Americans are blessed to live in a country where education is the rule rather than the exception. Education in America takes many forms, but the end goal is the same, whether it takes place in a public school, at home, or in a private school setting.
However, for a distinct percentage of schoolaged children who suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), that education can seem rather elusive. Since the 1970s, ADHD has been the most commonly studied and diagnosed psychological condition in children, but it is not without controversy. In fact, there are some who question its very existence, while still others question the way it is diagnosed and treated. Opinions aside, ADHD has altered the landscape of education in America, with as many as 14 percent of school-aged children having been diagnosed in some areas of the country.
ADHD: Past and Present
ADHD didn’t officially exist before 1980, when it was first included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It is a developmental disorder, characterized by the coexistence of hyperactivity, low attention span, and poor impulse control, with the onset of symptoms generally occurring before age seven. It wasn’t until 1998 that the American Medical Association concluded that the diagnostic criterion was based on enough research to be considered reliable. Today, ADHD is widely accepted as a legitimate disorder, but lingering debates center on how it is diagnosed and treated. ADHD has been divided into three subtypes: Predominately hyperactive-impulsive, predominately inattentive, and combined hyperactiveimpulsive and inattentive.
Symptoms of the predominately inattentive subtype include being easily distracted, missing details, difficulty focusing, poor listening, daydreaming, and struggling to follow instructions and process information. Symptoms of the hyperactiveimpulsive subtype may include fidgeting and difficulty staying seated, excessive talking, difficulty completing quiet tasks and activities, impatience, inability to restrain emotions, and difficulty waiting for things. A combination of symptoms from these two subtypes makes up the third subtype, combined hyperactive-impulsive and inattentive ADHD. To be diagnosed with ADHD, symptoms have to be observed in two or more settings and persist for at least six months. Symptoms also must significantly affect the child’s schoolwork and relationships.
The exact prevalence of ADHD diagnoses varies among studies. Children in North America tend to have a higher rate of ADHD than those in other regions, and the rate of diagnosis is higher on the east coast than the west. Boys are two to three times more likely than girls to receive a diagnosis of ADHD, but some studies suggest this may be due largely to gender biases in schools. Studies have shown that in the United States, 37 percent of children diagnosed with ADHD do not receive high school diplomas, even if they receive special education services and individualized education plans. While adults are seldom diagnosed with ADHD, approximately 60 percent of children diagnosed go on to have symptoms into adulthood.
ADHD and Education
Anita Walker is a Certified School Psychologist and Licensed Professional Counselor who worked as Director of Counseling for the Oklahoma City Public School System and is now in private practice. She specializes in children, adolescents and family dynamics. She explains that students diagnosed with ADHD may have poor self-esteem and give up easily. “They may experience more social problems with their peers, as they are more impulsive and may engage in high-risk behaviors, particularly without treatment.”
That said, Walker feels that with the proper treatment, the prognosis for most children and adolescents diagnosed with ADHD is very good. “Many famous adults have ADHD with learning problems, but they are very bright and simply have a different learning style.” She stresses the importance of involving parents, educators and clinicians in ensuring a student’s success. “It’s important to develop strengths, structure their environment and use medication if needed. Parents need to set realistic limits for safety and stay in close contact with teachers, so they know if missing assignments start to occur. Activities such as sports, drama and debate teams can be great places to channel excess energy and stress and develop friendships.”
Angel is an Edmond mom of two, and when her daughter (now age 12) began to struggle in school, she recognized the signs, because she had been there herself. “Growing up, my mother and I knew that I didn’t learn the same as other kids. I’d sit in class in seventh grade knowing I could read, knowing that I was smart, but reading was difficult,Especially aloud. I was tested for dyslexia, but that checked out fine. The school said I just wasn’t applying myself, and I had terrible anxiety and low self-esteem.” Angel barely got by in school in the years before ADHD was well-known and accepted in public schools. When she recognized the same struggles in her own daughter, she asked for her to be tested. “They told me in first grade that she couldn’t be tested until second or third grade for a learning 'disability.' We don’t think of it that way, rather, we know she learns differently.”
Angel’s daughter eventually underwent testing and was diagnosed with ADHD. It didn’t take Angel long to decide to make some changes to her educational plan, too. “Public school for her was like trying to load a floppy disk in a flash drive slot.” As a stayat- home mom, Angel made the decision to homeschool. “Now, as her teacher, I focus on her gifts and strengths. I want her to feel empowered and confident. If she is confident in her abilities, she can learn anything and do anything.”
Walker concurs. “Parents and teachers should never give up on these special students and children, because they are struggling to understand themselves and how to succeed in life. Parents who show encouragement and understanding will be able to help their kids get past these struggles and become successful.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Subtypes:
- Hyperactive-impulsive: may include fidgeting and difficulty staying seated, excessive talking, difficulty completing quiet tasks and activities, impatience, inability to restrain emotions, and difficulty waiting for things.
- Inattentive: easily distracted, missing details, difficulty focusing, poor listening, daydreaming, and struggling to follow instructions and process information.
- Combined hyperactive-impulsive and inattentive: includes a combination of symptoms of both subtypes.
Shannon Fields is a freelance writer and a Certified Pharmacy Technician at Innovative Pharmacy Solutions.