ADHD in the Classroom: What’s it like for Students?

For students suffering from ADHD in the classroom, school can be a source of constant frustration, anxiety, and self-doubt.  Many students (regardless of ADHD) may experience these types of emotions at some point in their education, but students with ADHD can experience these feelings persistently and more intensely than their peers and their performance is negatively affected. In severe cases, symptoms of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder can be so disabling that the school experience for the ADHD student becomes nothing more than a continuous series of lost battles and missed opportunities, reinforcing self-doubt.

In order for a student to be successful in the classroom, they will need to possess the ability to sustain focus, listen to and comprehend the material as it is being taught, as well as organize their homework assignments and manage study time. However, for the student with ADHD, sustained focus and executive functioning are exactly what they’re lacking.

While most people can relate to challenges of focusing on “non-preferred tasks,” most people can’t relate to the feeling of being incapable of sustained focusing on non-preferred tasks. For the student with ADHD, this is really the issue at hand. Under most circumstances, the typical developing student can force themselves through an assignment with self-discipline or sheer willpower, but for students suffering from ADHD, that is far more difficult and even unattainable for some.

For many ADHD students, the negative symptoms associated with their disorder are just too overwhelming for them to overcome on their own. Networks in the brain are not working efficiently or completely, so “trying harder” doesn’t necessarily mean the student will be successful. Adding to this struggle are the pressing questions from parents and teachers. When an ADHD student starts to underachieve in school, parents and teachers will undoubtedly want to know why, and these hard questions will often leave ADHD students stumped and without an answer. In fact, it is quite common for an ADHD student to respond to such inquiries with an “I don’t know,” as discussed in our article about why the ADHD child complains it’s unfair.

This lack of explanation from the student can be a major source of frustration for both parents and teachers alike, but it’s important that parents and teachers understand that it’s not the fault of the ADHD student when they can’t pay attention in class or complete assignments. Parents and teachers must realize that the reason ADHD students can’t stay focused is not because they’re not trying to or are uninterested in the material, but certain regions or networks in their brain simply are dysregulated or underactivated through no fault of the child or the parents. The ADHD student often is likely to conclude that they are not bright which can be completely untrue.


What causes ADHD Students to Struggle?

Oftentimes, students who are afflicted with an attention disorder feel as if they simply cannot “flip the switch,” and no matter how hard they try, they cannot stay focused on the non-preferred task at hand. Their brains cannot filter out distractions, and their focus may default to something more stimulating or preferred rather than focusing on the teacher lecturing or on their homework. The hyperactive ADHD student may fidget with their hands, squirm in their seat, or even get out of their seat excessively to go to the bathroom, all of which prevents them from sustaining focus to complete their non-preferred tasks.

This struggle stems from a lack of executive functioning, sustained focus, and inhibiting motoric activity (for the hyperactive ADHD student). It is executive functioning  that provides us with the ability to effectively organize, manage our time, pay attention in class, switch focus appropriately from one task to another, and  not act impulsively but make appropriate decisions based upon past experiences.

This inability to self-regulate stems typically from the brain’s frontal lobes but may also involve networks involving other brain regions as well, including the parietal lobes. When the brain of a child with ADHD is dysregulated and is limited in its capacity to fulfill appropriate daily responsibilities or tasks, the ADHD child may develop unhealthy defense mechanisms for self-protection ( e.g., claiming they didn’t do anything  wrong, blaming others as being mean to them or unfair).  

Identifying the Symptoms of ADHD in Students

Students who are suffering from the symptoms of ADHD typically exhibit certain traits and characteristics.

Symptoms to observe for:

  • Student needs to be frequently redirected by the teacher
  • Parents have to frequently keep their child focused on homework or it doesn’t get completed
  • Student forgets to bring home all of their homework assignments
  • Student forgets to turn in their homework assignments or even lose them, even if  the assignments were completed
  • Student interrupts the teacher during lectures or speaks out of turn, even after being asked not to
  • Student gets too close to others’ personal space and violates their boundaries
  • Student with the impulsivity may be bossy or controlling to peers
  • Student is argumentative and may even seem to like conflict
  • Student responds with “what?” to questions, even though he or she appeared to have been listening
  • Student is constantly forgetting what items he or she is supposed to have for a particular assignment, project, or exam

Many students may demonstrate some of these traits at times and not be afflicted with ADHD. However, if these behavioral symptoms are more frequent than expected for the child’s age, are persistent, and interferes with the child’s functioning and development, then it is highly recommended that they are evaluated for ADHD at the earliest opportunity.


