ADHD: 5 Strategies to Improve Learning

For a child  who struggles with ADHD (hyperactivity attention-deficit disorder), school can be a stressful place. Though most children with ADHD are intellectually bright and love to learn, learning and navigating the school setting presents many challenges to this child. In fact, a staggering number of children with ADHD will fail to succeed in the school setting.  According to Dr. Daniel Amen, M.D., psychiatrist and author of Healing ADD, 33 percent of children untreated with ADHD will never finish high school.

What makes learning so difficult for kids with ADHD? Studies suggest numerous ways that an ADHD brain differs from a normal one. One study showed a disruption in catecholamine production in the ADHD brain. Catecholamines are amino-acid-based neurotransmitters that include dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine and are responsible for electrical transmission of nerve signals in the brain.

When nerve transmission is disrupted, critical functions needed for learning are also disrupted. One such function is the Executive Function. The executive function is essentially the executive administrator that instructs our brain to activate, to organize, integrate, and memorize information, and many other activities. It also regulates impulse control, and acts as that voice in our head that warns the potential consequences of an action. In a way, it’s analogous to a conductor coordinating the different instruments in an orchestra to make the final product, a performance, seamless.

If your child has ADHD and has struggles in school, what can you do? What kinds of strategies can you employ to ensure your child’s success?

Based on an assumption that you’ve addressed your child’s ADHD

Find a good therapist, one with an expertise in ADHD: Children with ADHD face many struggles in the school. It’s harder for them to form friendships and to navigate peer relationships. A child with ADHD can be a tough student to manage. Without impulse control, he might disrupt the class, get up, walk around, or call out of turn. This child needs someone to talk to, to sort out feelings of failure and difficulties he’s having.

A good therapist, one trained to work with ADHD clients, should put together a comprehensive psychosocial plan, one that includes a behavioral, school, and home component.

Parents also need a good therapist. ADHD adds a tremendous strain to a marriage. Dr. Daniel Amen reports that parents of children with ADHD divorce at three times the rate of the general population. A therapist can listen to the struggles of a parent and can recommend some effective parenting tools in managing a child with ADHD.

Rule Out Other Disabilities or Disorders: According to C.H.A.D.D., “individuals affected by ADHD are at an increased risk of experiencing additional cognitive, emotional, or behavioral disorders.” Around two-thirds of children dealing with ADHD also have co-existing disorders such as mood disorders, anxiety disorders, tics and Tourette syndrome, and learning disabilities such as dyslexia or dysgraphia. Many school districts have an extensive therapeutic who can all meet with your child and complete a full evaluation. Once the evaluation is done, they along with your child’s teacher, can decide if your child qualifies for special educational accommodation, or a 504 disability accommodation.

“A Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a civil rights law designed to eliminate discrimination on the basis of disability in any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance. It requires school districts to provide necessary educational services that would meet individual needs of a child with a learning or physical disability. It’s meant to “level the playing field.” If your child qualifies for a 504 disability accommodation, he could be eligible for push-in or pull-out services, a modified curriculum, or special education services provided through the school district.

Set up a structured behavioral modification system. Mentioned above, an effective behavioral modification program helps a child with ADHD learn by targeting, rewarding, and shaping desired behaviors through operant conditioning. Typically, a therapist can put one together based on feedback from teachers, doctors, and parents. For it to work, a behavioral modification must follow certain guidelines:

–It must be followed strictly by any adult who spends a significant amount of time with the child.child.

–It must be designed with the ABCs in mind: Antecedents (things that set off or happen before behaviors),  Behaviors (things the child does that parents and teachers want to change), and Consequences (things that happen after behaviors).

The behavioral modification program should also start with small achievable goals. It must be consistent (time, settings, participants). It must be used over the long-term. And it should be adjusted as a child learns the desired behavior.

Make time for regular exercise for your child: Children with ADHD tend to have lots of nervous energy. If your child has an anxiety condition, that can add to the nervousness. Exercise isn’t merely good for the body. Because it helps the brain to release endorphins, it has been proven to alleviate stress. Because a child is expected to sit for long stretches in a classroom setting, frequent exercise helps a child with ADHD blow off steam. Communicate with your child’s school that your child needs regular exercise and in case a punishment is warranted, teachers should eliminate some other privilege, and not exercise.

Engage him in an activity he enjoys and feels successful at: If school is rough and your child  never feels successful, or least doesn’t see himself as successful, those feelings of failure will spread and poison every aspect of his life. If you engage your child in the arts, music, theatre, or any production where he can create, express himself, feel a sense of accomplishment or enjoyment, those positive feelings can spread to other areas of life, even back to school.

School can present many hurdles and challenges for a child with ADHD.  But with effective parenting skills, a therapist relationship, and behavioral strategies both in and out of school, a child with ADHD doesn’t have to be a statistic.

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About Merle Huerta

Merle Huerta is a staff writer with Kars4Kids.org, a teacher, tutor, a retired army wife, and a mother of a blended family of 13.

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