School and Classroom Processes:
Whilst researching Attention Hyperactive Deficit Disorder (ADHD), if one thing is immediately clear, it is that the ADHD child needs allowances to be made for their behaviour whilst in the classroom. ADHD is a diagnosis of the American Psychiatric Association and lists symptoms as including inattentiveness, impulsiveness and hyperactivity that are extreme enough to interfere with an individual’s day to day existence. (Lewis & Norwich, p125, 2005) The disorder is known to affect approximately 18,168 of the Hong Kong population, most of whom are male children. (Wrong Diagnosis, 2011) ADHD comes under the heading of ‘Emotional Behavioural Difficulties’ (EBD) as the disorder features problems of a “bio-psychosocial nature.” (Bentham, p136, 2002) ADHD children will usually have an Individual Education Plan (IEP) to provide them with focused targets. One theory about ADHD suggests that the children are “under-aroused” and so they seek stimulation from the environment in order to stop themselves from becoming bored; this would certainly explain why they find it hard to focus on one thing at a time. (Harari & Legge, p42, 2000) ADHD is often successfully managed with the aid of a drug called Ritalin which calms ADHD children down. However, it is highly addictive and its use with younger children is seen as being extremely controversial. (Harari & Legge, p42/43, 2000)
From reading, the simplest solution is one which either works around the issue, or one which accepts the issue and utilises it to the child’s (and often the class’) benefit. Paul Cooper suggests that a teacher’s pedagogy in the classroom should be considered central to understanding the ADHD child’s behaviour within a lesson, but makes it clear that distinguishing between these choices and the “myriad of variables” within a classroom that could affect this behaviour, is extremely difficult. (Lewis & Norwich, p123, 2005) There are a number of conflicting arguments that surround this subject which range from the Educationist idea that if “appropriate” classroom management strategies are put in place then the child’s behaviour will be controlled and their attention focused, (Cline & Frederickson, p111/112, 2002) to the conflicting view held by Neuropsychologists which states that impulsive behaviour can be very difficult for children to inhibit, and that simply just changing one factor is not enough to alter such impulses in behaviour. (Cline & Frederickson, p112, 2002)
To greater understand the application of theory within a classroom; we must examine what ADHD is exactly. From a behavioural perspective, children with ADHD are seen as being impulsive, over-active and inattentive. (Cline & Frederickson, p397, 2002) There is a view that because it is such a common place and highly inheritable disorder, ADHD may well have been considered advantageous to our species’ evolution at some point in history, most likely during our prehistoric stage. (Baird et al. P18, 2000) Jensen (1997) argues that the common traits shared by ADHD sufferers align them with the “response-ready” hunters which tied in with the unpredictable and dangerous lifestyle of prehistoric human beings. (Baird et al. P18, 2000) However, in today’s world of accommodating lifestyle choices, internet shopping and health and safety, it is easy to see why ADHD sufferers find their instinctive traits to be ‘out of place.’ Cooper argues that individuals with ADHD are likely to suffer social isolation, accidental injury and psychological disturbance and that those who remain undiagnosed are often seen as just simply being incompetent, lazy, disorganised, aggressive and neglectful (amongst other negative traits) (Lewis & Norwich, p126, 2005) which will automatically place them in the unwanted spotlight of ‘trouble-maker.’ Cooper also claims that teachers tend to carry out a ‘typing’ process where they will make judgements about a class’ behaviour and attainment based on fairly limited interaction, and as such, children with ADHD can often be unfairly misjudged. (Lewis & Norwich, p124, 2005) In theory, a misunderstanding in this case could lead to a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ style of increase in bad behaviour. This is where a child is labelled as being one thing and begins to act up to this label. (Champenby, 2006, p 2) These pupils are also prone to having a poor level of academic achievement (Lewis & Norwich, p126, 2005) and it is the job of the teacher to ensure that this negative outcome is as limited as possible, through the use of effective classroom management, differentiated tasks and busy lesson plans.
