Characteristics of ADHD Students (page 3)
The characteristics and needs of students with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder can vary considerably. Although all students might occasionally demonstrate some symptoms of ADHD, students diagnosed with this disorder display many of them prior to 7 years of age. Further, their symptoms are chronic and extraordinary. Consider this account from Mr. Mitchell, a high school social studies teacher, about Benjamin, one of his students:
I keep Ben seated right in the front of the room, next to where I'm most likely to stand while I'm teaching the large group. When I ask the class a question, Ben is likely to jump out of his seat and wave his hand in my face or jump up and down to get me to call on him. Sometimes I try to make eye contact with him to get him to sit down, but it usually works better if I just put my hand on his shoulder and push a little. When my students are working on their own, I may turn around to notice that Ben is "sitting" by balancing on the top of the back of his seat. If I make a general comment to the class about settling down, everyone does—except Ben. I try very hard not to correct him publicly, since he really doesn't seem to know what he is doing. Having Ben certainly has taught me a new kind of patience.
Intellectually, students with ADHD can function at any level, although the disorder usually is diagnosed in students who do not have intellectual disabilities. Students who are below average in ability and achievement, who are average learners, and who are gifted and talented all can have ADHD (Antshel et al., 2007). Their shared characteristics relate to how their brains function. That is, ADHD is not really about inattention; rather, it is the inability to regulate attention. The disorder develops when students fail to develop executive functions, that is, the ability to carry out the mental activities that help most people regulate their behavior (Barkley, 2006; Brown, 2007). Executive functions include these four activities:
- Working memory—the ability to remember what tasks are supposed to be done and how much time there is to do them
- Self-directed speech—the silent self-talk that most people use to manage complex tasks
- Control of emotions and motivation—the ability to talk oneself into calming down when faced with a difficult or frustrating task
- Reconstitution—the ability to combine skills learned across a variety of settings in order to carry out a new task, such as a student's knowledge that the rule for speaking in a low voice applies not only in the classroom but also in the hallways, lunchroom, and office
Think about friends from high school who were diagnosed with ADHD or students with whom you now work who have this disorder. How do they display these problems in executive functions in school? At home? In other settings?
Academically, students with ADHD may have difficulty in reading, especially long passages for which comprehension demands are high; in spelling, which requires careful attention to detail; in listening, especially when a large amount of highly detailed information is presented; and in math, which often requires faster computational skills than students with ADHD can handle (DuPaul et al., 2006; Reid, Trout, & Schartz, 2005). All these learning problems can be related to students' problems in executive functions.
Socially and emotionally, students with ADHD are at risk for a variety of problems (Harpin, 2005). For example, they are more likely to be depressed or to have extremely low self-confidence or self-esteem. Likewise, they are likely to have conflicts with parents, teachers, and other authority figures. These students often are unpopular with peers, frequently are rejected by them, and have difficulty making friends. Students with ADHD may feel demoralized, but they also may be bossy and obstinate.
The frequency of behavior problems of students with ADHD varies (Duhaney, 2003). Students whose disorder is inattention might not act out in class, but they may be disruptive when they try to find a lost item or constantly ask classmates for assistance in finding their place in a book or carrying out directions. Students with hyperactive-impulsive disorder often come to teachers' attention immediately because they have so many behavior problems. Their constant motion, refusal to work, and other behaviors can be problematic even in the most tolerant environment.
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