School is back in session, and as the leaves turn parents may be noticing signs that their children are having difficulties with schoolwork. In addition, October is National ADHD Awareness Month. That’s why fall is the perfect time of year for sharing information about the impact ADHD has on students in the classroom, and offering a few helpful tips and strategies for parents on how to recognize and deal with the effects of ADHD.
If your child seems unmotivated and doesn’t care about school, or if he or she is perceived as having a character flaw, often there is something more to it than that. That “something more” could be attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, better known as ADHD.
Let’s start with some facts about ADHD:
• Historically, the rate of ADHD diagnosis has been between 3 percent and 7 percent. Now, however, recent reports from the Centers for Disease Control show the rate of diagnosis closer to 11 percent, with some states reporting rates as high as 23 percent for boys.
• Boys with diagnosed ADHD outnumber girls approximately three to one. But, it is believed that boys are substantially more often misdiagnosed than girls.
• NIH researchers have reported a three-year delay in the brain maturation of children with ADHD. This means that a 10-year-old with ADHD would have the maturity of a 7-year-old. In the fifth-grade classroom, that would be like teaching a student with the maturity of a second-grader.
• ADHD often occurs with other conditions. According to research by the National Institute of Mental Health, two-thirds of people with ADHD have at least one other co-existing condition such as learning disabilities (25 percent to 50 percent), Tourette disorder (11 percent), anxiety (37 percent), depression (28 percent) or bipolar (12 percent). Up to 50 percent of teenagers with ADHD were diagnosed with anxiety.
Physiologically, boys are not predisposed to have ADHD more than girls. Boys and girls are equally as likely to have it. But ADHD is more likely to be diagnosed in boys because they have the tendency toward hyperactive behavior. They are more likely to be impulsive — to blurt out answers. Girls with ADHD, on the other hand, are more likely to be absorbed in their own thoughts and stare out the window.
Children with ADHD usually are very smart. They may not be able to sit still for an hour of studying, but they might do well in 20-minute bursts. If a child with ADHD knows he is better in spelling than in math, then it makes sense to let him do spelling first, run around for a while, and then come back and do math.
Writing is often hard for a student with ADHD. There is a lot to think about when we are writing, and students with ADHD have a difficult time organizing their ideas. To begin the writing process, students may benefit from verbalizing their ideas to see if they make sense before they begin to write. Another idea is to use color-coded index cards to write down ideas such as topics, subtopics, and supporting details. The cards can be spread out, rearranged, and clustered together to help the student gain a clear idea of what he is writing.
The bottom line for parents is that ADHD is more common than one might think. It can have a great impact on a child’s performance in the classroom. While ADHD is not an excuse for underachievement, it may help to explain why a child is struggling in school.
If you see signs of chronic inattentiveness in your child, if she or he has a hard time getting schoolwork done, your parental intuition is a good guide. You need to consult with a pediatrician. And you may have to dig deeper to make sure there isn’t something else going on psychiatrically or neurologically.
Ann Dolin is founder and president of Educational Connections Inc., a Fairfax-based in-home tutoring and test preparation service.