ADD/ADHD Friendly Education: When ADD Shows Up in the Classroom (Part 1)

Last week we had the opportunity to discuss the so-called ‘three deficits’ associated with ADD/ADHD. You will recall that I identified them as: Inattention, Impulsivity and Hyperactivity. This week’s article will focus on how these deficits ‘show up’ in the classroom. By discussing this I want to attempt to bring the discussion down to the practical ‘nitty gritty’ aspects of attempting to run a classroom containing children with ADD/ADHD. This is important to help us to fully understand the problem before we begin to discuss some possible solutions.
Allow me also to make two very important points before I list specific attitudes and behaviors:

  • It should firstly be noted that the items on the list should not be used as a guide to diagnosing ADD/ADHD in the classroom. There can be many other possible explanations for them. I would therefore like to encourage you to investigate different explanations before simply rushing to the conclusion that you are dealing with ADD/ADHD. Having said that, if you are certain that you are dealing with the condition these behaviors and attitudes are sure to surface at some stage.
  • It is, furthermore, important to understand that not all of these attitudes and behaviors will manifest in every single child with the condition. They should, rather, be understood as being on a spectrum with some children fully displaying some attitudes and behaviors  while barely registering others. The way in which the items on the list will be ‘pick and mixed’ will obviously differ widely among individuals. There is therefore no single template that will provide a catch-all description of how ADD/ADHD will show up in the classroom.

With that being said let us begin to look at some of the most common attitudes and behaviors associated with ADD/ADHD in the classroom:
1. Fidgeting: This is perhaps the aspect of ADD/ADHD in the classroom that teachers find the most frustrating. Some children with the condition find it virtually impossible to sit still. This translates into shifting around in chairs, the tapping of feet, drumming of fingers, rubbing of hands…the list goes on! This kind of behavior is almost guaranteed to drive teachers up the wall, especially as it can be so distracting to the other children in the class.
2. Speaking out of turn: Many children with ADD/ADHD are classic ‘motor-mouths’, talking incessantly. This is closely linked with the impulsivity associated with the condition. Some children struggle to pick up the social cues on when talking is appropriate (or not) and therefore speak whenever they feel like it.
3. Daydreaming: This is sometimes known as the ‘hidden symptom’ of ADD/ADHD, simply because it is virtually invisible. It only shows up when a student is being put on the spot by being asked a question or perhaps at the end of term exam when it becomes clear that no attention was paid to what was happening in class. This factor is obviously linked to the deficit of inattention. The inability of the brain to focus on the task at hand means that the mind simply wanders wherever fancy takes it. It should be obvious that this is certainly not conducive to the ideal of a good education. (Daydreaming and ‘zoning out’ are, by the way, often viewed as some of the most common manifestations of ADD/ADHD among girls)
4. General feelings of restlessness and discontent: This is obviously very difficult to gauge but is perhaps more common in older children who, over the years, managed to get their bodies to ‘behave’ (i.e. they are not fidgeting so much anymore). The problem is that this suppressed urge to move then simply causes internal movements (read: turmoil!). Feelings of discontent can very often translate into active hostility to education since education becomes associated with ‘feeling horrible’.
5. Incomplete projects: The lack of focus associated with ADD/ADHD means that you are likely to see many starts and not as many finishes! This is especially to be expected where the child does not have a natural interest in the subject at hand. This scenario can obviously be massively frustrating for child and teacher alike and could very well lead to him/her being labeled as lazy and irresponsible.

    This list should make it clear that dealing with ADD/ADHD in the classroom can be a major challenge (to put it mildly!). This is why I feel so strongly about the need for this series. Misunderstandings about the nature of ADD/ADHD and also about the best way to deal with it are causing massive amounts of suffering and frustration in classrooms around the world. This series of articles is my humble attempt to help address this situation.
    Please come back next week for some more pointers on what can happen when ADD/ADHD ‘shows up in the classroom’. See you then!