ADHD Symptoms

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We can understand adhd symptoms using an adhd checklist and modify our special education teaching using NLP techniques to help discipline adhd pupils in a fair and consistent way. Many teachers struggle to manage adhd pupils whether diagnosed or not. There is also a great deal of confusion surrounding interpretations of the law in relation to disciplining adhd pupils, particularly in the UK and schools may often find themselves in conflict with parents of adhd pupils because of this confusion. I hope to offer some clear and straightforward advice, based on my own work with adhd pupils in the mainstream classroom.

Firstly it is important for teachers to be able to recognize adhd symptoms in their pupils and to understand how these can affect the way in which you discipline adhd pupils. I have borrowed the following checklist from Don Blackerby, whose excellent work on using NLP to work with adhd pupils I will link to

here. It is important to look for the following adhd symptoms:

Hyperactivity: They can't stay still. They re constantly moving and fidgeting.

Impulsiveness: They move or change directions very quickly. They will be doing one thing and then suddenly start doing something else. They 'act before they think'.

Distractibility: They can't stay focused on one thought or task. They will be doing a task and the smallest noise interrupts them.

Lack of organization: They cannot do the more complex tasks which require them to organize the larger task into a series of steps. Somebody has to tell or show them how to do each step.

Forgetfulness: They forget instructions. They forget to do things or tasks they have been told to do. They will start to do something and forget what they were supposed to do.

Procrastination: They have trouble completing tasks or assignments. They are constantly putting off doing things. They can't seem to 'get started'.

Another way of saying the same thing is that they lacking what is called the 'moment of inhibition', when people think before they act. In Don Blackerby's excellent article, he describes this as a feeling that 'their mind is out of control'. I have actually had an adhd child describe the feeling to me as having 'a devil and an angel on my shoulder' , where he finds it impossible not to listen to the devil, who only wants to distract him! So the adhd pupil seems to act without thinking again and again but if asked what they should have done will be able to answer in full detail. They may seem to be willfully making the same mistake over and over again but they just need to practice it more than other children. They can be very confusing because they are often very bright and articulate people who can seem to pull it out of the bag and just get on with something and yet at other times can't. This again can look like willful disrespect or laziness but it is part of the condition, as is calling out and forgetting things.

Teaching ADHD pupils

It is for the above reasons that much professional advice on how to manage adhd pupils, suggests that they need to remain at the beginning of the sanctions pyramid for six or seven times longer than other children, and that extending detentions or sanctions will not help them to 'get it' any faster. Obviously if you are lucky enough to have a TA in your class, then they can act as the perfect person to issue the number of reminders required to keep the adhd pupil on tasks. If you do not however, then you will encounter the inherent problem of having to spend proportionally more time on one student than on others.

However, there are many teachers such as Livia McCoy, who take a positive approach to this. In my experience, by far the best way to deal with adhd pupils is to create rapport with them as early as you can. Livia seems to appreciate how hard school can be for adhd kids and she encourages teachers to re-frame their view of these pupils:

'...we as teachers need to change the way we view these kids. They are not placed in our classrooms to make our lives more difficult. They are normal, interesting, often very bright children who need extra support in order to be successful in school'.

I can recommend the link to Livia's article as it contains many useful and practical ideas on how to partner adhd children and work with them productively.

One very important consideration to come out of my experience of working with adhd children is that no two are alike. This seems like an obvious statement to make about children but no two adhd children will react in the same way to their adhd. I have met children who will discuss their symptoms and medication in a very matter-of-fact manner with you as soon as you meet them. I have also met children who cannot bear the label and refuse medication completely.

How to discipline ADHD pupils

One of the most important distinctions that I believe a teacher needs to make, is between which behaviors are caused by adhd symptoms and which are not. In other words, which behaviors can the pupil control and which behaviors are involuntary adhd symptoms. This is because of the obvious confusion which arises, when a condition that affects the behavior of a pupil, meets the behavior expectations of the class teacher, and the school. It is very tempting for parents, for example, to defend their child against school sanctions on the basis that their child 'cannot help' their own adhd symptoms, when in fact they may well have chosen to misbehave and use their adhd label as a cover. It does happen!

Such distinctions are difficult and I would advise all schools to create specific behavior policies for adhd in order to address this issue. Certainly in the UK, The Disability Act requires schools to make a 'reasonable adjustment' for adhd symptoms. The following then is my attempt to put behaviors in context:

A teacher should make reasonable adjustments in their behavior management for a pupil diagnosed with adhd who:

  • Fidgets or stands up.
  • Does not complete activities in order.
  • Is distracted by the slightest interruption.
  • Forgets equipment.
  • Does not start work for a long period.
  • Does not finish work.
  • Tends to call out answers rather than raise their hand.
  • Does not complete some homework.
A teacher should treat adhd pupils in the same way that they treat any other pupil if they:
  • Leave their seat.
  • Complete no work at all.
  • Distract others.
  • Call out across the room.
  • Is rude or aggressive.
  • Completes no homework.
Feel free to comment on these distinctions below and suggest your own. I would be very interested to hear your experiences.

My own experience has led me to believe that whether a child has adhd symptoms or not, the expectations of the teacher and the school are going to have as much of an influence on the behavior of that child as their adhd will. As an example of this I can refer to one adhd pupil who transferred to high school after being at a school where being under chairs or tables and moving around the room were deemed acceptable behavior for him. It was only at high school that he learned to sit in a seat and for the most part, stay there, because that was the expectation of the school and no-one gave him permission to do otherwise. He may need to fidget, but he does not 'need' to be out of his seat or away from his desk on a regular basis.

Speaking to parents

When it comes to dealing with parents of adhd pupils, I reiterate my previous point about no two being alike and each approaching the adhd symptoms differently. Some are very appreciative of teacher's efforts, some are convinced you know nothing about adhd, some are openly hostile. I would direct you to the perceptual positions exercise mentioned elsewhere. You really need to get a feel, if at all possible of where the parent is in relation to managing the condition and how they respond to their child's adhd. Many will be equally stressed by their child's inability to do certain things. Many have had to struggle with their own consciences in relation to medicating their own child and dealing with any possible side effects.

Reporting on the progress of adhd pupils to their parents can also be a minefield because teachers are generally used to commenting on the amount of work a pupil produces, how well they concentrate in class, etc. From a parents' point of view therefore, to read that your child is distractible and completes little work, tells you little other than that the teacher is not making allowances for the pupil's adhd symptoms. Therefore, it is advisable to comment on what the pupil does do well and how you have worked with them to help them manage better. Obviously it is also wise to demonstrate that you are clear on the distinctions between acceptable and non-acceptable behaviors.

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