Information and Resources for Educators
For a complete understanding of what ADHD is, different presentations, causes and treatment options please access Childhood ADHD.
Why is it Important for Teachers to Understand ADHD?
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that can also be classified as a mental health disorder. Latest Canadian ADHD prevalence rates tell us that every classroom will include at least 1 to 3 students in with ADHD. We also know that these students can be a challenge for even the most experienced teachers, if they do not understand ADHD, how it presents and how it impairs learning. However, children with ADHD do not wake up each morning and decide that they are going to be a thorn in their teacher’s side. Their attention regulation and possibility their activity and impulsivity levels are impaired. Children with ADHD are also impaired in their cognitive, emotional and behavioural regulation as well as in their executive functioning.
Since students with ADHD can present in a wide variety of ways, it is impossible to use just one or even a few profiles for these children. The ADHD student is more recognizable when they present as a hyperactive little boy running around a classroom, easily distracted and unable to complete their work, but often missed as the quiet girl at the back of the class, who is anxious and obsessive about her schoolwork. Both of these children may have ADHD, but present very differently.
Maintaining a view of ADHD as a medical/cognitive/learning deficit rather than a behaviour problem is essential. Classroom accommodations and strategies can go a long way in helping students with ADHD succeed at school. Not only do they lead to a more enjoyable and successful year for the child, the whole class and the teacher will find things run more smoothly if strategies are proactive rather than reactive.
Facts on ADHD and Learning
- Students with ADHD are at higher risk for lower levels of academic achievement, higher rates of disciplinary referrals, grade repetition, placement in special education, and spending more years in special education.
- Students with ADHD are 2.7 times more likely than those without ADHD to drop out of school before graduation.
- Although some educators incorrectly believe medication will treat all ADHD impairments, research shows that medication treatment alone does not improve many of the skills required to be academically and socially successful.
- While most classroom interventions focus on decreasing disruptive behaviour and increasing on-task behaviour, these changes do not result in better learning and academic outcomes.
- Research indicates that interventions that target academic impairments should be targeted first, as this frequently also improves other problem behaviours.
- It is inattention during the elementary years that predicts long-term academic impairment, not hyperactivity or impulsivity. For better learning and academic outcomes to happen, specific interventions targeting learning deficits and accommodating and improving cognitive difficulties need to be implemented.
It is difficult to imagine a more difficult setting for a child with ADHD then the classroom.
- Sit still for long periods of time and stay quiet
- They must listen and comprehend continuous lists of instructions
- They must follow lists of multiple directions
- They must work independently and be productive
- They must self-regulate their behaviour and regulate their emotions to be able to interact appropriately with their classmates and teachers
General Impairments Seen in Academic Settings
- More frequent off-task behavior
- Work less accurate and less work produced
- Interfere with classmates more often
- Disobey class rules more frequently
- Less likely to obey teachers’ requests & demands
- More difficulty shifting between classes or tasks
ADHD is actually a problem with the regulation of attention or focus; under-focusing, over-focusing, switching focus and prioritizing focus are all impaired. Students with ADHD can sometimes focus so intently that they miss everything else going on around them. This can occur when they are doing something that is very stimulating, often screen time, or when they are involved with something that they find very interesting. They are unable to switch their attention from these activities even though they know that they should be doing something else.
The student’s inattention may also fluctuate frequently throughout the day or from day to day. They may be able to focus on their math one day and be unable to remain attentive and productive during math class the next day. These students are frequently punished for their successes. We know they were able to pay attention and get their work done yesterday, so we assume that they are just lazy and not trying today. Inconsistencies in presentation can be due to a wide variety of factors, including time of day, degree of novelty in the expected tasks, distractions in the environment, and amount of physical activity a student has had.
We need to remember that executive functioning skills, like hindsight, forethought and planning, are not strengths for these children. (Access Executive Functioning Skills for additional information) The idea that these children are being manipulative needs to be reconsidered carefully. Many of these children are not capable of a great degree of planning and forethought, so it would seem logical that the behaviour children with ADHD exhibit, is not manipulative. Since these children shoot themselves in the foot so often, the child suffers the fallout and not the benefit. If the child was actually being manipulative, they would quickly learn that they are very bad at it and stop the behaviour rather quickly. In fact, much of the child’s behaviour is impulsive, reactive and poorly, if at all, thought out.
Children who are very impulsive do not stop long enough to consider consequences before the thought in their head becomes an action. Continually increasing the severity of consequences is unfair and unproductive for these children. When consequences are used, they should be consistent, immediate and most often positive. Altering a child’s behaviour to what we want to see them doing with positive rewards and praise is much easier than stopping a child’s “bad” behaviour with negative consequences. Even labelling ADHD behaviour as bad behaviour is not a good place to start. It implies that the behaviour is under the child’s control.
There are many reward systems that can be implemented, but often when a child feels understood and supported by their teacher, positive feedback when they are doing the right thing can be a strong motivator. Unfortunately, if a child is very impulsive, they must first be taught how to slow themselves down (medication may help with this) long enough to think about what they are going to do.
Educators may also find that using a Behaviour Tracking Chart or ABC chart can be useful when trying to identify triggers for problem behaviours or emotional meltdowns. This chart can also be very useful when deciding which strategies are successful and which may be escalating behaviours.
Instructions on using the ABC Charts – Using the ABC Chart
Sample Behaviour Tracking Chart – Behaviour Tracking Chart
Students with ADHD often present with learning disabilities and other co-existing conditions such as anxiety, depression, oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or other neurodevelopmental or mental health disorders. Before a diagnosis is reached a thorough assessment for ADHD by a physician, knowledgeable in ADHD, should take place. If learning disabilities are suspected a psychoeducational assessment should also occur. The reports of these assessments should contain detailed recommendations so a complete and accurate educational profile can be developed.
Some of the most common impairments seen in students with ADHD other than attention dysregulation, hyperactivity and impulsivity, along with learning disabilities are impairments in executive functioning, graphomotor functioning, written output, processing speed, and central auditory processing. Students with ADHD score 8 to 10% lower in literacy and numeracy than their classmates without ADHD, even when a learning disability does not exist.
Students with ADHD are frequently impacted by a particular executive function called working memory. Difficulty with working memory can impact; writing; reading comprehension; problem solving; the ability to solve more complex math problems, following directions, monitoring their own progress and evaluating their own strengths and needs. For more information please access www.teachadhd.ca.
Research has shown that using ADHD medication to treat a child with ADHD should only ever be part of a treatment plan. Medication treatment can improve a student’s attentiveness and help reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity however it does not improve other cognitive impairments that go along with ADHD or academic scores. In other words, “Pills do not teach skills”.
Treatment for ADHD should always be multi-modal. For more detailed information please access information under Understanding ADHD, Child – Treatment.
For additional resources, books, web sites and academic strategies access