Prior to various educational legislation re-thinks, SEN was sociologically criticised as being “ambiguous and tautological” and as being “part of a rhetoric which serves little educational purpose.” Put basically, the view was that SEN specifications were too vague, and lacked direction of use. (Kelly & Norwich, p27, 2005) When there was a re-addressing of educational legislation with concern to special educational needs (SEN), the result was, ‘normative’ forms of SEN were labelled, but other ‘non-normative’ forms were ignored and labelled as ‘maladjusted’ and ‘disruptive.’ (Kelly & Norwich, p27, 2005) ADHD would undoubtedly have fallen into this category, and as such, the ‘behavioural difficulty’ element would feature outside of the defined boundaries of ‘normal SEN behaviours.’ Arguably then, this would have gone some way to isolating ADHD as being ‘naughty child syndrome’ rather than a recognised psychological state, requiring as much attention as a child with normative learning difficulties. If one is thinking in an open-minded fashion about behaviours, then anything that does not fit in with societies ‘normative’ behaviour, should therefore be ‘non-normative’, and in a school environment, must, therefore, require SEN attention. In a modern school, behaviour which does not fit a social pattern would not be allowed to go un-addressed. This bodes well for the ADHD child as they are offered support and understanding whilst being in an environment with a rigid discipline procedure. However, classroom management and adaption is simply not enough to completely change the behaviour of an ADHD child, as there are too many other, external factors. (Cline & Frederickson, p111/112, 2002)
It is these factors that need to be addressed through strategies such as adding mystery to a subject or object, utilising colours and shapes to signify and organise lessons, storytelling, sitting the ADHD child near to you (and away from other potential distractions) and use clear, structured lesson plans. (Rief, p1, 1997) According to Learning Disabilities Online (LD Online), there are a number of ways to successfully get the student’s attention and to maintain and focus it too. Many of these ideas involve clear and direct methods such as using clear, consistent signals when getting the attention of the class, varying your tone of voice to emphasise commands and using storytelling to introduce a task or lesson. (Rief, p1, 1997) Another suggestion is to use positive reinforcement to encourage particular behaviours from a child with ADHD. Arguably, their behaviour might be so extreme that they do not provide the teacher with an opportunity to praise good behaviour. However, by praising every small step that they take towards positive behaviour, the teacher can begin to reinforce that this is the behaviour that they expect. (Harari & Legge, p 46, 2000)
In 1995, Detweiler et al produced a plan for the ADHD Classroom: an environment specifically designed to suit the needs of learners with ADHD. The design reflected the need for it to be both flexible and consistent, and a predictable setting which supplied them with structure, limited distraction and flexibility when addressing each individual’s learning style. (Bentham, p160, 2002) Arguably, every classroom should provide these things because regardless of behaviour, children are human beings and are as subject to change, mood and environment as any adult, if not more. However, to provide these things, the classroom must contain the following things:
A small class size with one teacher and one teaching assistant.
Four walls and no access to other rooms.
No change to staff, seating plan and timetable.
Soundproofing in room to limit outside noise and distractions.
Easy access to timetables and schedules.
Study “booths” for each, individual pupil with a fan for blocking out external noises.
A ‘time out’ room nearby.
(Bentham, p160, 2002) These things seem partly obvious to anyone who has had some contact with ADHD learners, however some of these things, arguably, limit the child’s exposure to a normal school experience. For example, the “study booths” that limit the interaction between the children and focusing their attention on their work; this limits their social development. The school environment is designed to prepare young people for ‘the real world’ and this limiting environment impairs that growth. Arguably the rigidity of their contact with staff also contributes to this because in the work place and in further education, you must be able to work with a variety of people. In terms of inclusion (which, by its definition is about giving children with special educational needs, an education equal to their non-SEN peers), this classroom fails them in terms of the overall object of school: preparation for society beyond school.
