Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

What kind of disorder is ADHD and how it is defined?

Two Boys in a Classroom with Paper Aeroplanes. Cape Town, Western Cape Province, South Africa
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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a neurological disorder that affects how children learn, their behavior and their social and emotional functioning.  It is also known as ADHD, behavioral disability or minimal brain dysfunction, an outdated term for the disorder. Learn more about ADHD and the unique challenges young people with this condition and their families face with this review.

Common Characteristics of ADHD

Young people with ADHD usually have difficulty following instructions and staying on task, completing work, controlling impulses, listening or keeping their hands to themselves.

They also struggle to keep work materials organized and to turn in homework assignments. As a result, even if they remember to complete homework, they often forget to bring the assignment to class.

Individuals with ADHD not only struggle in the classroom, they also face a number of interpersonal challenges. They have problems with social skills, such as getting along with others and making friends. They also exhibit high levels of motor activity, such as fidgeting, difficulty staying seated in class or wandering out of class or even school. They are typically impulsive and may have frequent accidents related to their impulsivity. They sometimes inadvertently hurt others as well.

Which Testing Is Used to Diagnose ADHD?

ADHD is usually assessed using, at minimum, behavioral rating scales that compare students' behavior against others their age. The assessment provides a rating for comparison.

It is best practice, however, to have a complete evaluation to determine other possible factors affecting the child's behavior.

Students who've endured trauma, neglect, abandonment, divorce and other adverse childhood experiences may show signs of ADHD, even though they don't actually have the disorder.

Once such children receive treatment for the adverse childhood experiences they've suffered, their ADHD symptoms tend to disappear. But children who have ADHD also need a complete evaluation because it is not uncommon for these children to have learning disabilities as well.

How is ADHD Treated in Schools?

ADHD can range from mild to severe. The disorder can sometimes be effectively managed by formal behavior intervention or modification plans. In some cases, medication may be used under medical supervision, but many parents and children, for that matter, object to the use of drugs to treat ADHD symptoms. Parents and children should discuss their choice of treatment with medical providers, including psychiatrists.  

Do Students with ADHD Qualify as Special Needs?

In some instances, ADHD can have a severe effect on a child's ability to learn and can qualify as a disability. Not all cases of ADHD, however, are severe enough for students to qualify for special education services under the IDEA or for Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Read up on these laws or speak with school district personnel to find out if a child qualifies for services.

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