Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, known as ADHD is a behavioral condition that affects nearly 11% of our student population. These children are typically very impulsive, hyper, and struggle to pay attention and remain on task.
You may say, "Well that's me." Many of us have difficulties paying attention when something doesn't interest us, or sometimes we may feel hyper. I do! But children with ADHD struggle so much with these behaviors that it often takes over and affects every aspect of their life; home, school, and their social life.
I am a mother of an ADHD child. When he was diagnosed, I was devastated! He was in first grade at the time and is now 19. :) No one wants their child to have a disability. I remember going around and talking to his previous teachers from Pre-K and Kinder, trying to do everything I could to rule it out. But the truth of the matter was....that he did have ADHD!
The only difference in ADHD and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is that children with ADD do not exhibit the hyper-activity. Even though I mostly refer to ADHD in this post, all of it relates to both.
As mentioned above, these children are typically impulsive, hyper, and have a hard time staying on task. Here are some specific behaviors that I have witnessed with my son and the children I have taught with an ADHD diagnosis.
Can't stay in seat
Cannot complete an activity in one session
Writing is not legible
Written assignments cause chaos
Struggles to follow directions
Does not listen well
Very unorganized/loses things
Doesn't form strong friendships
Makes noises all the time
Impulsive- my son once pulled the fire alarm at the public library. :-(
Children need to visit their family pediatrician. The parent will receive two questionnaires; one for them and one for the teacher to complete. These are then rated by the doctor and determines if there is a diagnosis of ADHD/ADD. If you're a teacher and have a student that exhibits some of these symptoms, express your concerns to your school psychologist.
And now, if you're a parent, you immediately freak out because medication will be suggested and pushed immediately. No parent wants to put their child on "narcotics." It's very scary! I looked for other alternatives and found ADHD diets, but as picky as my son was, we were not successful. The message I gained from most of the diets I tried with my son and read about, is simply EAT FRESH! NO Preservatives! The thing is, all my son would eat is hotdogs, frozen chicken nuggets, bologna...I couldn't get him to eat anything Fresh!
Eventually after constant calls from his teacher, notifications from the principal, and the dreadful chaos that homework caused every evening, I couldn't take the stress any longer and I decided to place him on medication. It took trying 3 different types of medication to finally find one that worked for my son. He was on Adderall, Stratera, and then Focalin, which is the one that actually worked for him!
The academic results were amazing!!! It was like night and day! The phone calls stopped coming from school, he did his work, the noise making stopped, and you could actually read his handwriting!
However, the physical results and side effects scared me as a parent! He couldn't sleep at night, he rarely had an appetite, he was losing weight, and he wasn't himself. He wasn't a zombie like many kids I've seen, but he just wasn't himself. He didn't joke and laugh. He was quiet all the time. He kept to himself.
Then, one day I got a phone call from the school that my son was in the health office with a heart rate of 220 and that 911 had been called. By the time I arrived the ambulance was pulling away with my son. I'm tearing up as writing this as it was the scariest day of my life!!! There's nothing more frightening than following an ambulance that your child is in! It was diagnosed as a cardiac arrhythmia and he had heart surgery a week later. The medication was never ruled out as a contributing factor. I never gave my son another pill after that day!
And the phone calls starting coming again, as well as the stress and frustration! Now that I worked in his district, they would call me in my classroom while I was working! The next year I pulled him from school, began homeschooling, and the rest is history! I only feel that if he would have had more patient teachers and teachers more experienced with ADHD, teachers that thought out of the box, he could have been successful without being medicated!
I get it when the parents of my students don't want to put their child on narcotics! I get it! I've been there. And I also don't like seeing students acting like zombies and being medicated to make my job easier! Here are some classroom strategies that should be used with ADHD children and especially those that may not be medicated.
These students struggle every day of their life to stay focused, to complete tasks, to follow directions. Most of them really want to please you, but they have a hard time doing it. We as classroom teachers cannot expect them to sit in their seat perfectly all morning like our other students and then send them to the office when they cannot. And please do not take their recess from them ever!!! These are hyper-active children, why would you take their movement time from them?? You're just asking for it! This one always set wrong with me! And face it, it doesn't make sense!
1) Be patient
2) DO NOT take recess
3) Allow frequent breaks
4) Allow them to stand up and work or provide flexible seating.
5) Allow them a fidget toy
6) Don't overwhelm them with written assignments.
7) Allow them to verbally answer written responses if they are frustrated with writing.
8) Chunk and shorten assignments. If a paper has 10 questions. Cut it in half and allow them to complete 5. Maybe they can only complete 2.
9) Recognize when your student is feeling overwhelmed or frustrated, and allow them some downtime.
10) Give them a "break" card they can hold up if needed.
11) Provide work on "their" level; work they can actually do!
12) Don't stress if this student is completing less work or getting breaks every 30 minutes! It's okay! They appreciate it and in the long run it will make your job much easier than a medicated kid and it will allow this student to feel some success!
13) Provide them with clear expectations!
14) Provide them with photo copies of assignments that must be written down each day!
15) Assign a peer buddy to help them write down homework assignments each day.
16) Set up an organization system for them. Color code.
17) Stay away from written assignments and worksheets as much as possible. Allow them to show their knowledge in other ways with hands-on and engaging tasks.
18) Work with the parents on homework by allowing them to modify if needed to avoid chaos in their home each night.
19) These children are generally very creative because their little minds never stop going! Allow them opportunities to showcase their creative strengths.
20) Don't label them as just another misbehaved "Johnny," help them learn by providing the accommodations listed here.
21) Don't send them to the office! They are used to be reprimanded for their struggles and once you send them to the office you not only show them you don't care about their learning difficulties, but you give up your control to the office staff, because you obviously didn't have any control.
22) LOVE them! They are not just misbehaved kids! Their struggle is real and they need your help!!
23) Last! If your student asks to go to the health office because they feel like their heart is racing and beating really fast, LET THEM GO!
My son still has ADHD, but he has learned to control it with maturity and he has grown into a very successful business entrepreneur. At the age of 19, he has two businesses. He buys, sells, and trades coins in his Ebay store. And he does beautiful woodworking and sells his creations on his woodworking website.
Having ADHD is not the end of the world. These are beautiful children that struggle to please and achieve, and need assistance to be successful. Help them to be successful and let them showcase their talents! They are amazing!!!