Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder affects approximately 5 per cent of the UK population, yet children with ADHD are at a disproportionately higher risk of school exclusion.
The UK ADHD Partnership reports that 39 per cent of children with ADHD have experienced a fixed-term exclusion and 11 per cent have experienced a permanent exclusion (in contrast with 0.10 per cent of the whole school population experiencing permanent exclusions).
And misconceptions about the condition are still prevalent.
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For example, ADHD does not make you naughty or poorly behaved; those with ADHD have a neurobiological, neurodevelopmental condition that impacts the areas of the brain responsible for regulating impulse and motor control ,as well as attention and concentration.
These differences exist at a structural level within the brain and also result in a number of “positive” behavioral differences, including a high level of energy and creative and innovative thinking.
Misconceptions about ADHD
Another common misconception about children with ADHD is that they are incapable of concentrating for extended periods.
In fact, children with ADHD are capable of intense focus and concentration, sometimes called hyper-focus.
This hyper-focus comes into play if the activity is inherently interesting to the child or highly engaging. Children with ADHD have a lower tolerance than others for activities that are repetitive, mundane or less engaging.
Other causal factors of ADHD include reduced circuitry between the areas of the brain that control impulse (prefrontal lobes) and emotional expression and motor control (basal ganglia and cerebellum).
This difference affects emotional regulation. Children with ADHD are more likely to become easily angry, upset or excited by situations.
Executive function – the system of the brain that controls planning, prioritising and organisation – has also been shown to be less effective in individuals with ADHD, which is why meeting deadlines, self-organisation and time management can be more challenging for them.
So how can we better support pupils who have an ADHD diagnosis?
1. Excitability should rarely be punished, even if it may be expressed at an inappropriate time during the lesson. A mutually agreed hand signal can be used by the teacher to gesture to the student that they will soon need to refocus.
2. Allow children time out during the day when required. A time-out pass may be used by the student up to a certain number of agreed times, when the teacher recognises that it is needed. During this time, the child should be able to stay in a designated area with an adult. This can include outside activity.
3. Allow the child to hold a “concentrator”, a noiseless object or material such as a squidgy ball or Blu Tack to help them focus. Establish rules about use of this beforehand.
4. Present the child with a simple, numbered “to-do” task list at the beginning of every lesson with no more than five tasks. For example:
I will open my book and write the date and title.
I will write the opening sentence to my story using three adjectives.
5. Extrinsic motivation is a must. Consider using the child’s interests as rewards for effort during a lesson task, for example: “If you complete these three tasks, you can finish the rest of the report as a PowerPoint presentation on the laptop."
6. At secondary level, consider reducing the number of overall homework deadlines per week and ensure that students have diaries and calendars at school and at home that they can consult.
Sonia Ali is a SEND, specific learning difficulty/dyslexia specialist advisory teacher, supporting mainstream schools in the borough of Waltham Forest, London