By Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., author of Self-Regulation in the Classroom: Helping Students Learn How to Learn
Part of our Cash in on Learning series by Richard M. Cash, Ed.D. Click to read other Cash in on Learning posts.
Most people who know me would say that I’m “bubbly” or “full of energy.” When I was in school, I was always talking to my neighbor, easily distracted, and generally into everything other than what I was told to do. In my school years, we didn’t have terms such as ADD (attention deficit disorder) or ADHD (attention deficit hyperactive disorder). I was just labeled “chatty” or “naughty.”
Now we know more about the issues of ADD and ADHD and the neurological confusion that can go on in kids’ brains. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), the term ADHD is replacing the term ADD entirely. Those with ADHD typically have a hard time staying focused, may have hyperactive tendencies to be in constant or almost constant motion, and can appear to be impulsive. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of children being diagnosed with ADHD has increased steadily over time (and may vary based on the different measures applied). According to the DSM-5, upwards of 5 percent of all children live with ADHD. However, those rates may be higher in different communities.
Numerous strategies can be helpful when working with students with ADHD, such as providing:
- Systems to stay organized
- Varied seating options (yoga balls, standing desks, beanbag chairs)
- Outlines of class sessions
- Ways to deal with stress
- Fidget toys
- Differentiated activities based on learning strengths
Another idea to consider is that with the overwhelming number of students now being diagnosed with ADHD, more than in any other time in history, some of what is considered ADHD may simply be due to a lack of stimulation in the classroom. I’ve encountered students throughout my career, mostly identified as gifted, who have been diagnosed with ADHD but who really were simply bored, under-challenged, or disinterested.
Dr. Sydney Zentall, a leading researcher in the field of ADHD at Purdue University, suggests that in some cases students may not clinically have ADHD but simply be under-stimulated. She states that these students may require higher degrees of stimulation and engagement than the average student. Additionally, Matt Fugate, Marcia Gentry, and Zentall found that while some gifted students diagnosed with ADHD possessed poorer work habits, these students exhibited greater levels of creativity than gifted students without ADHD.
While ADHD carries with it some dramatic effects on learning and relationship building, there may be some positive outcomes for students who are diagnosed or exhibit traits. Based on the research cited above, here are some suggestions for working with your gifted ADHD students:
- Use students’ interests to engage them in the learning process
- Provide opportunities for them to explore topics beyond or extended from the core curriculum
- When offering different options, create contracts with students and help them monitor their accomplishments
- Allow for creative expression throughout the school day, such as using creative dramatics and dance movements
- Give them time to be playful or goofy; this can help alleviate the desire to sneak in their silliness
- Differentiate the ways students gather and disseminate information, such as through role play, interpretive dance movement, or doodling
- Offer challenging experiences based on students’ interests
- Bring in successful adults who have ADHD to discuss how they have learned to effectively manage themselves
Clearly, students who exhibit traits of ADHD need assistance in self-regulation in the classroom. Without regulation, these students will find it hard to be successful in school and beyond. I’ve seen far too many bright students who couldn’t manage themselves fail and underachieve. Lack of self-regulation may also lead to low self-esteem or toxic self-medicating to overcome the effects of ADHD.
However, students with ADHD may be sending us a message regarding their needs for greater stimulation and desires to be more self-expressive in their learning. These traits are what will make them successful in life. We need to nurture students’ creative sides, allow for their unique ways of doing, and encourage them to develop their talents.
I’d love to hear your ideas of what worked or didn’t work in your classroom for students with ADHD.
American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition: DSM-5. American Psychiatric Publishing, 2013.
Fugate, C. M., S. S. Zentall, and M. Gentry. “Creativity and Working Memory in Gifted Students With and Without Characteristics of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder: Lifting the Mask.” Gifted Child Quarterly 57, no. 1 (2013): 234–246.
Zentall, S. S. “Research on the Educational Implications of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.” Exceptional Children 60, no. 2 (1993): 143–153.
Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., writes the monthly Cash in on Learning blog posts for Free Spirit Publishing. He has given hundreds of workshops, presentations, and staff development sessions throughout the United States and internationally.
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