I’ve always had a lot of compassion for my students with ADHD (or ADHD-like behaviors) because my husband had ADHD as a kid. Never diagnosed (it was the early 80’s), Kevin struggled in school. Despite being a very smart, charming, and energetic little boy, his report cards were filled with comments like, “Kevin fails to live up to his potential” and “Kevin contributes wonderful ideas in class, but doesn’t complete his work.”
If you ask me, his teachers failed to see that he needed help, and instead, blamed him for his inability to focus and follow through on tasks. It wasn’t until fifth grade that a teacher finally recognized Kevin’s strengths, helped to develop his love of science, and made accommodations like allowing him to take tests standing up. That teacher changed Kevin’s entire outlook on himself as a learner.
Thanks to his fifth grade teacher, Kevin had a transformational year, a year when he began to believe in himself and his abilities. School never became easy, but he gained a confidence that never went away. As an adult, he has worked his way into a successful career as a computer programmer (almost entirely self-taught) and now works for Google. But many kids in his position are not as lucky.
Without support, students with ADHD often flounder in school, believe that they’re incapable of learning, and self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. Numerous studies have found ADHD to be a significant risk factor for the development of addiction. According to WebMD, “at a mean age of 14.9 years, 40% of children with ADHD began using alcohol, compared to 22% of children without an ADHD diagnosis — a strong predictor of alcohol and substance abuse in adulthood.” And two studies conducted by Massachusetts General Hospital concluded that, even when co-existing factors were eliminated, “study participants diagnosed with ADHD had a one-and-a-half-times greater risk of developing substance abuse than did control participants.”
So while we can debate about the over-diagnosis of ADHD — and we can work to identify the many causes of ADHD-like behaviors — as classroom teachers, we must make accommodations to ensure that all students become capable, confident learners who succeed academically and socially.
Next week, I will provide an exhaustive list of the accommodations for ADHD that I use in the classroom.