Hyperactivity refers to behaviors that include developmentally inappropriate levels of activity, out-of-seat behavior, moving about without permission, talking out of turn to others, and excessive talking. Most of these behaviors are expected of young students in many environmental contexts. These same behaviors, however, may prove troublesome for school-age students in home, school, and community environments.
Hyperactivity is one of the most overused terms in education. Controversy has arisen over whether or not hyperactivity exists as an independent behavioral construct. It is often associated with inattention, impulsivity and conduct disorders (Gaynor, 1990; Gresham, Lane, & Beebe-Frankenberger, 2005; Kauffman, 2005; Kohn, 1989; Shaw, Lacourse, & Nagin, 2005). Like inattention, the function of hyperactivity seems to be to gain attention, to escape from tasks, or to provide self-gratification.
Interestingly, symptoms of many students labeled hyperactive often seem to disappear when the student is engaged in something he or she enjoys such as playing video games, watching TV, or engaging in free play. This should tell us much about the etiology of the behavior. If it were biological, hyperactivity would be either constant or random. But if the behavior follows environmental antecedents, the etiology is environmental, not biological, and medication will not solve the fundamental problem.
Common Causes and Antecedents of Hyperactive Behavior
There is not one cause of hyperactivity, though a number of theories have been suggested. Brain damage, biological factors, food additives, difficult temperament, and psychoanalytic factors have all been proposed as explanations for hyperactivity without sufficient scientific research to conclude that anyone of them alone or in combination is a cause for hyperactivity (Kauffman, 2005).
Other explanations for hyperactive behavior revolve around theories of modeling, imitation, and environmental interaction (Campbell & Werry, 1986; David & Wintrob, 1989; Kauffman, 2005; Kohn, 1989). Clearly, the most plausible explanation for hyperactive behavior is that it is caused by a combination of factors, including learned behavior.
There is significant overlap of antecedents and risk factors for disruptive behavior, hyperactivity, attention problems, impulsivity, conduct problems, and most other challenging behaviors (Shaw et al., 2005). Gresham and colleagues (2005) found that by grade 6, students showing hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention are at greater risk for academic failure. Bussing, Zima, and Belin (1998) found that students in grades 2 and 4 who demonstrated hyperactivity, inattention, and impulsivity also received special education services for learning disabilities and emotional/behavioral disorders. This suggests a link between these behaviors, including the possibility that the causative factors of each behavior is shared. It may also be the case that students who have not learned to pay attention and other school readiness skills at home do poorly at school and thus are more likely to be labeled learning disabled by educators. That brings us to environmental factors.
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