The acronym ADHD, short for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, has become part of the lexicon, but many people are still in the dark what it actually entails.
“ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that impairs personal, social, academic and occupational functioning,” said Dr. Stephen Brian Sulkes, of the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. “It often involves dysfunction in attention, memory, perception, language, problem solving or social interaction.”
There are three types of ADHD: the inattentive student who is easily distracted, the hyperactive student who fidgets and talks a lot and feels restless, and a combination of the two, he said.
The onset is frequently seen by age four and before age 12, with the typical age of diagnosis between eight and 10 years. The disorder is more prevalent in girls than boys, with boys frequently exhibiting hyperactivity and girls more often exhibiting symptoms of inattention.
ADHD in the Classroom
Kellie Custer, Educational Consultant, Capital Area Intermediate Unit, said children with ADHD are able to learn alongside their peers and that segregation isn’t recommended. “There are many students and staff members who function fine and others who may just need supplemental aids and support.”
One of the more important strategies for working with a student with ADHD is to set clear expectations, she said. “This is why it’s important to ensure that there is a consistent schedule in place; this helps the learner prepare for what comes next.”
Custer said it’s difficult to generalize when it comes to ADHD.
“There are broad misunderstandings,” she said. “Some are hyperactive and others you can’t pick out of a crowd. The label just helps us understand the environment where students learn best … and enables us to facilitate that.”
Custer stressed the importance of communication when it comes to developing the best ways to help a child with ADHD learn. “Some students struggle with a cognitive load understanding dense content, while others find noise, or distractions, a challenge.”
In the case of distractions, students with ADHD may benefit from sitting in the back corner of the classroom, or in a strategic place where disruptions are minimal. “In order students to be successful, the more information we have, the better,” said Custer.
A set of accommodations, or changes in the classroom environment to help students follow the regular curriculum, is often called a “504 Plan,” and is less formal and involved than an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP, and can be developed with a guidance counselor, or special education staff members. According to Custer, the plan can be highly individualized. “For some it’s medication at school, for others it’s seating close to the front, and for others it may be an extended period of time to do homework,” said Custer.
Some experts recommend using “Calm Down Kits” to help children reconnect the thinking brain to the emotional brain. A “Calm Down Kit” should include visual items for children to watch, such as an hourglass style timer, tension relievers like squeezy slime, items to help them regulate their breathing, like blowing bubbles and resources to give children words they need to describe how they feel.
But the kit isn’t always necessary. “Sometimes it’s easy enough to implement something simple, like tape on the floor to map out the child’s operating space. For others, it’s adaptive equipment for pencils so that the children can fidget with it, or a list of things to do written on a post-it note.”
If a child has difficulty completing assignments at home, Custer recommends using technology to help, such as alarms, timers and Google Chrome extensions to filter out pop-up ads on websites.
Mitigating the Effects
Dr. Michael Platt has been in the medical field since 1972 and his take on ADHD is that excess adrenaline is the cause. “The brain needs sugar and anytime the body detects the brain is running out of glucose, it puts out adrenaline. If you provide the brain with the fuel it needs, the body doesn’t need to produce adrenaline.”
Sometimes you’ll witness anger from a child coping with ADHD and that, too, is from what he describes as excess adrenaline.
Both Platt and Sulkes recommend healthy lifestyle habits to decrease some of the issues that present themselves in the form of anger, insomnia, constipation and other conditions that can be harmful. Good habits include exercise, limiting screen time, getting enough sleep and eating healthy.
Platt, who owns a website at Plattwellness.com, recommends low glycemic foods, which are slowly digested and absorbed. Another Platt suggestion is replacing oils like canola, with MTC oil, which has been described as an enhanced version of coconut oil and is said to fuel the brain with fast-acting energy.
Platt said that he’s worked with thousands of patients over the years, and in his experience, ADHD is not something that parents, or loved ones, should view as a terrible condition. “So many intelligent, successful and creative people in the world have ADHD. For so many, it’s just a matter of knowing how to mitigate it,” he said.