Teaching Children with ADHD – Education Term Paper

Teaching Children with ADHD – Education Term Paper
ADHD has become a “buzz” term in the educational environment. Since ADHD is so commonly encountered by educators in both special education and general education, it is crucial for a teacher to understand it, know the science behind it, and be able to provide the best educational environment for students with it. ADHD stands for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

Originally, the disorder was labeled ADD (attention deficit disorder). But due to the research by Russell Barkley, a Harvard psychologist, whose results showed that 85% of all children who suffer from attention deficit disorder also suffer from the hyperactivity component (Loechler, 1999). Therefore, the two disorders have been combined to form the single disorder of ADHD.

The cause of the disorder is not well understood. Unfortunately, parents often blame themselves when a child is diagnosed with ADHD, but scientists now believe that there is a genetic and neurobiological explanation for the disorder (Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, at http://mayoclinic.com).

ADHD was once thought to be exclusively caused by a chemical imbalance because children and adults diagnosed with ADHD appeared to have low levels of dopamine, which is a chemical that sends messages to the part of the brain involved in attention, movement and motivation. But more recently, brain scans of children with ADHD also show changes in the neural pathways that carry these messages (Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, at http://mayoclinic.com). Therefore, researchers believe that it is possible that the dysfunction of these pathways could be interfering with communication between the parts of the brain that regulate attention, planning, impulsive behavior and motor control, which are all areas of difficulty for people with ADHD.

Heredity may be the most common cause of ADHD. Research shows that one in four children with ADHD have at least one relative with the disorder, and when one identical twin has ADHS, the other twin almost always has it as well (Causes of ADHD, at http://myadhd.com/causesofadhd.html).

Other possible causes of ADHD are childhood exposure to environmental toxins and maternal smoking, drug use and exposure to toxins during pregnancy. There is evidence that preschool children exposed to lead and industrial chemicals such as Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) have an increased risk of developmental and behavioral problems. Children whose mother smoked, took drugs, or had exposure to environmental toxins during pregnancy may also show signs of developmental and behavioral, however, it is unlikely that such exposure accounts for differences in brain development in the vast majority of children and adolescents with ADHD (Causes of ADHD, at http://myadhd.com/causesofadhd.html).

It is important for teachers to know about the myths surrounding ADHD so that they can accurately answer questions that parents ask. It is commonly believed that diet can be a causative factor to a child’s ADHD. But according to the research, there has been no found correlation between allergies or food sensitivities and ADHD. Despite the lack of evidence, the popular media continues to discuss the role of food in ADHD, particularly that sugar may cause children to become hyperactive and impulsive (Wolraich, 1985). Other theories or myths regarding the cause of ADHD are hormone dysfunction and vestibular system dysfunction. There has been no significant research that has found connections between either of these two dysfunctions and ADHD.

Probably the most important myth for teachers to be able to dispel is that poor parenting or problems in the family can cause ADHD. Although some studies show that parents use more negative commands with children with ADHD and less positive reinforcement, this is most likely a result of the child’s non-compliant behavior versus a cause of the child’s ADHD. It is important for teachers and parents to realize that although parenting and family dynamics may not be the cause of ADHD, symptoms of ADHD and the degree to which such symptoms can impact the child’s functioning, can be reduced by parents who provide appropriate accommodations and interventions (Causes of ADHD, at http://myadhd.com/causesofadhd.html).

So, what exactly is ADHD and why is it so commonly referred to in today’s educational environments? ADHD is the most commonly diagnosed behavioral disorder of childhood, estimated to affect 3 to 5 percent of school-age children. The main symptoms of ADHD include developmentally inappropriate levels of attention, concentration, activity, distractibility, and impulsivity. Children with ADHD usually have functional impairments across multiple settings including home, school, and peer relationships. ADHD has also been shown to have long-term adverse effects on academic performance, vocational success, and social-emotional development (Diagnosis and Treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, at http://consensus.nih.gov/cons).

It is very likely that a teacher in today’s educational environment will encounter a student with ADHD. As a teacher, it is important to be able to provide a learning environment appropriate for all students, including those with disabilities such as ADHD. It is important to consider the classroom environment. Since only about half of the students diagnosed with ADHD qualify for special education (Loechler, 1999), and the philosophy of the inclusive classroom has become so popular, it is crucial that teachers are able adapt and modify their classroom and lesson plans to fit a student with ADHD. According to the Council for Exceptional Children, CEC, 1992, There are three strategies for dealing with students with hyper activity: 1) Incorporate movement into the classroom, 2) Allow for positive peer attention, and 3) Provide frequent teacher monitoring (Carbone, 2001).

