ADHD for Parents: Looks Can be Deceiving

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The Center for Disease Control reports that over 10 percent of children and teens suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).  Even more shocking, many cases go unreported or are misdiagnosed, providing families with improper information and treatment options. With such a prevalence of attention difficulties among America’s youth, it is no wonder that the disorder can easily be misunderstood or misjudged.

For parents, this unknown or variable aspect of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can be frustrating. Since every child is unique, children who suffer from ADHD may exhibit drastically different symptoms from one another. What many parents do not know is that ADHD does not have just one cause, or cure, or treatment. Other prevalent myths about ADHD are listed below, as we seek to understand what this disorder is—and what it is not.

  • Myth #1: ADHD mostly affects children at school. This is simply not the case. Children are often diagnosed once they hit school age, typically around age 6-7. While ADHD is most obvious in school because of the attention needs and self-control that is necessary to complete classroom activities, the disorder is not solely confined within the walls of the school. Any activity or conversation, whether academically-related or not, will be difficult for a child with attention issues. This impulsivity, inattentiveness, or lack of focus can happen anywhere—the car, the house, while having a conversation, or even when playing a game or watching a movie.
  • Myth #2: ADHD reflects a lack of care or eagerness on behalf of the child. Again, this is false. In fact, children with ADHD, when made self-aware of their inattentiveness, work even harder to compensate for the lack of focus. Imagine trying to watch a television show while listening to music using headphones. This is similar to how students feel in a classroom when multiple conversations are occurring at once. The multi-sensory distractions become so overwhelming that tuning out is the only reasonable option.
  • Myth #3: Children will outgrow the attention disorder. Unfortunately, this is not the case either. While children and teens, with appropriate behavioral and/or medical interventions, may better manage their symptoms as time passes, the disorder is never truly absolved
  • Myth #4: ADHD is considered a major roadblock when it comes to success in academia and in the work force. NOT TRUE. While the condition is titled a “deficiency,” ADHD has its own unique set of advantages, as well. If children and young adults learn to channel the disorder properly, the hyperactivity can be transformed into hyper-focus. That said, a person with ADHD may be able to focus on a difficult task for hours on end—determined to finish or solve the problem. ADHD also forces children to be self-sufficient and self-aware. Often times, after managing the disorder in school for a while, children learn to self-check and gauge their own level of attentiveness. They also find it easier to pick themselves up after setbacks or missteps. Similarly, people with ADHD are often forced to think or learn a little differently—their success is determined by the ability to streamline information, block out insignificant details, and question their comprehension of the task. Therefore, a person with ADHD will often hone these practices and exhibit ingenuity, creativity, and resourcefulness. ADHD should not be seen as a wholly detrimental learning disorder— in fact, people can use the symptoms to their advantage with practice and patience.

ADHD MONTH: Looks can be deceiving

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Since the classroom environment lends itself to tasks involving focus, attentiveness, attention to detail, cooperative learning, and time management skills, educators are sometimes the first to notice the growing prevalence of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and the symptoms that accompany the disorder. More and more children are exhibiting attention issues in and out of the classroom—the CDC reports that over 10 percent of children and teens have ADHD. With this significant percentage of cases comes just as many ways for the disorder to manifest itself—and every child is different.

As educators, we pretty much get a daily bird’s eye view of how each student learns, or struggles to learn. Even so, we occasionally (and inadvertently) forget that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can reveal itself in drastically different ways. On a personal note, just last week, I held a student after class to discuss his constant roaming around the classroom. After asking him to be seated several times during instruction, my patience had admittedly dwindled.

He very calmly and candidly explained that, especially during the long block periods, he finds it difficult to focus while seated at his desk for too long. While this particular student did not show up to my class with documentation of an attention disorder, his need to move, at first misunderstood, is no less legitimate.

As demonstrated above, students with ADHD symptoms can be mistaken as disruptive, disinterested, disorganized, etc. It is important to be mindful of the catalysts to those behaviors—i.e., what do these behaviors truly mean?

ASSIGNMENT COMPLETION

When a student’s focus drifts during class or at home, assignments can be left by the wayside, going uncompleted or altogether neglected. Educators need to distinguish the difference between carelessness or disinterest and a student’s tendency to be distracted and drift. An incomplete project or homework assignment does not necessarily signify a lack of attempt. Anything from noise in the classroom to a transition during instruction can deter a student’s focus, making it difficult for him or her to complete the assigned work in the provided block of time. Again, this is not due to laziness or lack of interest.

Group work can also add a layer of difficulty to assignment completion. Students with ADHD can benefit from the conversation and movement that group work provides. However, these components can be just as equally distracting if the group’s conversation shifts off task. The group work can become overwhelming to the point that the student will drift and separate from the group. Again, this is not indicative of the student’s unwillingness to participate.

BEHAVIOR

As in the case of my “wandering student” above, children and teens with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder often find it beneficial to move about the room. This constant need to move is not only distracting to other students, but may also be seen as an avoidance technique. While this may be true in some cases, most often the student is moving because it helps him to focus or expend any excess energy. Frequent breaks, rotation stations, or standing and working from a clipboard are all methods to help alleviate the need to roam. These small bouts of movement also allow the student to focus.

If a student appears to be reading, doodling, or is otherwise “off task,” it may not be an indication that she is intentionally ignoring instruction or avoiding work. These seemingly defiant behaviors are actually a method of channeling a student’s focus—a self-soothing method, if you will. For some students, especially those with ADHD, putting their hands to work is a way of keeping themselves centered and attentive. A stress ball is also helpful for students whose attention is benefited from multitasking.  

As educators, we need to focus our attention not only on what we are teaching, but also to whom we are teaching. By paying careful attention to the learning needs and styles of our students, we can not only help our easily distracted students to learn more effectively, but also improve the overall learning environment for our entire class.