Helping Students with ADHD Readjust to In-Person Schooling

by Nina Parrish

According to survey data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2016, about 6.1 million (or 9.4 percent) of children in the United States were diagnosed, at that time, with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Yale researcher and clinical psychologist Thomas Brown describes ADHD as an impairment of the executive functioning system. This means that students with ADHD can struggle with tasks such as organizing, prioritizing, getting started, staying focused, maintaining effort, regulating emotions, remembering learned information, holding information in mind while working, and the ability to self-regulate or monitor work for quality and completion.

Due to preexisting challenges with executive functioning and emotional regulation, students with ADHD may have struggled more than their neurotypical classmates to adjust to the many changes in schooling and other stressors brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. The CDC found that, prior to the pandemic, 6 in 10 children with ADHD had at least one other mental, emotional, or behavioral disorder, such as anxiety, depression, or a conduct disorder. A research review conducted by Rosanna Breaux, a professor at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, showed that during this past school year many students with ADHD not only experienced an increase in ADHD symptoms such as difficulty with attention and impulse control, but were also more likely to experience an increase in all mental/emotional/behavioral disorder symptoms. 

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ADHD: Recognizing the Symptoms

Children who have ADHD present predominantly with symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, or a combination of these symptoms. The disorder has had numerous names over the last several decades: minimal brain damage, minimal brain dysfunction, hyperkinetic reaction of childhood, attention- deficit disorder with or without hyperactivity, and, since 1987, attention- deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Diagnosing ADHD

Symptom lists that are used for the diagnosis of ADHD are split into inattentive and hyperactive- impulsive criteria. If an individual has six or more symptoms from both lists, he or she would be diagnosed with ADHD, combined presentation. If an individual has six or more symptoms in one list but not the other, he or she would be considered to have ADHD, predominantly inattentive or ADHD, predominantly hyperactive- impulsive form.

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ADHD: Helping Students Regulate Attention

Is it an Attention Deficit?

One of the greatest misconceptions about ADHD is that it renders a person unable to pay attention. In fact, many educators contact me and say, “He can’t have ADHD! He can spend hours on the activities he wants to!”  What science has taught us is that because of the below-normal activity in the neurotransmission of dopamine and norepinephrine, some people struggle regulating their attention, leading some professionals to suggest that we rename ADHD “deficits in attention regulation disorder.” People with ADHD can pay attention, but not always when they need to, for as long as they need to, or on what they need to—especially when they are not interested or internally motivated. Sometimes, when a person is very interested in what he or she is focused on (such as playing a video game or building with blocks), the individual is actually “hyperfocused.” This means that the person is deeply and intensely focused to the point that he or she has shut out other thoughts or stimuli. This is why very often people with ADHD have a hard time transitioning from one task to another.

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