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Attention-deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as understood by the general population consists of difficulties with attention, poor impulse control and hyperactivity. However, learning disabilities (LD) and learning deficits often co-occur with ADHD and are less known to parents and teachers. According to Barkley (2006), prevalence rates of specific reading disability in children with ADHD occur at 21%, and for specific mathematics disorder co-occurrence reaches 28%. This column reviews some beliefs and simple interventions that are often overlooked by educators when working with children with ADHD that can also often be seen in children who have LD.
Problematic Teacher Beliefs and an Alternative Perspective
(adapted from Braswell, 1998).
1) The child is intentionally acting this way.
Alternative: Try to not personalize the child’s behavior and see it as part of a disability.
2) The parents are responsible for the child’s maladaptive behaviors.
Alternative: Refrain from engaging in blame and focus on problem solving instead.
3) I apparently do not have control over the child so I might as well give up.
Alternative: I do not have control over any child’s behavior but I can control the way I
4) The child will never amount to anything and will likely become a criminal.
Alternative: I need to worry and focus about today and not attempt to predict far future
5) The child should behave appropriately and I should not have to treat this child
differently than others.
Alternative: Just as children master academic concepts at different rates and with different
assistance, so do children who exhibit problematic behaviors and may require
more assistance than others.
6) The child is basically “defective.”
Alternative: Understand that the issue is developing appropriate expectations for the child
at school and at home and not decreasing all expectations.
Research supports the notion that students perform better in a classroom environment that allows them ample opportunity for physical, verbal, and cognitive activity (Mather & Goldstein, 2008). Best practices dictate active engagement between students and teacher that allows for the opportunity to engage in active listening and questioning along with novel and interesting instruction to capture and keep student attention.
What can a Teacher Do? Possible Interventions
(adapted from Goldstein & Jones, 1998)
1) Be positive.
Often teachers become frustrated when children with ADHD engage in a maladaptive behavior even though they know better. Although they may know the rule of the classroom, the major problem is not a cognitive deficit but a lack of behavioral inhibition. The main component of ADHD is poor impulse control that is clearly related to the violation of the rules of the classroom. Teachers need to state what they want students with ADHD to do, rather than focusing on what they are doing wrong. Telling students what not to do does not help them to understand the demands of the teacher and they are more likely to substitute one problematic behavior with another one.
2) Give concise and clear directions.
Often teachers give a sequence of directions to students, and children with ADHD and LD are more often than not, unable to follow these longer sequenced chains of command. Compliance is more likely enacted in the classroom when the children are presented with simple, concise and one-step commands that specifically tell them what to do. Moreover, compliance increases when they are asked to repeat back the directions that clearly indicate processing of the request.
3) Allow nondisruptive movement.
Even if children with ADHD are taking medication, they are more likely to engage in overactive and restless behavior than other children without ADHD. Often they can be described as having “ants in their pants.” Teachers should be aware of the limits in “controlling” the hyperactive behavior and pick their battles. For example, if a child with ADHD is fidgety in his/her seat, maybe a break from the work for just a few minutes in which he/she engages in some physical movement such as engaging in an errand of bringing a note to a counselor for the teacher or as positive reinforcement for positive behavior in completing classwork to be allowed to erase the board. This may be a good way to release this excess energy in a positive manner rather than scolding the child with ADHD for fidgeting.
4) Prepare children for changes.
Often children with ADHD and LD have great difficulties during transitions along with unexpected changes in the classroom environment due to over-arousal. It is important for teachers to prompt and orient them for any potential changes in the school day routine. In addition, teachers can inform children with ADHD how much time remains on completing a classroom assignment several times during the work period rather than informing them when only two minutes are left in the period. This will likely increase their time management skills to correctly complete the assignment within the allotted time period and prepare them for an upcoming transition to another activity.
It is important to remember that the child with a disability is quite possibly processing information in a very different way than the other children without disabilities in the classroom as evidenced by documented working memory deficits in children with ADHD and LD. Teachers should contact their school psychologist and/or special education consultant to discuss additional interventions that will facilitate better academic and behavioral performance for all students in their class.
Barkley, R. A. (2006). Associated cognitive, developmental, and health problems. In R.
Barkley (Ed.), Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (pp. 122-183). New
York: Guilford Press.
Braswell, L. (1998). Cognitive behavioral approaches as adjunctive treatments for
ADHD children and their families. In. S. Goldstein & M. Goldstein (Eds.),
Managing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (pp. 533-544). New
York: John Wiley & Sons.
Goldstein, S. & Jones, C. (1998). Managing and educating children with ADHD. In.
S. Goldstein & M. Goldstein (Eds.), Managing attention deficit hyperactivity
disorder (pp. 545-591). New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Mather, N. & Goldstein, S. (2008). Learning disabilities and challenging
behaviors. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Company.
Michael David Benhar, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor in the Social Sciences Department at Suffolk County Community College. Dr. Michael David Benhar teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Developmental Psychology, Exceptional Child, Classroom Management, and Assessment. He has co-authored a chapter on students with disabilities. In addition, he has worked as a school psychologist in a preschool for children with special needs. Contact Dr. Michael Benhar at firstname.lastname@example.org.