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ADHD in the Classroom

Finding clues starts at home

August 01, 2011
Parents officially become seasoned after learning plan A, Let the kids play longer at the park so they fall asleep early. But sometimes plan A backfires and parents fall asleep on the couch first.

"Hyperactivity is a natural growth pattern. Normal hyperactive kids can seem like a lot to keep up with," said Dr. David Dunn co-director, ADHD and Disruptive Behavior Disorders Clinic, Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health.

With preschoolers having naturally short attention spans, as they curiously shift focus from one thing to the next, it can be hard to identify if your child has Attention Deficit & Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), said Dunn.

Addressing ADHD at Home

At home, kitchen rules teach safety around sharp objects, glass, and burners, while other rules prevent kids from falling out of windows, jumping from high places or running in front of cars. Dunn explained that while kids with ADHD understand warnings, cautions and rules, they don't always adhere to them. Kids with ADHD become distracted taking mental detours away from rules and completing tasks.

While all kids need safety, etiquette and behavior reminders, addressing ADHD is very different. Dunn expressed that even though parents instill safety rules, children with attention deficits show signs of being accident prone due to being distracted by impulsive behaviors that cloud judgment.

Dunn and his Riley staff look for repeated distracting and disruptive impulsive behaviors showing impaired judgment and learning disabilities that may be signs of ADHD, such as difficulty staying on-task and achieving goals.

Recognizing Signs and Finding Solutions

Dunn offered head injuries to be a cause of ADHD but also said that familial genetics and multiple genetic combination conflicts are the main contributors. Compassionately, he expressed that parents remain blameless as ADHD is not any single gene but rather a combination conflict where genes between parents don't quite mesh. Parents need to remain unified, working together to find doctors, therapists and teachers to help bring solutions that help their child. Proper help and therapy teaches children new ways to cope with and overcome ADHD to lead full happy lives.

Dr. Charles Shinaver, child clinical psychologist of Clarity4Health LLC, also said the strongest factor is genetic when it comes to the causes of ADHD. Traumatic brain injuries can also result in attention and working memory problems, he said.

Although no one wants their child labeled, parents know when there is something different about their child, Shinaver said. "If you have children who don't have ADHD you know what I mean. Without having this category you don't have a clue about how to get help. So the diagnosis should be considered as a start toward helping your child."

Positive Reinforcement

According to Dr. Pamela Christy, PSY, Woodview Psychology Group, who collaborates with husband Dunn, "Kids with ADHD really do want to give their best at home and school but often end up misunderstood and in trouble because they have difficulty following rules and meeting goals." Parents and teachers who become frustrated and criticize or punish children with ADHD can lower a child's self esteem. 

She emphasized the importance of giving praise and meaningful rewards to children with ADHD when they do remain on task, meet goals, finish homework and give their best.

Christy commented, "Many parents and teachers don't realize the extent to which ADHD impacts behavioral, emotional, academic and social aspects of a child's life."

Shinaver said, "You have to establish rewards for behaving before you are in a setting. What he or she should earn should be more immediate and matter to the child. Some parents wish this were not true and attempt to manage without external rewards. Good luck, you have lots of frustration ahead."

Christy further revealed it common to find one or both parents with untreated ADHD behaviors indicative of criticism and yelling wherein the child is being reared in a disruptive, unsettled, environment. In her professional experience young children have difficulty learning to develop positive behavior skills in therapy if they continually return to a disruptive environment. "We learned long ago to teach affected parents better social skills as well because parents model behavior for children," she said.

Shifting Mental Gears Between Home and School

While kids run through the house and yard playing and laughing and speaking freely, school rules create a different environment. Kids are expected to listen in the classroom, be polite, line-up for lunch and recess, raise their hands to speak, etc. This requires mentally shifting gears and applying new behavior rules in a different setting. Learning to effectively do so becomes an important adult social skill while relating to others at work, parties, funerals, church, etc. Classroom rules require children to understand how to take turns and respectfully get along throughout the day as well as complete classroom projects and homework.

Shinaver said that parents need to shift their thinking before adjusting with managing a child with ADHD. "Russell Barkley, a well-known ADHD researcher used to say that you should take the age of an ADHD child and multiple it by .75 to get the person's functioning level. So he or she will be behind in daily living skills, maturity and independence," he said.

Red Flag Progress Reports

Multiple school reports that continually "red flag" a child's inability to manage time, remain organized, seated, focused, as well as follow verbal directions and understand new concepts, may indicate learning disabilities or emotional trauma. It is important for parents to remember that divorce, unstable home relations or family deaths upset children even if they don't express it. A combination of both can greatly interfere with a child's ability to learn.

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Jennifer Pace is a freelance writer, print/media art director and mother of 3 whose life's works is dedicated to making a better world for her own children and all children worldwide.

Tags: In This Issue, Health, Special Needs

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