Individuals with attention deficit disorder, commonly called ADD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, commonly called ADHD, often struggle with everyday activities which may lead to detrimental behaviors and decreased academic performance. The person may experience peer rejection and engage in a broad array of disruptive behaviors. Their academic and social difficulties have long-term, far-reaching consequences. As they grow older, undiagnosed and/or untreated people with attention deficit and conduct disorders experience drug abuse, antisocial behavior, and physical injuries of all sorts. For many individuals, the impacts of the disorder continue into adulthood. Medication may be one choice; however, there are different strategies to consider in improving the abilities of an individual with attention deficit disorder.
Defining Attention Deficit Disorders
Attention Deficit Disorder is a chronic disorder that can begin in as a child and may extend through adulthood, having negative effects on a child’s life at home, school, and within the community. It is conservatively estimated that 3 to 5 percent of our school-age population is affected by ADD. Primarily, boys have been diagnosed in higher rates than girls in the school system.
Types of Attention Deficit Disorder
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – The primary symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder are impulsivity, inattention, and hyperactivity. The symptoms must occur in more than one setting, must persist for at least 6 months, and must affect the individual “to a degree that is maladaptive and inconsistent with developmental level” to be diagnosed with ADHD. Estimates of the prevalence of ADHD among school age children vary but the median estimate is 2 percent in boys and girls combined.
Undifferentiated Attention Deficit Disorder – In this form of undifferentiated attention deficit disorder, the primary and most significant characteristic is inattentiveness. Hyperactivity is not present. These people still manifest problems with organization and distractibility, and may be seen as quiet or passive in nature. It is speculated that undifferentiated ADD is currently under diagnosed, since these children tend to be overlooked more easily in the classroom. Thus, children with undifferentiated ADD may be at a higher risk for academic failure than those with ADHD.
The determining factor of ADD and ADHD is unknown. There are some factors that are common, but they are not found in all people with this diagnosis. Family, adoption, and twin studies demonstrate that genetic factors are very important in ADHD, but environmental factors also play a significant role since heritability is less than 100 percent.
Environmental factors, including premature birth, head injury, fetal alcohol syndrome, prenatal exposure to recreational drugs, lead toxicity, prenatal maternal smoking, and rare endocrine abnormalities can all cause the ADHD syndrome.
Accommodating Individuals With Attention Deficit Disorder
The mainstream media has reported adverse effects of conventional treatments such as Ritalin. There are alternative medications and therapies being used today. Some therapies include behavioral modification, attention training, biofeedback and neurofeedback. These alternative treatments allow some people to be medication free. However, diligence is of utmost importance for success.
An individual with an attention deficit disorder may learn differently than others. The person may appear nondisabled as their disability is hidden from view. The Council for Exceptional Children and ERIC Clearinghouse on Handicapped and Gifted Children describe teaching strategies which will benefit the learner. The following is a summary of the recommendations made in these articles:
Establishing the Proper Learning Environment
Having the ADD and ADHD child sit in front of a room so that the person’s back is toward the rest of the room this will keep others out of view and avoid distracting stimuli; changes are difficult so try a routine
Maintain eye contact during verbal instruction; make directions clear and concise. Be consistent with daily instructions and simplify complex directions. Avoid multiple commands; make sure the person comprehends the instructions before beginning the task; repeat instructions in a calm, positive manner, if needed; help the person feel comfortable with seeking assistance; require a daily assignment notebook if necessary. This could also an electronic device such a PDA or simple organizer; make sure information is written down in a comprehensive step to step fashion.
Give out only one task at a time and monitor completed tasks frequently. Maintain a supportive attitude; modify assignments as needed; make sure you are testing knowledge and not attention span; give extra time for certain tasks. The individual with ADD may work slowly; keep in mind that people with ADD are easily frustrated. Stress, pressure, and fatigue can break down their self-control and lead to poor behavior.
Modifying Behavior And Enhancing Self-Esteem
Remain calm, state the infraction of the rule, and avoid debating or arguing with the person; enforce rules consistently; avoid publicly reminding people on medication to “take their medicine.”
Reward more than you punish, in order to build self-esteem; praise immediately any and all good behavior and performance; change rewards if they are not effective in motivating behavioral change.
A private tutor and/or peer tutoring at school or work; a class that has a low person-teacher ratio in a learning environment; social skills training and organizational skills training; training in cognitive restructuring (positive self-talk, e.g., “I did that well.”); use of a word processor or computer for work as organization is sometimes easier through electronic technologies–for some, voice output is beneficial; individualized activities that are mildly competitive or noncompetitive such as bowling, walking, swimming, jogging, biking, karate.
Assistive technology is not always high tech. It can be as simple as some of the strategies listed in this article. Many times people with disabilities and non-disabled people benefit from accommodations.