The Teachers Role in ADD/ADHD
Why do people find it difficult to understand a child with attention deficit disorder? One reason is that it has many faces. Experts remind us that symptoms vary from one child to the next. While the disorder shares common denominators, teachers must bear in mind that it is important for them to establish that the child is indeed suffering from ADD, and that the behavior is not caused by an underlying medical reason.
In their book, Driven to Distraction, Hallowell and Ratey speak of a myriad of experiences with both adults and children and aptly described the range of behaviors as “from the hyperactive search for high stimulation to the floating inattention of daydreaming — and the transforming impact of precise diagnosis and treatment.” The only certainty, according to the writers, is to ensure that whatever teachers are doing to cope with ADD/ADHD – strategies, activities, assigning specific tasks – they must have the components of structure, education and encouragement.
Making Sure it’s ADD or ADHD
When there’s a child in class who appears to be showing signs of ADD, the most logical step is to make sure that it is ADD and not another disorder that mimics ADD. Teachers cannot or should not make a diagnosis of ADD. That’s not their job. They can, however, suggest to parents to have the child examined by a medical professional. It could just be a vision or hearing problem that has not been properly addressed.
This process of achieving an accurate diagnosis can take long but parents must continuously raise questions until they – and the medical professionals – are convinced that ADD is causing the child’s erratic behavior. School management must support parents in this process since only the teacher can describe what their child does in the classroom.
In one case study cited by the British Columbia Ministry of Education, a parent mentioned to the teacher that she suspected her child of having behavioral problems. The teacher agreed to observe the child and after a few days called the parent back to present her findings. One finding pointed to medication. She said that when the child had forgotten to take her medicine, she completed only 2 out of 20 questions; but on the days that the child took her medication, she managed to complete all 20 questions.
Another observation was that the child tended to interrupt others in the classroom, change the subject, or raise questions that were not relevant to what was being discussed.
Many case studies have been done and teachers’ observation lists can be lengthy. In the case study above, the teacher had detected seven recurring patterns in the child’s behavior. Since children spend a good part of their day in the classroom, this is where teachers and the rest of the school management can help parents arrive at an understanding of ADD, leading the way to deciding the best treatment approach. A Finnish teacher recently came up with an interesting finding about kids with ADHD and the positive effects of taking frequent breaks from the classroom.
There is one thing that must be repeated often: teachers will realize that dealing with ADD kids can be exhausting. They must not be afraid to ask for help. Dealing with a child with ADD is a collaborative effort. It does take an entire village to raise a child!