Sarah Millington, subject advisor for Health and Social Care and Child Development
In this two-part blog I want to explain the effects and impacts ADHD can have on students, and help you to find the most effective methods to help them reach their potential academically and personally.
In the UK it is thought that 2-5% of school aged children have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The most common problems for children with ADHD are behavioural, and the most frequent presentation is inattention.
ADHD is a neuro-developmental disorder caused by differences in brain structure/function and neurotransmitter systems. People with ADHD have multi-system defects in several networks, in several regions, particularly those that mediate higher level cognitive functions and emotional control. (Katya Rubia, King’s College, London, Understanding ADHD: current research and practice).
Everyone uses executive functions to organise and act on information. A person with ADHD has one or more of these executive functions affected, impacting on their everyday life. ADHD is a disorder caused by differences in brain structure. It is not a choice or an excuse for poor behaviour though it is a reason and an explanation for why such behaviour exists.
ADHD can mask a child’s true abilities and sabotage their chance of accessing education. It has also been found to have a big impact on attainment. If we can recognise symptoms and behaviours in students, we can find ways to help them manage and have a better outcome when they progress onto their next stage.
There are three predominant presentations of ADHD, each with a specific set of symptoms:
In some cases, a student may have two or more presentations with multiple symptoms.
Many people go undiagnosed with ADHD as it can be poorly understood. This means there are people that feel like they can’t cope, can’t remember and struggle with everyday things because they haven’t been diagnosed.
Gemma was 42 when she was diagnosed with ADHD. Working as a Learning Support Assistant in a secondary school, she saw students with particular learning needs struggle with lessons and work, never thinking that she had ADHD herself.
‘My ADHD has affected every area of my life. The saddest parts for me were being under-stimulated, and never being able to have a hobby due to my inattention and internal hyperactivity. Sitting in a lesson, my mind wandered; I had multiple fleeting thoughts crashing around each other, internal dialogues and loud thoughts that rush in quickly and disappear. Throw in external stimuli and there are a multitude of distractions.
Teachers would ask me to focus on a topic, hoping that it was something that interested me enough to give me the motivation to focus and take in information.
My mind would often return to the lesson when the teacher had finished explaining and everyone was getting on with their work – but I didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing. If I found a topic uninteresting or pointless, I would disengage and sometimes fall asleep or find stimulation elsewhere.
Exams were horrendous as they needed a decision there and then. I didn’t have the time to process and I couldn’t check it. Coursework-based, visual and activity-based work suited me, as I could take my time and check my work as I went.
Try to imagine being exhausted because your mind will not stop. Thoughts constantly entering your head and not being able to process that thought until another one appears. Knowing that there are a million things to do but not being able to focus on one thing long enough to get it done. Not being able to sit still as you know you need to do something to take your mind off the other thoughts that are racing through your brain.
My hyperactivity was experienced inwardly, with the only outward sign being disengagement. The relief of being diagnosed and realising I wasn’t thick (which I thought I was) or having early onset dementia has been the best thing. It has helped me learn how we can engage and support students with ADHD. We need to think of effective and beneficial ways to understand more about how and what makes them tick.
As an adult you can learn to understand why these things are happening. For a child it takes longer to work out coping strategies and how to regulate their emotions.’
Please read my second blog to see how you can support students with ADHD.
If you have any comments or questions, you can email us at email@example.com or tweet us @OCR_Health. You can also sign up to subject updates and receive information about resources and support.
Sarah joined OCR after teaching Health and Social Care and Child Development over a period of 16 years. Having been a teacher, subject lead and moderator within her career, she has planned and developed subjects to meet the need of her students to allow them to become independent learners, focusing on effective teaching and learning skills. She has experienced and survived several qualification changes: GCSEs to Cambridge Nationals, and A Levels to Cambridge Technicals. In her spare time she enjoys open water sea swimming, travelling and cooking. Pie and cake are key favourites.