What is ADHD?

ADHD or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder. People who have ADHD experience various degrees of impulsivity, attention deficit and hyperactivity.

Children with ADHD experience delayed development of certain areas of the brain that are involved in executive functions. The way parts of the brain in children with ADHD communicate with each other, is often less effective than that of children without ADHD. Because of this, children with ADHD often struggle with tasks that involve their working memory.

To be able to accurately diagnose someone with ADHD, symptoms have to be visible in at least two out of three environments, these three environments being: at home, at school, and at after school activities, before the age of 12. ADHD nearly always goes together with one or more other behavioural disorders, in 40-60% of the cases a student with ADHD also has ODD, in 30% of the cases ASD and in about 25% anxiety or other mood disorders.


ADHD and ADD have been labelled as disorders, along with other behavioural challenges in this chapter. As you read this chapter, think about the benefits and negative aspects of labelling behavioural issues as  disorders. We will come back to this issue at the end of the chapter.

How do you recognize ADHD?

We would like to get away from the deficit model when talking about ADHD so we are going to start by focusing on the the strengths of students with ADHD. Students with ADHD are often enthusiastic, sporty, caring, spontaneous, open, creative and have a strong sense of justice. They often have a great sense of humour, are open to trying new things and are on certain occasions able to concentrate extremely well (hyper focus).

Some of the challenges that students with ADHD face include:

  • restlessness, which leads to fidgeting and having trouble sitting still.
  • being very talkative, impulsive,  and challenged by social situations.

A student with ADHD generally develops social skills later than their peers. (skills like; taking perspective, problem-solving skills) They have trouble assessing their peer’s behaviour, because of this they often do not expect the actions of their peers, which leads to clashing in behaviour. These clashes usually keep happening time after time, since students with ADHD are often bad at reflecting on their own behaviour. This could lead the student to be excluded by their peers.

Because they have trouble staying focused, they often miss parts of the instructions and avoid tasks that require them to focus on something for an extended amount of time. (for example, by going to the toilet or talking).

Students with ADHD often have trouble regulating their emotions and tend to be overrun with emotions. Students will oftentimes have quick shifts in emotions which they act on pretty immediately due to their poor impulse control and because they have less internal dialogue.

Students with ADHD struggle with time, they often wrongly estimate how much time they will need for a task. They also struggle to start working on a task leading to more of a time crunch.

Students with ADHD are less sensitive to dopamine which causes you to feel good. Dopamine has a big role in motivating people to do things because dopamine is often released when you accomplish something. Students with ADHD will not feel this as strongly which often results in a lack of motivation.

Symptoms of ADHD often show extra at the start of puberty, especially in boys, high testosterone levels can cause explosive behaviours. During puberty, where impulsive behaviours are to be expected of any student, they will be extra common in students with ADHD.

It is important that even though students with ADHD share many characteristics, no two students are the same. Be mindful not to see the students as a product of the disorder, but rather as their own person with their own personality.

Case study 2: Peter

Peter was a student with ADHD, and he attended several schools where things did not run smoothly for him. He showed disruptive behaviour and often had arguments with teachers. They thought he was very spoiled and if they said something about his behaviour, Peter would often react in a rude manner.

When he was ten, halfway through the school year, Peter switched schools and joined a new 4th Grade class. During the first week, his new teacher noticed that Peter was very talkative during class discussions and often expressed his opinions strongly, and that he walked around the classroom a lot.  Peter was disturbing others and he wasn’t able to work independently.

His new teacher thought that Peter might enjoy acting and performing because he often made joking remarks and was very witty, so they invited Peter to join the group of student performers for the upcoming class party. This turned out to be a great idea. Peter’s classmates laughed at Peter’s performance and his reputation within the group got a noticeable boost. Peter also started listening more when the teacher asked him to sit down and/or to wait his turn in class discussions.

Peter felt seen and heard. The teacher appreciated him, and by letting Peter know what he does well, Peter experiences a sense of success. This is of course, more difficult to do during a regular lesson, but by focusing on what Peter can and does well instead of complaining about the things he doesn’t, you build a relationship which is often the key to success.

What is ADD?

ADD stands for Attention Deficit Disorder. It is closely related to ADHD but the behaviours that characterize ADD are predominantly inattentive rather than predominantly hyperactive/impulsive. ADD impacts a student’s way of thinking, learning, working, and perceiving and their relationships.


Boys are twice more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD or ADD than girls. The reason for this is not that girls do not have it as often. Girls tend to try harder than boys to compensate for their symptoms which in turn makes the symptoms harder to notice.

In many cases undiagnosed ADHD or ADD can cause anxiety, depression and/or other mood disorders. As with ADHD, students with ADD are likely to have one or more extra disorder(s) on top of their ADD, the most prominent ones are dyslexia, dyscalculia, and/or sleep disorders.

How do you recognize ADD?

