As children enter elementary school, they are expected to go from active children who play all the time, to being disciplined so that they can
- sit at a desk for long periods of time.
- complete tasks in subjects that they don’ t much care for.
- pay attention to the teacher.
- follow directions.
- bring information and other papers home to parents.
- do homework and return it to school the next day.
That’s a hard enough transition in itself. But imagine being saddled with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) on top of that transition. It is important to note here, that ADHD is a medical condition, and as such, can only be diagnosed and treated by a physician, not by the schools or the teachers. However, teachers – especially teachers with Special Education training or degrees in Special Education – are trained
(a) to watch for the symptoms of ADHD,
(b) to help parents watch for the signs and symptoms of the condition,
(c) to help parents help their kids with the academic aspect of ADHD, and
(d) to know when and how to recommend to parents that a child be tested and treated by a physician.
Symptoms of ADHD in Elementary Students
According to the Mayo Clinic, indications that may lead parents and teachers to suspect that a child has ADHD include the following:
- The child exhibits symptoms continuously for six months or more.
- The child exhibits ADHD symptoms in more than one place, such as at home and at school.
- The child disrupts school and other daily activities on a regular basis.
- The child stirs up difficulties and crises in relationships between adults and other children.
- The symptoms must appear before the age of 7 years.
The Mayo Clinic and Health Central list these Signs and Symptoms for ADHD in children. They:
1. fail to pay close attention to details, which leads to careless errors in schoolwork and other activities.
2. have trouble maintaining the attention span necessary to perform tasks at home or school, or to play many games.
3. appear to not be listening when spoken to by teachers, parents, or even other children.
4. have trouble following instructions and fail to complete chores, schoolwork, and other tasks.
5. have trouble with organization of schoolwork and other tasks and activities.
6. lose items like books, school supplies, and toys.
7. are easily distracted.
8. are forgetful.
9. are fidgety or prone to squirming.
10. cannot remain seated at their desks during class time.
11. experience the need for running and climbing when it’s inappropriate, or may feel constantly restless.
12. seem to be in constant motion.
13. talk seemingly non-stop.
14. blurt out answers before teachers or parents have a chance to finish the question.
15. have trouble waiting for their turn when playing games.
16. interrupt or intrude on other people’s conversations or on games that others are already playing.
17. are easily distracted.
18. feel the need to rush through tasks, which leads to messy and incomplete work.
19. tend to be inconsistent with their tasks and chores, doing well one day and terrible the next.
20. have difficulty transitioning from one task to the next.
21. take excessively long periods of time to complete homework, chores, and other tasks (something that should be completed within 10 to 15 minutes, could take upwards of an hour or more).
When To See A Doctor
Take your child to see a doctor for ADD-ADHD testing if a teacher or the school suggests that the student may be exhibiting the symptoms at school or if you feel the that your child may be exhibiting the symptoms at home or in other settings (church, the park, while shopping). Start with a visit to the pediatrician or family physician. If this doctor cannot run the necessary tests, he or she may be able to refer you to a few physicians who can make the diagnosis of ADHD or determine if there may be other reasons for the child’s difficulties. Children who have been diagnosed with ADHD should see a doctor at least every six months take medication as prescribed.
Diagnosing ADHD in Elementary Students
As stated earlier, a diagnosis of ADHD cannot be made in the school. It can only be made by a licensed physician (usually a psychiatrist who specializes in diagnosing and treating children an adolescents with ADHD), and only after extensive testing to rule out other problems and extensive interviews and questionnaires or surveys with parents, teachers, and other adults (day care workers, Sunday school teachers, relatives) who deal with the child regularly. There is no single test for diagnosing ADHD, nor can it be diagnosed after only one visit with the doctor. Some of the tests and other documentation Doctors will look at when determining whether a child has ADHD include, a six month (minimum) history of any of the above symptoms as well as a history of: sudden life changes (divorce, death, move to a new location); previously undetected seizures; sleep problems; anxiety; depression; anxiety; or lead toxicity. Any of these conditions can sometimes mimic the signs and symptoms of ADHD, and so, must be ruled out.
Part of the testing procedures includes:
- Interviews with or questionnaires filled out by parents, family members, teachers, and other adults who have regular contact with the child and can detail which signs and symptoms – if any – appear, how regularly the symptoms occur, and under what circumstances.
- A physical exam which will show the child’s overall state of health.
- Getting a complete physical and mental history of the child.
- A clinical assessment, making use of standardized rating scales for behavior.
- Careful review of the child’s academic, social, emotional, and developmental levels.
- An evaluation for any learning disabilities (e.g. dyslexia).
- Hearing and vision testing.
- Blood testing for lead levels
- Blood testing for conditions such as thyroid disease.
- An encephalogram (EEG) to measure the electrical activity in the child’s brain.
- A CT scan or MRI to look for or rule out any physical anomalies in the brain.
Ways to Help ADHD Students in Elementary School
Schools may make use of one or more of these techniques to help elementary school students cope with the academic aspects of their ADHD, when these techniques seem appropriate.
1. Making use of peer tutoring, with older students tutoring younger students.
2. Providing outlines for each subject, prior to the actual lesson, which includes key concepts and vocabulary.
3. Increasing the pace of the lessons to keep the child from becoming easily bored.
4. Using multisensory lesson plans, while being careful that audio-visual aids are not overwhelming or don’t present too many distractions.
5. Making lessons brief, or breaking down long presentations into smaller, easier to manage, segments.
6. Actively involving the child in the lesson presentation, allowing them to be an “instructional assistant” who gets to write down the keywords on the chalkboard, for instance.
7. Allowing role-playing activities in which the students act out key concepts, or historical events.
8. Making each lesson exciting, which makes all students really want to learn.
9. Keeping classroom the environment on a small student/teacher ratio.
ADHD Elementary Students at Home
Parents can help their ADHD elementary school students at home in the following ways.
1. Keep the home environment calm, especially during the transition time between school and home, or between home and any other external activities.
2. Keep a calm environment during homework time.
3. Help the child separate homework, chores, and other tasks into smaller, more manageable bites.
4. Allow for short breaks between homework segments or between chores.
5. Work with the child’s teacher on ways to create a positive environment that is conducive to learning.
6. Make use of a reward system for positive behavior.
7. Provide opportunities for controlled, structured social activities, such as swimming lessons.
8. Medication is sometimes necessary to help control the symptoms of ADHD. Make sure that the medication is given as prescribed and that the school is aware of the medication and dosage requirements, especially if the child needs to take a dose during school hours. (A word of caution here – school usually want the medication to be brought to school in the original container from the pharmacy, which has the doctor’s, the name of the pharmacy, the name of the medication, and the dosage information.)
If your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, follow the physicians instructions, give medication as necessary, and work with the school and the teachers to help with your child’s academic needs. And remember, that just because your child may be exhibiting some of the symptoms of ADHD, he or she may not have this condition, but may have some other problem that is correctable or treatable. Have a physician run all the necessary tests and do all the necessary studies to either diagnose ADHD or rule it out. If neither you, your child’s teachers, or any other adult who regularly spends time with your child sees the signs and symptoms of ADD-ADHD, then a regular check up with a pediatrician or family doctor may well be all that is necessary.