ADHD in the Classroom

For detailed information on ADHD in the classroom and educational events on ADHD, please visit the Centre for ADHD Awareness, Canada (CADDAC) website at www.CADDAC.ca

Education Oriented Resource

For direct links to education-specific documents and information on the CADDAC website, please access the list at the bottom of this page.

What is ADHD

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a diagnosis classified according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – 4th Edition (DSM-IV). To diagnose ADHD we look at three symptoms: inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. These symptoms must be at a level that causes significant impairment for the child, adolescent or adult for the disorder to be diagnosed.  The occurrence of these three symptoms determines the type of ADHD diagnosed. Children and adults who have hyperactive and impulsive symptoms are referred to as ADHD, primarily hyperactive-impulsive subtype; those who exhibit mainly inattention are referred to as ADHD, primarily inattentive subtype (often still referred to as ADD); and those who have all three symptoms are referred to as ADHD, combined subtype. This is the type diagnosed most often. 

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is the most common psychiatric disorder diagnosed in children. It affects 5-12% of school-aged children. Approximately 8-10% of males and 3-4 % of females under the age of 18 years have ADHD. For those with ADHD in childhood, the symptoms will continue to be severe enough to qualify for a diagnosis in 80% of adolescents and in over 60% of adults the core symptoms will continue to cause impairment. Although there are some differences in symptoms and the occurrence of related disorders between males and females, the impact of the disorder on patients and their families is fairly consistent.

ADHD is not caused by - or a result of - external factors such as inadequate or “bad” parenting, socioeconomic factors or lazy, defiant or unmotivated children. It is not caused by a “bad”  diet, insufficient exercise or too much time in front of the TV. Like any other mental or physical illness, ADHD can be exacerbated by any of these things but they do not cause ADHD.  

The symptoms and subtypes of ADHD and associated disorders change dramatically throughout the life cycle. Hyperactivity and impulsivity may decrease as patients get older but the demands on their attention and other thinking skills may increase. Due to this, the primarily inattentive subtype of ADHD may not have been diagnosed in childhood, because symptoms are not as easy to spot as in the other subtypes, but may become more obvious in adolescence or adulthood. Many of these patients are females, which suggests that the prevalence rates may be higher in females during childhood than we previously recognized.  

Students with ADHD can be a challenge for teachers to understand. Since they can present with a wide variety of symptoms, it is impossible to use one or even several profiles for these children. The ADHD student is easily recognized as the hyperactive boy who is easily distracted and unable to complete his work, but is often missed as the quiet girl at the back of the class who is anxious and obsessive about her schoolwork. Both of these children may have ADHD but present quite differently and would be diagnosed with different subtypes.

ADHD is a problem with the regulation of attention, not just a problem with inattention. The student with ADHD can also present as over-focused, especially when he or she is involved with something they find interesting. They are unable to refocus their attention from this activity to another, even though they know that they should. The student's inattention may also fluctuate frequently throughout the day or from day to day. They may be able to focus on their math one day and be unable to be productive at all the next day. These students are often the only ones that are punished for their successes. We saw them pay attention and get their work done yesterday, so they must “just be lazy and not trying” today.

Students with ADHD often present with learning disabilities and other comorbid conditions such as anxiety, depression or other neurological and mental health disorders. For a comprehensive assessment, a complete physical exam should be done, a detailed psycho-educational assessment should take place, and a thorough assessment for ADHD by a physician should always occur. The reports on these tests should contain detailed recommendations in order for a complete and accurate educational profile to be developed. Some of the most common difficulties students with ADHD exhibit in the classroom are central auditory processing disorder (CAP disorder), graphomotor disorder, executive functioning disorder, delayed processing speed and reduced written output. Since all of these conditions are separate learning disorders, any indication of these disorders would definitely warrant further investigation through CAP disorder and psychoeducational testing.

Information for Educators (CADDAC): http://www.caddac.ca/cms/page.php?50
Classroom Presentation (CADDAC): http://www.caddac.ca/cms/page.php?43
Classroom accommodations (CADDAC): http://www.caddac.ca/cms/page.php?66
Accommodation list (Brief) (CADDAC): http://www.caddac.ca/cms/page.php?57
ADHD in Girls (CADDAC): http://www.caddac.ca/cms/page.php?40
ADHD Red Flags (CADDAC): http://www.caddac.ca/cms/page.php?142
Videos on ADHD (CADDAC): http://caddac.ca/cms/video/player.html
Executive Functions (CADDAC): http://www.caddac.ca/cms/page.php?69
Sample IEP (CADDAC): http://www.caddac.ca/cms/CADDAC_pdf/SampleIEPforKryWithin.pdf
CAP Disorder (CADDAC): http://caddac.ca/cms/page.php?166
Students' letter to teachers (CADDAC): http://caddac.ca/cms/page.php?49