Australian School Systems Fail Students with ADHD

It was with great interest that I reviewed an Australian study looking at academic achievement in students with ADHD during the period from childhood to adolescence. Having spent the last twenty years speaking with researchers, parents, educators, school boards and Ministries of Education across Canada I firmly believe that this study highlights the same situation that we have here in Canada.

The study published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics showed that 40% of students with ADHD were not reaching minimum standards for literacy and numeracy in at least one academic area such as writing or math. Based on test results in year seven, which is equivalent to our grade seven, 73% of students with ADHD had a problem with writing and almost a quarter scored below the minimum standard.  By year nine things had become worse; 54% of students still had difficulties, however now 37.5% did not reach the minimum standard. What was also interesting was the fact that boys had far greater difficulty with writing than girls.  The lead researcher, Nardia Zendarski said that they had expected to see a gap in academic success for students with ADHD, but not such a large gap.

Professor Harriet Hiscock, a consulting paediatrician with the Murdoch Children's Research Institute that ran the study, said problems arose for students with ADHD particularly in English subjects, due to issues with writing, spelling and grammar. "They're quite sophisticated things that we learn how to do," she said. The frontal lobe of the brain, which we know is not as developed in children with ADHD, is used in this type of task.

Remarkably, 75% of children looked at in the study were on medication to increase their attention. This fact led Ms. Zendarski to state, "ADHD medication has its place but it doesn't seem to improve long-term academic outcomes … it doesn't address the core academic skills." She went on to say, "We should stop focusing on the argument around whether these kids should be medicated or not and start focusing on providing services and support that they need to reach their full potential. These programs could be used to support all kids with learning difficulties.”

"We need to look further back and see when the problems start — do these problems start for kids as early as grade one?" said Professor Hiscock. "And if they're not picked up and addressed, particularly in primary school, then these kids get into high school where it becomes harder, the work becomes more complex. So we're seeing the problems become worse."

Professor Hiscock went on the say, “The solution is not clear cut, but better support and training of teachers would be a good start. More support around literacy and numeracy teaching, probably it's got to be small groups, more individualised teaching."

Tracy-Ann Pettigrew a mother with two sons with ADHD went back to university to study special education in order to assist her sons with school. There's not a lot of understanding by mainstream teachers about how to teach kids with additional learning needs and it's a tough gig," she said. "I am hoping that this will facilitate some meaningful change, so that teachers can learn the skills that they need to learn to be able to support these kids."

Ms Zendarski closed by says, “As education is a key determinant of overall quality of life and health, I can't think of a better area to concentrate our efforts,"

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Access articles on the study:

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