Attention Deficit Disorder – Psychology Research Paper

Running head: Attention Deficit Disorder – Psychology Research Paper
Are you having a problem staying focused? Can’t control impulsivity? Do you have a “things to do” pile on top of your other “to do” pile? Do you have trouble just sitting still? Welcome to the world of ADD, attention deficit disorder. ADD is characterized by limited sustained

attention, minimized impulse control, excessive task-irrelevant activity, time-management problems, and limited self-talk and behavioral control. The disorder originates in childhood and manifests itself across the life span (Smith, Polloway, Patton & Dowdy, 2004).

There are three classifications of ADD, each differentiated by the unique characteristics that accompany the inattentiveness (Salend & Rohena, 2003). The first type is ADD with hyperactivity (ADHD), which is accompanied by constant motion or inability to sit still. The second type is ADD with inattentiveness (ADD/IA), which is accompanied by distractibility. The last type, ADD with a combination of hyperactivity and distractibility (ADHD-C), is the most common type of ADD (Salend & Rohena, 2003). As the disorder is most commonly referred to in both prevalence and diagnosis as ADHD, I shall herein make reference to the disorder as ADHD.

The rate of ADHD identification is skyrocketing. According to a Mayo Clinic study, children between the ages of 5 and 19 have at least a 7.5% chance of being identified as having ADHD, with boys being three to nine times more likely to be diagnosed than girls. This will amount to nearly 5 million kids with ADHD (Kluger, Cray, Klarreich & Whitaker, 2003). It is estimated that about 5% of adults, roughly 8 to 9 million, have ADHD but have yet to be diagnosed (Tsao, 2004). ADHD carries no bias, as it tends to occur at the same rate across the ethnic spectrum and socioeconomic stratum.

Although there is no known cause, many theories exist to explain the cause of ADHD. Research on the disorder is diverse, as it should be, so that we might gain a better understanding of the disorder. Some researchers are looking at genetics for similarities in ADHD sufferers; others are researching the high rate of other mental illnesses that often accompany the disorder, such as depression and anxiety (Tsao, 2004). Data suggests that genetics play a significant role in ADHD, as evidenced by a higher prevalence rate in some families (Smith, et al.). One study found that if just one biological parent has ADHD, there is a 57% chance that their child will have some form of the condition (Smith, et al.). However, ADHD is increasingly being viewed as a neurological disorder. The reigning theory is that attention deficits are related to faulty biochemical communication in the brain (M.S.-M, 2004).

In ADHD patients, the chemical balance goes askew. Dopamine and norepinephrine, which aid in attention control and short-term memory, are “sucked up by vacuum-like molecules, and thus cannot play their usual role in communicating thoughts.” (M.S.-M, 2004)
There are two different classes of drugs prescribed for ADHD sufferers, stimulants that focus on dopamine transmitters and non-stimulants that work on the norepinephrine system.

Some stimulant medications like methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta, and Metadate) may slow down that vacuum cleaner and increase the amount of available dopamine. Others, like the amphetamines (Dexedrine, Adderall), simply increase the amount of available dopamine so that even overactive vacuum cells can’t suck it all up (M.S.-M, 2004).

By allowing the brain and nervous system to communicate effectively attention span improves, as does concentration and motor control (“Attention deficit,” 1994). The newer non-stimulant drugs, such as Strattera, act on norepinephrine just as Ritalin acts on dopamine (M.S.-M, 2004).

So who is taking the drugs? Though the long-term treatment effects have not been well studied, it is predominantly our children who are treated with these drugs, while only an estimated 5% of adults are currently on a drug therapy (Tsao, 2004). Not having knowledge of the effects of long-term treatment only adds to the growing concern of just how incompletely formed a child’s brain is. “We now know from imaging studies that frontal lobes…don’t fully mature until age 30.” (Kluger, et al.) Similarly, magnetic resonance images have already shown that the brain volumes of children with ADHD are 3% smaller than that of their non-ADHD peers (Kluger, et al.).

