Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a problem with sustaining attention and controlling impulses. Almost all students have these problems at one time or another, but a student with ADHD shows them much more frequently than usual and often at home as well as at school.
In the classroom, the student with ADHD may:
• Fidget and squirm a lot
• Have trouble remaining seated
• Continually get distracted and go off task
• Have trouble waiting for a turn
• Blurt out answers and comments
• Shift continually from one activity to another
• Have trouble playing quietly
• Talk excessively without listening to others
• Misplace things and seem generally disorganised
• Be inclined to try risky activities without enough thought to the consequences
Although the list of problem behaviours is obviously quite extensive, keep in mind that the student will not do all of these things. It is just that over time, the student with ADHD is likely to do several of them chronically or repeatedly and in more than one setting (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). In the classroom, of course, these types of behaviours annoy classmates and frustrate teachers.
Differences in perceptions: ADHD versus high activity
It is important to note that classrooms are places that make heavy demands on not showing ADHD-like behaviours.
Students are often supposed to:
• Sit for long periods
• Avoid interrupting others
• Finish tasks after beginning them
• Keep their minds (and materials) organised
Ironically, therefore, classroom life may sometimes aggravate ADHD without the teacher intending for it to do so.
A student with only a mild or occasional tendency to be restless, for example, may fit in well outdoors playing soccer, but feel unusually restless indoors during class. It also should not be surprising that teachers sometimes mistake a student who is merely rather active for a student with ADHD, since any tendency to be physically active may contribute to problems with classroom management.
The tendency to ‘over-diagnose’ is more likely for boys than for girls (Maniadaki, et al., 2003), presumably because gender role expectations cause teachers to be especially alert to high activity in boys. Over-diagnosis is also especially likely for students who are culturally or linguistically non-Anglo (Chamberlain, 2005), presumably because cultural and language differences may sometimes lead teachers to misinterpret students’ behaviour.
To avoid making such mistakes, it is important to keep in mind that in true ADHD, restlessness, activity and distractibility are widespread and sustained.
A student who shows such problems at school but never at home, for example, may not have ADHD. He may simply not be getting along with his teacher or classmates.
Causes of ADHD
Most psychologists and medical specialists agree that true ADHD, as opposed to mere intermittent distractibility or high activity, reflects a problem in how the nervous system functions, but they do not know the exact nature or causes of the problem (Rutter, 2004, 2005).
Research shows that ADHD tends to run in families, with children (especially boys) of parents who had ADHD somewhat more likely than usual to experience the condition themselves. The association does not necessarily mean, though, that ADHD is inborn or genetic. It seems that parents who formerly had ADHD may raise their children more strictly in an effort to prevent their own condition in their children. Their strictness, ironically, may trigger a bit more tendency, rather than less, toward the restless distractibility characteristic of ADHD.
On the other hand, the parents’ strictness may also be a result, as well as a cause of, a child’s restlessness.
The bottom line for teachers is that sorting out causes from effects is confusing, if not impossible. In any case it may not help much to determine actual teaching strategies to help the students learn more effectively.