ADD is difficult to recognize because the hyperactivity and impulsive behaviours of ADHD are not as present. Students with ADD usually don’t disrupt others. Please remember that even though students with ADD share many characteristics, no two students are the same.

Students with ADD can be very creative, imaginative, humorous, empathetic, and emotionally involved. They often think ahead, care deeply about doing good work, and often want to achieve maximum results. They can have great problem-solving skills, and are often great at thinking outside the box.

Some students with ADD experience a phenomenon called hyper-focus when working on something they are very interested in.

One of the main struggles for students with ADD is staying focused; unless a subject is interesting to them, they can be very easily distracted.  Students with ADD often daydream, and they think so far ahead that they are unaware of what is happening around them. They can be easily distracted by both external and internal stimuli because their minds are often focused on several thoughts at the same time. People with ADD often describe it as a chaos of thoughts that is impossible to get rid of.

On the outside these students seem calm while internally their brains are overworking. When disturbed while deep in thoughts they can get quite irritated. Students with ADD may have trouble starting work, they are great at procrastinating. Just like students with ADHD they may lack motivation.

Students with ADD often forget or lose things. For example, they may not have the homework with them, remember to take it home and/or remember what to do when they get home. They may not write things down in their agenda and if they do, they might not remember to check their agendas when they get home.   Because students with ADD have a less efficient working memory they may struggle with specific sports or activities that require them to process information very quickly.

Teenagers with ADD may have difficulty connecting choices they make right now with long term goals Teenagers with ADD often have delayed social skills and may not have many friends. They tend to overthink social events, both before they happen, and after they are over. This often comes hand in hand with low self-esteem.

Quotes from Students with ADD

“Listening for longer periods of time was a big problem. I would literally fall asleep if I had to listen for an hour or something. Very embarrassing, I would start nodding my head. I was very embarrassed, I would have wanted to pay attention, but I just could not. What did help was if we had to have talks during the lessons, or if we had to do assignments together for a bit.”

“PE is a disaster. I really dislike ball sports. I guess I am too slow because everyone is always mad at me. I’m always chosen last too.”

Case study #3: Lily

Lily had known since December that she had to write a paper and she was a perfectionist and wanted to do a good job with it. By this time, it was February and the paper had to be as good as done. In December, during check-ins, Lily had been able to make excuses like how the printer was not working and that the paper could not be uploaded to the cloud because the internet was bad at home. A couple of weeks later he was found out, yet nothing had changed since then. Lily would not admit she had lost sight of the assignment and that she could not do it. The teacher, who knew Lily had ADD could have seen this coming.

What Lily’s teacher could have done was create a checklist and go over it together with Lily. There could have been deadlines for parts of the paper. Lily’s parents could have also been involved. Doing it this way would have provided Lily with a better overview of the assignments and the talks would have helped motivate Lily, especially if she had received positive feedback.

What can teachers do to help?

If you suspect one of your students may have ADHD, you should discuss this with the professionals in your  school before saying anything to the student’s parents.

If you know a student in your class has ADHD, the following adaptations  and/or considerations might help  them and other students to learn and develop to their potential:

Building Relationships

  • Try to create a bond of trust with your student, so they feel comfortable coming to you when they are struggling. This will also make it easier to make agreements together.
  • Pay close attention to sudden changes in behaviour and/or declining performance.
  • Keep in contact with the student, parents/ caretakers to check if the student is doing okay. Try to focus on the positives during these meetings.
  •  If the class climate, student, and their parents allow it, create awareness with peers around ADHD and what students might struggle with.

Managing Behaviour

  • Set clear expectations and talk about them regularly with the student. Agree on a signal to use to remind your student of the expectations you discussed.
  • Set clear boundaries but try to “overlook” behaviours sometimes. Try not to correct your students’ mistakes in front of the entire class, but in private.
  • Compliment positive behaviours.
  • Be alert for bullying, classmates often feel this student is different and may see this as a reason to bully them.

Strategies for Learning

  • Try to visualise your lessons and create interactive elements.
  • If It is difficult for students to follow along with teacher-directed, longer lessons, allow them to get notes from you or a buddy. (Upper primary, Middle School).
  • Allow the student to explore their work environment before starting something new.
  • Use your student’s name when they are expected to do something to keep them focused. If you  can do this  discretely, the students is more likely to stay focused and to feel respected and not singled out.
  • Support the student by breaking  tasks  down into smaller, more manageable steps. This may help many students and not just students with attention issues. Check in regularly to see if students are on the right track. Help your students make plans to approach tasks.
  • Set timers to help the student use their time efficiently.
  • Help students become better planners, set several smaller deadlines for big projects.
  • Give your students opportunities to walk around the classroom.
  • Provide a quiet area where students can go if they need some space and time to focus.




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Inclusive Perspectives in Primary Education Copyright © 2021 by room305 and Inclusive Education Class 2020-2021 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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