing with ADHD Kids

This week I want to talk about playing Dungeons & Dragons with ADHD players. Our weekly game has grown to the point we have three rotating groups and we will soon move the gaming venue to accommodate more players. As the group has grown we have added several kids with ADHD. That has increased the challenges for both the players and me as the DM. So I thought this might be a good time to write a blog about how to D&D on ADHD. 

  • Know your limits. Every person is different and we all have our limits. Having too many people at the table during a game can ruin a game. As a DM, you should know how many people you can comfortably manage in a game session. Don’t give in to the temptation to add more players than you can comfortably manage. 
  • ADHD Players Require More Management. When you add ADHD players, count them as 1.5 to 2 players in terms of how many players you can manage at the table. So, if your normal comfort zone is 4 players and you want to add a player with ADHD to the table, try running with just 3 players for the first session with this new player.
  • Open up the guardrails a little.  Most groups have some basic table rules about what is acceptable behavior at the table. Realize that ADHD players need a little more time and room. Be prepared for more breaks, more cross-talk, more dice rolling and more time to explain the rules.
  • You need more space. One thing that ADHD players seem to have in common is the need to take up more physical space. They have more arm movements and seem to do better if they can spread their character sheets and books out in front of them. 
  • Expect lots of unnecessary dice rolling. ADHD players love to roll dice. Often for no reason at all. This is a common way for them to express their urge to fidget. I recommend that you have a large dice rolling tray that is the “official dice area” where all in-game dice rolling should occur. Then give them a dice tray they can just roll in for fun. Don’t forget the personal dice tray or there will be dice all over the floor.
  • More protein, fewer carbs. Protein and carbs have a profound effect on people with ADHD.  Carbs tend to increase ADHD symptoms including the need to fidget and get up to walk around. Protein tends to help them focus, or at least does not contribute to the fidgeting behaviors. Choose your table snacks accordingly.
  • Assign a Helper. Okay, we all want to help the new guy/gal figure out how to play the game, but too many voices can destroy the ability of ADHD kids to focus. Instead, pick one, experienced player and ask them to help the new kid. Try to choose a player that has experience with the same character class and one that will mentor, not micro-manage. When the helper is working with the ADHD player, be patient and get the rest of the table to quiet down.
  • ADHD and Noise. People with ADHD often report being unable to focus when there is loud noise or when there is a lot of conversation going on around them. Background music is good, and even aids in concentration. I like to play some suitable soundtracks, typically without any lyrics to avoid the “singalong interruptions.”
  • Take Regular Breaks. I recommend that you take 5 to 10-minute breaks every hour. If that is not convenient for the game, take breaks between scenes or rooms transitions.
  • A word about miniatures. If you play with miniatures at your table, be prepared for them to all be picked up and examined very closely by your ADHD players. My ground rule for that is they can view one at a time and they must put the mini back where they found them. This can really slow down a game, so I like to tell them that they can look at the minis during the next break. I take a pic of the playing mat to make sure I know where all the minis go and let them spend their break exploring the figures as much as they like. I don’t typically play with minis when playing with younger players. See my blog posts on family-friendly miniatures here and here for more about that.
  • Don’t Put ADHD Players in the Corner. If your gaming table is set up in an area that has any restrictions on getting up and moving around, don’t put ADHD players in those seats. ADHD players will often need to get up and walk around while they think things through. Allowing them the freedom to walk-it-out reduces stress and increases focus.
  • Allow More Time. ADHD players need more time to evaluate information and make decisions. This can be frustrating, but don’t rush them or criticize them for this. You wouldn’t get mad at a blind person for needing more time to navigate an unfamiliar space. Be patient and don’t let other players push the ADHD player either. 
  • Hyper Focus and Rapid Learning. People with ADHD will often hyper-focus on things. They are very concerned about the way things work. This can lead to them to argue about the rules and insist that things should be done in a certain way. This is kind of like autism in many ways. Be prepared for your ADHD players to come back in future game sessions with an astounding knowledge of the game and its rules. When you are going to stretch or break a rule,  make sure you point out what you are doing and be prepared to explain why. Avoid using the “I’m the DM and I said so,” excuse. That will not go over very well.
  • Use Fighting to Engage ADHD Players. In case you have not already gotten this point, people with ADHD fidget. Get used to it. Don’t fight it. Let them roll dice or examine miniatures that are not in play. It will increase their attachment to the game even though it looks like a distraction. With ADHD attachment and interest lead to focus. Get out in front of this behavior by offering various things they can touch and examine. At the same time, insist that distraction items like cell phones be left in a designated area, away from the table.

