Adhd: Making a Difference for Children and Youth in the Schools

By Toplak, Maggie | Perspectives on Language and Literacy, January 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Adhd: Making a Difference for Children and Youth in the Schools


Toplak, Maggie, Perspectives on Language and Literacy


Getting extra help for students with attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in the schools has been very challenging. There may be several reasons for this, but one possible explanation is a poor understanding of the needs of children and youth diagnosed with ADHD. Another reason could be that ADHD has been conceptualized as a condition that only affects behavior instead a condition that also has a significant impact on learning (Tannock & Martinussen, 2001), emotional functioning (Martel, 2009), and psychosocial competence in relationships (Chronis, Jones, & Raggi, 2006; Rogers &Tannock, in press). ADHD is now regarded as a neurodevelopmental condition (DSM-5, APA, 2013) instead of a disruptive behavior disorder (DSM-IV-TR, APA, 2000). This change represents a conceptual shift in separating ADHD from oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder (Tannock, 2013). This categorization makes the biological and developmental aspects of ADHD more salient than in the previous edition of the DSM. It perhaps makes it more apparent that ADHD affects all domains of life, including cognitive, academic, emotional, and social functioning.

ADHD is a chronic problem, especially for families and schools. Over the last several years, the popular press has given a lot of attention to the use of medication for ADHD (Frances, 2013). The use of medication is a complex topic, one that has both positive and negative elements, and cannot be summarized here in a short introduction. However, it would be fair to suggest that the use of medication was never meant to replace effective teaching and skill building in students with ADHD. Thus, the purpose of this issue of Perspectives on Language and Literacy is to address what can be done with families and schools to improve the difficulties and to find strengths for enhancing positive development of our students with ADHD.

Developing Reading and Language

The first article in this issue, by Martinussen, provides background on the extensive literature on the overlap between ADHD and academic functioning, specifically the domains of reading and language. Martinussen outlines the research that demonstrates an important relationship between inattention and emergent literacy skills in preschool and kindergarten children. As inattention is a major component of ADHD, it is not surprising that children with ADHD are more likely to have both language and reading problems. Reading and language are both complex yet intertwined domains that weave through all aspects of the curriculum and school day. Children who cannot effectively understand language, express themselves, or read at levels commensurate with peers are at risk for a host of consequences, from poor academic performance to trouble in the schoolyard. If children with ADHD are at particular risk for reading and language problems, these learning needs must be addressed. The discussion of the overlap between reading and language suggests that perhaps both of these areas can be targeted effectively together.

Fostering Positive Relationships: Parent-Teacher, Teacher-Student, and Student-Student

The article by Jiang, Jia, Mikami, and Johnston is a review of the child and parent-related stressors that may have a negative impact on the parent-teacher relationship with respect to children who have ADHD. Child-related stressors include family conflict and parenting difficulties. Parent-related stressors include parental ADHD and other mental health concerns. These factors combined with the demands and expectations during the school day result in a very challenging and daunting task of raising and educating a child with ADHD. Parents and teachers may find themselves on opposite sides of an issue. However, in spite of their different perspectives, both sides must work together to find and implement a positive approach whenever possible. This approach is, of course, much easier to suggest than to execute. However, this article proposes that an explicit and sincere discussion of these contributing factors and recommendations can enhance the parent-teacher relationship. …

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