ADD/ADHD in the Classroom – Improving Behavior (2)

One of the most important predictors of success in education is the existence of a supportive learning and social environment. In other words if students feel well liked and well supported they tend to thrive academically. The problem is, however, that for many students with ADD/ADHD their condition actively works against such an environment existing in their case. Some of the behaviors that the condition is known for are almost guaranteed to generate conflict between the student and his/her peers and also with teaching staff. One of the main reasons behind this is that peers and teachers are not always aware of the behavioral implications of the condition and therefore interpret things like disruptive behavior, lateness and inappropriate responses to social cues as signs of antagonism and aggression. Over the next few weeks we will discuss how some of these perceptions can be addressed and how student mood and behavior can be improved, not only for the benefit of the individual student but also for the whole class.
Here are some basic suggestions for how this important goal can be achieved:
1) Educate yourself (and your class) about the behavioral implications of ADD/ADHD: We often tend to think of ADD/ADHD in terms of individual symptoms (e.g. fidgeting or lack of focus), we forget however that all of these individual symptoms combine in the minds of people to form a strong perception about the behavior and attitude of an individual student. The student may have no idea that he/she is being perceived in this way but it is very likely that a perception of sullenness, uncooperativeness and even hostility will develop because of the misinterpretation of individual symptoms. The first and most important thing that we, therefore, have to say about improvement of behavior and mood among ADD/ADHD students is that teachers will have to educate themselves about the types of behaviors (and also the reasons behind them) that you are likely to encounter if you have children with the condition in your class. It is, furthermore, important that you not only educate yourself but also the rest of the class. This will help them to see that certain types of inappropriate behavior is not an indication that the student with ADD/ADHD wants to isolate him or herself but that there are deeper seated reasons behind this. This is obviously an area that will have to be addressed very sensitively as you would not want to single out individual students in ways that will embarrass them.
2) Set standards of behavior in consultation with individual students: The next step, after educating yourself about the behavioral implications of ADD/ADHD, would be to study the way in which certain behaviors manifest in the life of your own individual ADD/ADHD students. This will help you to identify trends and also specific behaviors that may be particularly damaging or disruptive. Identifying these areas will probably not be too hard since you are most probably confronted with the fallout on a daily basis. Time observing the student and identifying particularly troubling behaviors should then be followed up with a frank discussion with the student and also with his/her parents if appropriate. As such a meeting you should point out that these behaviors are working against acceptable educational outcomes for the student and are alienating him/her from the rest of the class. You should point out that you realize that the issues that you are addressing do not necessarily flow from a sense of alienation or hostility but that it is associated with ADD/ADHD. Clearing the air in this way will then help you to move on to the next step which is to work with the student to find proactive ways in which troubling behaviors can be addressed and hopefully eliminated. In some cases the mere pointing out of some of these issues may be enough to bring real change. It could be the case that the student simply did not realize that a particular behavior was causing trouble. Cases where identifying the behavior will lead to its reduction will, however, be in the minority. Behaviors can often be so deeply entrenched that hard work would be needed to dislodge them. This is where a well worked out program of motivation and rewards can prove invaluable. Let the student know that you will work with him/her to improve a particular behavior and that improvements will be appropriately acknowledged. Acknowledgement can range from verbal praise all the way to an appropriate form of tangible rewards. In presenting this you should convince the student that you are his/her ally in beating the behavior and that you commit to doing your best from your side and expect him/her to do the same. If appropriate you can even enter into some kind of formal behavior modification contract.
The steps described in this week’s article are a solid foundation for behavior modification. Understanding the basic behavioral implications of ADD/ADHD and then committing yourself to help individual students to overcome these is half the battle! Next week we will begin to discuss some specific applications within this broad framework. See you then!