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Students with Learning Disabilities (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on May 1, 2014

Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Almost all students can be inattentive, hyperactive, and impulsive at one time or another. But those with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) typically have marked deficits in these areas, as reflected in the following identification criteria (American Psychiatric Association, 1994; Barkley, 1998):

  • Inattention.  Students may have considerable difficulty focusing and maintaining attention on assigned tasks. They may have trouble listening to and following directions, may make frequent and careless mistakes, and may be easily distracted by appealing alternative activities.
  • Hyperactivity.  Students may seem to have an excess amount of energy. They are apt to be fidgety, move around the classroom at inappropriate times, or have trouble working or playing quietly.
  • Impulsivity.  Students almost invariably have trouble inhibiting inappropriate behaviors. They may blurt out answers, begin assignments prematurely, or engage in risky or destructive behaviors without thinking about potential consequences.

Students with ADHD do not necessarily show all three of these characteristics. For instance, some are inattentive without also being hyperactive, as is true for Tim in the opening case study. But all students with ADHD appear to have one characteristic in common: an inability to inhibit inappropriate thoughts, inappropriate actions, or both (Barkley, 1998; Casey, 2001). Tim, for example, is easily distracted by his thoughts and daydreams when he should be focusing on a classroom lesson.

ADHD is assumed to have a biological and possibly genetic origin (Barkley, 1998; Purdie, Hattie, & Carroll, 2002; Sabbagh, Xu, Carlson, Moses, & Lee, 2006). But once identified as having ADHD, many students can be helped through behaviorist techniques (see Chapter 9) and remediation of cognitive difficulties. For some students medication (e.g., Ritalin) is also helpful (DuPaul, Barkley, & Connor, 1998; Gulley et al., 2003; Purdie et al., 2002).

Common Characteristics  In addition to inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, students identified as having ADHD may have characteristics such as these:

  • Exceptional imagination and creativity
  • Cognitive processing difficulties and poor school achievement
  • Classroom behavior problems (e.g., disruptiveness, noncompliance with rules)
  • Difficulty interpreting and reasoning about social situations
  • Greater emotional reactivity (e.g., excitability, hostility) in interactions with peers
  • Few friendships; sometimes outright rejection by peers
  • Increased probability of using tobacco and alcohol in adolescence (Barkley, 1998; Gresham & MacMillan, 1997; Grodzinsky & Diamond, 1992; Hallowell, 1996; Lahey & Page Carlson, 1991; Landau & McAninch, 1993; E. P. Lorch et al., 1999; Milch-Reich et al., 1999; Whalen, Jamner, Henker, Delfino, & Lozano, 2002)

Some students with ADHD may also have a learning disability or an emotional or behavioral disorder, whereas others may be gifted (Barkley, 1998; Conte, 1991; R. E. Reeve, 1990). The symptoms associated with ADHD may diminish in adolescence, but to some degree they persist throughout the school years, making it difficult for students to handle the increasing demands for independence and responsible behavior that come in high school (Barkley, 1998; Claude & Firestone, 1995; E. L. Hart, Lahey, Loeber, Applegate, & Frick, 1995). Accordingly, students with ADHD are at greater-than-average risk for dropping out of school (Barkley, 1998).

Adapting Instruction  Researchers and practitioners have offered several suggestions for helping students with ADHD:

  • Modify students’ schedules and work environments. The symptoms of ADHD tend to get progressively worse as the day goes on. Ideally, then, students should have most academic subjects and challenging tasks in the morning rather than the afternoon. Furthermore, moving students’ desks away from distractions (e.g., away from the door and window but not too close to classmates) and close to the teacher, where behavior can be monitored, can enhance their attention and achievement (Barkley, 1998).
  • Teach attention-maintaining strategies.  Students with ADHD often benefit from learning concrete strategies for keeping their attention on an assigned task (Buchoff, 1990). For instance, we can ask them to keep their eyes on us when we’re giving directions or providing new information. And we can encourage them to move to a new location if their current one presents too many distracting sights or sounds.
  • Provide outlets for excess energy.  To help students control excess energy, we should intersperse quiet academic work with frequent opportunities for physical exercise (Pellegrini & Bohn, 2005; Pfiffner & Barkley, 1998). We might also give students a settling-in time after recess or lunch—perhaps reading an excerpt from a high-interest storybook or magazine article—before asking them to engage in an activity that involves quiet concentration (Pellegrini & Horvat, 1995).
  • Help students organize and use their time effectively.  Because of their inattentiveness and hyperactivity, students with ADHD (like Tim in the opening case) often have difficulty completing daily classroom tasks. Several strategies can help these students organize themselves and use class time more effectively. We can show them how to create to-do lists and establish a daily routine that they post on their desks. We can also break large tasks into smaller ones and set a short time limit for each subtask. And we can provide a folder in which students transport homework assignments to and from school (Buchoff, 1990; Pfiffner & Barkley, 1998).
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