Thinking Positively: How Some Characteristics of ADHD Can Be Adaptive and Accepted in the Classroom

By Sherman, Jody; Rasmussen, Carmen et al. | Childhood Education, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

Thinking Positively: How Some Characteristics of ADHD Can Be Adaptive and Accepted in the Classroom


Sherman, Jody, Rasmussen, Carmen, Baydala, Lola, Childhood Education


Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has received much attention over the past several years in both the scientific literature and the popular press, yet confusion still exists with respect to the origin of the disorder, factors that trigger or aggravate it, the trajectory of symptoms, and treatment options, particularly for young children (Gimpel & Kuhn, 2000; Mash & Wolfe, 1999). Entering the term "ADHD" into a popular search engine revealed 624,000 hits on the Web, highlighting the diversity and overwhelming range of information available to those seeking to learn about this condition. Most, if not all, sources describe ADHD as a "disorder," and list the various deficits and difficulties that children with ADHD experience. Parents, teachers, health care professionals, and the children themselves can become discouraged as they learn about the negative aspects associated with a diagnosis of ADHD. This article reviews the challenges associated with ADHD, as well as more recent discussions that center around a positive view of this "disorder."

ADHD occurs in 3 to 5 percent of school-age children (MTA Cooperative Group, 1999), making it the most common psychiatric disorder among children (Sciutto, Terjesen, & Bender Frank, 2000). ADHD's characteristics can be broken down into specific subtypes that capture differences in children who display predominantly hyperactive and impulsive behaviors, inattentive behaviors, or a combination of both (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). Because some children will exhibit mainly inattentive behaviors and some children will exhibit mainly hyperactive behaviors, not all treatments work equally well with all children diagnosed with ADHD. Most children with ADHD will continue to experience symptoms into adulthood (Mercugliano, Power, & Blum, 1999), although the behaviors tend to change over the course of development. The disorder often manifests in difficulties in school trouble creating and maintaining social relations, low self-esteem, and deficits in the area of executive functioning (Barkley, 1998). Executive functioning refers to goal-directed, future-oriented behaviors, including planning, organized searches, inhibition, working memory, set-shifting, strategy employment, and fluency (Welsh & Pennington, 1988; Welsh, Pennington, & Grossier, 1991). Barkley (1998) proposed a model of executive functions in children with ADHD that includes deficits in inhibition, working memory, and self-regulation, which relates to the deficits children with ADHD typically demonstrate on tasks requiring split attention and organization (Zentall, 1993).

After reviewing the literature related to academic deficits in children with ADHD, Zentall (1993) noted that children with ADHD selectively attend to stimuli that are salient and/or novel in some way, such as color or movement. This characteristic may compromise performance on tasks in which selective attention is required for stimuli that are subtle or neutral. Selective attention is required to learn most new tasks, whereas tasks that are practiced and have a fairly constant level of performance, such as reading, require sustained attention. Thus, attention problems can interfere with both the learning of new tasks and the rehearsal of tasks requiring sustained attention, such as reading and writing. Teaching children with ADHD to read and write may be optimized when modifications address the unique needs of children with the disorder. Rief (2000) suggested numerous strategies for helping these children read, including paraphrasing, limiting distractions, and scanning for chapter headings and outlines. Writing can be enhanced by using such graphic organizers as flow charts, providing models of written work, and aiding in self-editing. The author also noted that most children with ADHD will need additional help with studying and organizational skills. Rief further noted that most teaching strategies found to be useful for children with ADHD are actually ideal for the entire classroom. …

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