When do ADHD Symptoms Manifest?

Symptoms of ADHD in school typically are most frequently identified in elementary school. For some it may become more obvious in 3rd or 4th grades when the child is expected to work more independently. This tends to catch parents off-guard, as they’re often surprised when their child, who is now in the 3rd or 4th grade, is only just starting to demonstrate ADHD inattentive symptoms.

In kindergarten through 2nd grade, the ADHD inattentive symptoms may not be showing themselves as much because teachers are typically more hands on with their students, providing frequent guidance through the child’s tasks as they learn to develop basic learning skills.

However, as students move into later stages of elementary school, academic demands become more complex and the student is expected to complete assignments more independently. Often times, this is the point where the ADHD student begins to not be able to keep up and  becomes frustrated as their grades drop, as they literally cannot meet the demands of their grade level due to their particular neurobiological deficit. This problem is a byproduct of a mismatch between the demands placed on the child, and what he or she is neurophysiologically capable of doing.

This becomes especially apparent in middle school, where the child may now have up to 5 or 6 different teachers and classrooms, as opposed to just one teacher and one classroom in elementary school. For ADHD in middle school, the child’s deficiency in executive functioning makes it overwhelming to be able to keep track of all their different assignments and expectations from multiple teachers. Parents may report that their child “has simply thrown in the towel,” stopped trying or may even lie about completing homework.

Overall, we can see that the interaction of ADHD and school is going to be a problematic, frustrating experience for the ADHD child; however, with the right treatment, it is possible to improve brain functioning and performance so the child can succeed. In the meantime, it is crucially important that parents and teachers are patient with the ADHD student, because more often than not, the child already is doing the best they can with their own limited internal resources, and are in need of external assistance and support.


Treatment for ADHD Students

In order to help ADHD students succeed, the child must have the frontal lobes regulating optimally and coordinating with the other regions of the brain. Once brain functioning is improved, then the child can sustain focus and develop necessary learning skills and habits to start achieving in school.

At the Drake Institute, we accomplish this task through advanced qEEG brain mapping, in conjunction with brain map guided Neurofeedback.  By linking symptoms to the dysregulated networks or areas of the brain identified by qEEG brain mapping, we can then create a customized treatment plan that is   tailored for each patient’s specific needs. Through neurofeedback treatment the child/adolescent can train their brain to a state of more normalized functioning so that he/she can begin to self-regulate appropriately to meet daily demands and responsibilities successfully. Our treatment programs are non-drug, non-invasive, and focused on retraining the brain to improve and strengthen self-regulation.

Compared to treatment plans that center on prescription medication, our treatment programs center on the individual internally generating and developing  improved brain functioning that reduces symptoms. It leaves the patient much more empowered with improved neurophysiologic capacities and skills to self-regulate long term as opposed to relying on medications whereby symptoms return as the drug wears off. 

After successfully treating patients for ADHD for 25 years, it is our belief that patients afflicted by ADHD should be helped first with preferred non-drug treatment, which is clinically effective and does not have the risks of chronically administered medications.

Though there are students who may require medication sometimes, our treatment programs at the Drake Institute help students improve brain functioning as well as with develop skills to self-regulate and self-monitor, thus reducing or resolving symptoms without dependency on medication.


Contact Us Today

Is your son or daughter struggling with ADHD, or do you know a student who is unable to focus in the classroom or underachieving?

If so, please call the Drake Institute to schedule a no-cost screening consultation at 1-800-700-4233 now.

School shouldn’t be a scary or frustrating, and with help from the Drake Institute, your student can reclaim his or her confidence and rediscover the joy of learning!

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