Tuesday, July 5, 2011

All About ADHD: Developmental Levels

As an educator, I have encountered ADHD students every year in every class.  A new teacher will no doubt encounter a child with ADHD within his/her first or second year of teaching.  As far back as 1996, there was an estimated 3-5% of the school age population (over 2 million students) diagnosed with ADHD.  This translated to about 1 to 2 kids in every classroom all across the country (Pfiffner, p.10).  In 2009, slightly less than 5.5 million school age children were diagnosed with ADHD.  With such a large number of school age children diagnosed with ADHD, it is imperative that educators have a strong understanding what ADHD is and how it impacts the learning of a child.  It is only after an understanding of ADHD occurs that effective teaching strategies can be implemented to help support the education of any child at any educational level with ADHD. 

It is a bit uncommon for a child under the age of 6 to be formally diagnosed by a doctor with ADHD simply due to the commonalities between small children with and without ADHD.  There are no objective answers to questions, such as "When is inattentiveness considered impulsivity" or "How do parents differentiate between behavior that is developmentally normal from those that are indicative of a long-lasting problem"? (Parker, p. 22). Preschool children are naturally impulsive and very active.  Attention spans are focused on interesting and new things and are very brief (based upon interest in an item).  Preschoolers are self-centered, demanding, and generally get upset when they don't get what they want.  Teachers at this level plan instructional activities knowing this about their students' development.  ADHD preschoolers are often described by their parents as more overactive than normal.  Their need for stimulating activity means they are constantly moving and climbing.  Constant supervision is necessary.  They are often described as exhibiting uncommon reactions to frustrations, including aggressiveness, that most other children their age do not exhibit.

Parents of ADHD children often describe themselves as "exhausted" by the child rearing process (Parker, p. 22).  Disruptive behavior is a concern when children with ADHD begin school IF there has been no meaningful and effective behavioral controls at home.  At school, there are definite strategies a teacher can use to help support the preschool child diagnosed with ADHD (by the way, most strategies work with all younger children, not just those with ADHD).

1.  Keep eye contact with the child.  If necessary, gently hold their chin so that they are looking at you when you speak. Children tend to listen more closely when they are looking at you as you speak.

2.  Structure the day as much as possible.  Keep nap times, meal times, and various activities at the same time each day.  Having the day predictable for the child will help them cope better.  Let them know any disruptions that may happen and what to expect.  Let them know what you expect of them. 
3.  Give them plenty of time to release energy.  Set up times during the day for them to run or release energy.  Make daily trips to the playground or play outside. If stuck inside, use a radio or CD and have them dance. 
4.  Choose toys carefully.  Children with ADHD can be emotionally immature.  Allow toys that will benefit them developmentally and also provide toys to stretch their intelligence.  (Children with ADHD do not have a lower intelligence level.)

5.  Integrate learning techniques.  Use as many as the senses as possible when teaching a new skill.  If you are teaching your child colors, find items they can touch, eat, or smell.  Have them draw with crayons.  Having learning become interactive will help them learn more quickly.

6.  Create an environment to help them succeed.  Accept they may be accident prone and put away items you don’t want broken.  Use simple organizational structures they can use to put away toys.  Use pictures on drawers to help them know what is inside. 
7.  Be consistent.  Consistency is the most important part of behavioral management when working with children with ADHD.  The more consistent you are, the more they will know exactly what to expect and be able to follow your rules.

More information and resources can be found on this topic at the Attention Deficit Disorder Resources Website. www.addresources.org

Chandler, MD, Jim (2002). What is ADHD?
Parker, PhD, Harvey (1996).  The ADD Hyperactivity Handbook for Schools
Pfiffner, PhD, Linda (1996).  All About ADHD:  The Complete Practical Guide for Classroom Teachers

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