Though not all children diagnosed with ADHD are put on a treatment regiment, “it is estimated that about 85 to 90 percent of students with ADHD are taking stimulant medication…” (Santrock, 2004, p. 309) If the students are not countering the prescription medication side-effects, which vary from sleep difficulties to weight loss, they are trying to counter the affects of ADHD in the classroom.

So how does ADHD affect learning? “Studies demonstrate that the ability to concentrate and focus is a better predictor of academic success than other measures of academic ability.” (“Attention deficit,” 1994, p.7) Educational performance is hindered by the ADHD students’ inability to utilize learning strategies because they can’t stay focused. As they often have trouble singling out important information, they easily lose the main idea amidst a barrage of trivial information (Salend & Rohena, 2003). As the ADHD student often cannot concentrate attention because they cannot remain still for long, this differentiates them from other learning disabilities that have attention deficits for other unknown reasons. Thus, an estimated 10 to 33 percent of all children with ADHD also have some type of learning disability (“Attention deficit,” 1994).

Quite often the ADHD students’ inability to control their own behavior in the classroom may alarm others. The sometimes aggressive, anti-social behaviors leave them feeling rejected by their peers, causing them to feel isolated. As a result, their self-esteem suffers (Slavin, 1994). When esteem suffers, education suffers as well. Students with ADHD have a failure rate 2 to 3 times higher than that of their peers. About one-half of those diagnosed will repeat a grade level and one-third will end up dropping out of school (Santrock, 2004). Some studies suggest that children with untreated ADHD have been linked to higher rates of substance abuse and trouble with the law, as well. (Kluger, et al.)

Distinguishing the ADHD from learning disabilities and behavioral disorders is a continuing challenge, especially since students with learning disabilities often have attention, emotional and behavioral disorders as well (Slavin, 1994). ADD is considered a psychiatric diagnosis as opposed to a disability category, and thus is not classified as a learning disability in and of itself.
Often the ADHD student is eligible for special services through the Individuals with Disabilities Educational Act (IDEA) if they have an accompanying learning disability. If a student with ADHD is not eligible for services under Part B of the IDEA, he/she may meet the requirements of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Under Section 504, if it is determined that ADHD substantially limits major life activities including learning, then the student would qualify for 504 benefits (“Attention deficit,” 1994). Both IDEA and Section 504 require the schools to make modifications to meet these students’ educational needs.

Since no two children with ADHD are exactly alike, a wide variety of interventions and service options must be utilized within the school and classroom to meet their needs (Smith, et al.) This diversity challenges the teachers to be more knowledgeable about the unique characteristics of each student. Students need organizational tactics, self-management techniques and learning strategies, as well as social skills training (Smith, et al.). General teachers should work with special education teachers to establish methods for adapting their classroom, curriculum, and instructional techniques to meet these needs.

Effective teachers should provide a positive classroom environment. To help a student succeed, the teacher will need to utilize a range of interventions to promote positive behavior and socialization (Salend & Rohena, 2003). Many teachers and parents use a form of positive reinforcement in which the child is rewarded for good behavior. Other helpful strategies may range from proper group management strategies to modifying the physical room arrangements which helps to keep the students focuses and on-task.

The curriculum should be stimulating to include experience based learning as well as problem solving activities (Smith, et al.). By linking experiences to lesson topics, the teacher provides the student with much needed memory tools. Likewise the experience based curriculum teaches the students how to apply or incorporate the information into life situations and functions. Teaching individual behavior management techniques also helps to develop a higher self-esteem, and thus improves the student’s learning environment.

Instructional adaptations are a must as well. The general teachers need to modify their own behavior and strategies to include novel and stimulating activities while maintaining structure and consistency. They must adapt their assessment techniques to include cooperative learning situations and allow physical movement as frequently as possible (Smith, et al.).

Ultimately, as teachers learn the strengths and needs of their students with ADHD and develop workable intervention strategies, they create a positive learning environment. It is the understanding that follows recognition of ADHD and all its related aspects that will lend itself to the collaborative effort of all involved working together for the good of the student. “As a team, they can guide the child in developing techniques that can turn repeated failure into continuous progress.” (“Attention deficit,” 1994, p. 2) After all, isn’t that why we are here?


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