ADHD could mean trouble in the classroom

August 30, 2016

As the school year approaches, it’s helpful to keep the possibility of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in mind for children struggling in the classroom.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can make learning painful and lead to behavior that sidelines a child socially. But ADHD is a relatively common and treatable condition. The sooner it’s diagnosed, the better the opportunity for a child to do well in school and improve social interactions.

Between 5 and 7 percent of children and adolescents have ADHD, which is thought to be more common in boys than in girls. Symptoms of this condition can linger into adulthood in an estimated 50 to 60 percent of individuals.

Problems with executive functioning

ADHD is a brain disorder characterized by differences in brain structure and function that affect behavior, thoughts and emotions. Scientific evidence supports the biological basis of this disorder, stemming from brain differences as well as genetics.

 ADHD affects the parts of the brain or brain networks related to executive functioning, which is involved in controlling behaviors that are crucial to academic performance:

  • Planning
  • Paying attention
  • Self-regulation
  • Working memory
  • Processing information
  • Disorganization and impulsivity

There is a delay in the development of executive functioning in children with ADHD, and this can cause significant problems with academics, social interactions and self-regulation. For parents who are unaware that their child has ADHD, these problems can seem bewildering, frustrating and even alarming.  

Students with ADHD commonly tune out of lessons and daydream. They are often disorganized and forgetful ― leaving books at school or home, not turning in assignments, losing homework and having problems with organizing personal space. These students also can be impulsive and restless or fidgety. They may disrupt classes by blurting out answers, not staying seated and not following rules. 

More challenges

To make academics and acceptable behavior an even greater challenge, at least two-thirds of people with ADHD also have one or more co-existing conditions. These can include oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorders, substance abuse disorders, depressive disorders, anxiety, bipolar disorder, tics and Tourette syndrome, and learning disabilities.

It’s important to note that symptoms of ADHD are not necessarily consistent across time or place. They may vacillate and can depend on various factors, including the time of day, the level of interest a child has in a given task and environmental factors. This variability of performance is due to the disorder and not necessarily proof that the child is willfully choosing not to perform. 

Help staying focused

There are various teaching strategies that can help a child with ADHD maximize his or her performance. Direct, explicit instructions can be helpful for students in dealing with weaknesses in executive functioning. Dividing a project into smaller steps and arranging the order in which to tackle the steps also can help.  

Having trouble starting an assignment or transitioning from one activity to another are common stumbling blocks for children with ADHD. These children may need classroom assistance to engage them and keep them involved as they move through activities.

Medication an option  

Accommodations can be provided that help with these issues, as well as academic areas requiring direct instruction and teaching based on a student’s interests. In addition, positive behavioral interventions can help tone down disruptive behavior so students can learn. Students with ADHD, in particular, respond better to positive behavioral interventions than to punishments.

Lastly, medications prescribed to treat the symptoms of ADHD work by allowing chemicals in the brain known as neurotransmitters to function more normally and help reduce ADHD symptoms. This can improve a child’s academic performance and reduce the stress and emotional repercussions that their challenging brain disorder often provokes. ADHD medication can improve attention span, help a child follow through on tasks and reduce impulsivity. 

We can help

A pediatric neurologist can evaluate your child for ADHD and the associated disorders mentioned above. If your child does have ADHD, we can help connect you with resources that will make your child’s education and classroom experience fruitful and enjoyable.  

To schedule an appointment, call the Pediatric Neuroscience Center at 206-215-1440 .

Topics: Kids, Neuroscience