Barkley (1994) argued that ADHD decreases the capacity of a person’s memory, their ability to plan and reflect and that these could cause emotions to be “overtly expressed.” (Baird, J et al, p21, 2000) Therefore, during lessons, it is important to provide ADHD learners with the opportunity to express themselves in a controlled environment whilst also not overwhelming them with new information. Hartmann (1993) agrees that ADHD sufferers are “left over hunters” and that they make necessary decisions quickly, they monitor their environment and are “creative, energetic risk-takers.” (Baird, J et al, p21, 2000) This would naturally make ADHD learners to be good leaders and as such, a task that is geared up to accommodate this, could potentially focus their learning. Hartmann also argues that ADHD is not a “malfunction” but is actually a “harmonious and functional response to different contexts.” (Baird, J et al, p22, 2000) Therefore, it would naturally follow that given the right circumstances; the ADHD learner can thrive and make good use of their natural abilities and potentially benefit the learning of the entire class too. The above theories prove this and that ADHD learners can be accommodated inclusively within the classroom, provided that a number of behavioural and environmental factors are considered and accounted for.
Putting it into practice.
To able to approach ADHD from a practical standpoint, the educator must be able to employ some strategies that will enable the ADHD learner to enjoy their work and be a safe, happy and participating member of any classroom. The two main areas of attention need to be their behaviour and the work they are set. For many ADHD children, a creative task is the best task (Hanos-Webb, 2010, p 124) as it enables them to use their energy and channel it into a worthwhile task which involves lots of thinking and concentration whilst still feeling like it’s fun too. The incorporation of an ADHD child’s behaviour into a classroom is also a significant way of engaging the child: they cannot help who they are and by ‘outlawing’ their natural, and often uncontrollable, behaviour, you are immediately excluding the ADHD child from the classroom proceedings. As with anything during the planning process, the educator must make plans for how they are going to handle the child’s behaviour without upsetting them or affecting their confidence.
Some simple methods for utilising the ADHD child’s excess of energy involve asking them to help hand out books or worksheets etc. and therefore giving them a reason to be up and out of their chair. This is a very basic method of utilising their energy: the ADHD child needs a reason to burn energy otherwise it manifests itself through what appears to be poor behaviour. Imagine having drunk several cups of coffee very quickly and then having to sit quietly and still during a dramatic production: this is what everyday life is like for the ADHD child. They need to get up and move about; they need to have a purpose otherwise their behaviour will slip very quickly. If you are teaching an ADHD child, implementing small processes like this, into your classroom, will help to limit the amount of distraction to the lesson.
If you implement a seating plan, aim to give the ADHD child as much notice as possible about any plans to this; these children struggle to comprehend change, and like many other children, they may perceive the change as being a direct result of their behaviour. Be sure to tell them in advance of the lesson that there will be a change, to give them time to comprehend it. This will limit a negative reaction when the class arrive at your room. Although non-ADHD children always tend to react to a seating plan change, the ADHD child will settle a lot quicker when this is implemented.
Sometimes, allowing an ADHD child to have a ‘time out’ will help them to calm down and regain their control. (Lougy & Rosenthal, 2002, p 118) Being around other children and their friends can over-excite ADHD children to a point where they struggle to calm themselves down because of the constant stimulation surrounding them. Whilst the educator’s immediate reaction would be to want to keep the child in the classroom to retain the status quo; actually, giving the child a chance to stop and calm down for a few minutes allows them to return and resume their lesson with fewer interruptions. This also greatly benefits the other children in the class too.
As important as it is to include the ADHD child and implement measures to work with and around their condition, it is equally as important to not go so far as to plan every aspect of the lesson around them alone: every other child in the classroom matters and by drawing extra attention to them, the ADHD child may not welcome the spotlight. If they are a child who enjoys attracting attention, they may also relish this attention and ‘act up’ even more, as a result. Therefore, it is vital that the educator is subtle towards the individual.
ADHD is a condition characterized by, what is essentially, bad behaviour. However, it is manageable behaviour when the correct methods are implemented within the classroom. The process of learning which takes place in the classroom is often interrupted by an ADHD child but by using their energy in a resourceful way, channelling their learning through a creative medium and taking into account their day to day life, it is possible to help an ADHD child make the most of their education whilst also allowing them to lend to the classroom process itself. Working collaboratively with any child is an essential part of teaching and learning, but with ADHD children is more essential than ever to ensure the harmonious equilibrium of your classroom and its processes.
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