A major challenge for a teacher is to design an inclusive classroom that supports the educational development of a student with ADHD. One major challenge comes with the newer trend of the “open classroom” which is a loosely-structured arrangement which offers students multiple sites of stimulation such as learning centers, libraries, reading areas, etc. (Carbone, 2001). Although this open classroom set-up may be a wonderful learning environment for the general education students, it may provide too much sound and visual stimulation for a student with ADHD to stay focused on the educational task at hand. This may lead the teacher to make accommodations for a student with ADHD.
First, a teacher must put considerable thought into the child’s location in the classroom and must plan supportive classroom features. Carbone, 2001, provides a list of helpful suggestions a teacher can consider when designing a classroom seating arrangement for a child with ADHD: First, the classroom should be arranged in the traditional “row” seating design. This is the most structured and predictable seating pattern. Second, the student with ADHD should be placed at a desk in the front row next to the teacher’s desk so that he/she will be less distracted by the other students and more likely to focus on the teacher. This will also allow for immediate feedback and close monitoring and will also enable to student to ask for assistance in a more conspicuous manner. Next, make sure that student is not placed near potentially distracting areas such as a window, pencil sharpener, or aquarium. It may be helpful to surround the student with well-behaved, attentive, friendly students. Hopefully these students will automatically interact with the student with ADHD and provide a model of proper classroom behavior as well as positive peer interaction. For a student that is over-stimulated, provide a “work station” in the room where a student can go to do work. This work station can be in a corner of the room, enclosed with book shelves, and could have comfortable chairs and pillows to provide a student with a safe, isolated environment in which to focus on the task at hand. If this work station is considered to be just another of the learning stations in the classroom, the student with ADHD may feel less apprehensive about using it and the other students may be less likely to make fun of the student for using it. Since many students with ADHD have difficulty completing tasks involving fine motor skills, the teacher can provide learning centers and stations that require fine motor skills such as an art center or a computer center. These centers will benefit all the students, not only the student with ADHD. Lastly, since students with ADHD often feel embarrassed about having to take medication, the teacher can provide a secure, private place for the student to keep and take his medication.

Although the most common characteristics of ADHD are the hyperactivity, inattention, and distractibility (Wambold, 1998), another possible difficulty that a teacher may have to deal with is impulsivity. This is when a student blurts out answers before getting called on. Children with ADHD often have difficulty waiting their turn and will interrupt and intrude on other students (Carbone, 2001). Some strategies that Carbone recommends for dealing with impulsivity are cognitive behavior therapy, timeouts, and positive reinforcement.
Another characteristic of ADHD is disorganization (Carbone, 2001). In a case study written by Wambold, 1998, the author suggests several strategies for a teacher to help a student with ADHD stay organized. First, designate a specific space for the student to keep his/her materials and school supplies. Organizations skills should be modeled in a routine manner. Next, help the student plan ahead and schedule blocks of time to complete tasks. It may be helpful to provide different colored notebooks for folder for each class to keep the student organized. Also, students should learn to keep a day planner and record all of the things that he/she should accomplish in this planner. The parents should check this planner regularly and help the student keep on track.

Throughout the literature research there are a lot of suggestions for teachers on how to best teach a child with ADHD. There are three important topics regarding working with a child with ADHD that have not yet been mentioned. First, it is very important to reward a student when he/she has accomplished the task that has been asked of him/her. It is not enough to just reward the student when he completes his/her school work. It is important to reward for other accomplishments such as listening and following directions, sitting quietly, and positive interaction with other students. The second important idea is parental involvement. Parents play a huge role in the education of children with ADHD. Parents should know there legal rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) which requires public schools to provide appropriate services and make reasonable modifications for students with disabilities (Loecher, 1999). Also, parents should be involved in the education of their children so that there can be a continuum of learning from the classroom to the home. Parents should take the time to learn about their child’s disorder and talk with the teacher about the child’s educational goals. Parents can provide a home environment to help the child succeed. The third topic that was not presented in this paper is the use of medication to treat ADHD. The medical treatment of ADHD, although very important, goes beyond the scope of this paper. But it is important to realize that you can not consider the treatment of ADHD without at least considering the medical treatment component.
“Treating ADHD requires a multimodal approach. For many children, medication, primarily psychostimulants, is an important part of treatment. Behavior management is also crucial. Without specialized interventions by teachers and parents, most children with ADHD find it very difficult to meet academic and behavior concerns.”(Loecher, 1999).

Looking at the above quote, there is a great amount of responsibility placed on teachers to provide students with ADHD an appropriate learning environment. To do this, a teacher must be aware of the causes of ADHD, know the symptoms of ADHD, and be able to modify and design the classroom to allow a child with ADHD to have a chance to succeed in education and society. This is a challenge that all educators should look forward to and be ready to take head on.


Carbone, E. (2001). Arranging the Classroom with an Eye (and Ear) to Students with
ADHD. Teaching Exceptional Children, 34(2), 72-81.

Loechler, K. (1999). Frequently Asked Questions About ADHD and the Answers from
From the Internet. Teaching Exceptional Children, 31(6), 28-31.

Wambold, Y.C. (1998). An ADHD Success Story: Strategies for Teachers and Students.
Teaching Exceptional Children, 30(6), 8-13.

Electronic References
Causes of ADHD, at http://myadhd.com/causesofadhd.html

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2005). Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, at

National Institutes of Health Consensus Development Conference Statement.
(1998). Diagnosis and Treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, at http://consensus.nih.gov/cons