Special Thanks To...

I want to say an extra special thanks to Jessica at How to ADHD. Without her and her YouTube channel, my life would be a much darker place. Much of what I have learned about how to live with and manage ADHD has come from her. If you or a family member struggle with ADHD, I highly recommend you subscribe to her channel today.

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6 Comments

  1. Howdy fantastic blog! Does running a blog similar to this require a
    lot of work? I have very little understanding of coding however I had been hoping
    to start my own blog soon. Anyways, should you
    have any ideas or techniques for new blog owners please share.

    I know this is off topic nevertheless I simply had to ask.
    Kudos!

    1. Hey Junior,

      Yes, running a blog is a lot of work. If you love the subject, it makes it a lot easier to handle.

      If you want to get into blogging, I recommend you start by writing about 10 blog posts, complete with supporting graphics. If you still want to be a blogger, get a domain name, hosting and website. Then post half the content you wrote and schedule the remaining posts for the upcoming weeks.

      Now you will have a bank of content in case you have writers block or life gets in the way of your blogging. Keep writing and sharing your content through social media. Eventually, you will get there or get tired of doing it.

      Good luck.
      DMingDad

  2. I have ADHD and I have such a hard time playing some days. When nothing much is happening, it gets extremely hard for me to focus between battle and role playing because I ca’t focus. Is there anything that you think could possibly help?

    1. Rin,

      First, sorry for taking so long to get back to you on this. Read the bold parts if this is too much text.

      Maintaining focus is hard. Don’t feel bad about it at all. I recommend you check out the channel “How to ADHD” on YouTube for very specific techniques for living with ADHD and dealing with focus issues.

      Give yourself permission to zone out or deep focus on something. I find my players do well when I give them PC minis to look at. Looking at each of the characters’ minis allows them to develop vivid, detailed imagery and stories in their heads. Sometimes it surprises me when one of them has been staring at a figure, completely unengaged, and they suddenly pipe up with some supper relevant, helpful idea on how to deal with something the other players are working on. It’s almost like the dialogue of the players/characters is washing over them like a water washes over a rock in the river. They are passively absorbing it and they tune back in when they have something to add to the game.

      Next, talk to your DM and let them know that you have this issue. Ask for the DM to give you prompts to help get you on track before you have to focus on something. Just a little, “Hey Rin, the party is going to need you on this.” Small prompts now and then to keep you in the game. Just make sure the DM knows you NEED to lose focus sometimes.

      If the problem is maintaining focus after the transition from battle to role-playing and back again, I would expect that. ADHD makes transitioning difficult. It requires different centers of the brain to role-play and to do battle in D&D. That is not something ADHD brains do very well at all. The best tip I have for that is to stay in character when you drop into battle. Narrate the action of battle like your character might tell the story sitting in the next tavern they visit.

      If you are more of a battler and tend to fade out during role-play, be the stong-silent type. When pressed for what your character has to say or how they feel about something, try saying, “You talk too much, I prefer to let my actions speak for me.” You could even make up a list of quick sayings for your character and toss one out. Lean into your ADHD, maybe your character is ADHD or they get so pre-occupied with something they can’t focus.

      I guess the best advice I can give you is, appreciate yourself for who you are and what you bring to the table. Find how your particular expression of ADHD can be beneficial to yourself and the group. Don’t try to force yourself to be something you’re not. Let the other players know the kind of game that most interests you and that you are going to lose focus.

      This is getting long…I might have to turn this into another full blog post.

      Good luck and let me know how it goes.
      -DMingDad

  3. When I originally commented I clicked the Notify me when new comments are added checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get three e-mails with the same comment.
    Is there any way you can remove me from that service?
    Thanks!

    1. Concetta, Your email has never been used to comment on a post on this site.

      I see hundreds of these types of posts a week. I am approving this one with the spam link removed so other blog spammers may see it and realize that comment spamming does not work on this website.

      -DMingDad

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