Attention Deficit and Academic Achievement: Bridging the Gap

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Attention deficit and academic achievement are not mutually exclusive terms. Having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and dealing with symptoms and challenges every day doesn’t have to mean the end of academic dreams and aspirations. ADHD can give the person the ability to hyperfocus on interesting activities and challenges while it throws roadblocks in their way – distractibility, hyperactivity, and inattentiveness. Students with ADHD and their parents have a wide range of resources to draw from as they navigate the educational years. The student with attention deficit and academic achievement issues can learn to make positive changes.

School System Challenges

By their very nature, schools and their administrative systems are geared to working with their students as one population. Individuals with disabilities are at risk of slipping through the cracks – large classrooms, overworked teachers and “one size fits all” regulations. Students with ADHD are able to take advantage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, so they can get access to specialized services that are meant to help them achieve to their highest potential.

Once a student has been diagnosed with ADHD, the psychologist, physician, student, parents, teachers and school administrators should begin working together, enabling the student to receive special education services. Once the student has been approved to receive these services, the school, medical representatives and parents begin working as a team to write up an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP, which addresses the student’s own needs.

Ideally, the IEP is closely followed by the student, family, teachers and administrators, so the child is able to meet the stated goals and make satisfactory academic progress.

In some instances (educational representatives not being committed to carrying out the IEP, parents giving up or the student not wanting to work on goals), the student does not achieve reachable goals. When IEP participants see the student not achieving goals, they need to identify what is not happening and ensure compliance with the IEP.

Teachers need to be familiar with the IEPs of each student in their classrooms. They need to get to know each of these students and use the teaching strategies most suited to the student – if a student is a hands-on learner, allow this mode of learning, according to The student’s IEP should help the teacher work with the student’s attention deficit and academic achievement challenges.

While teachers are overworked, they need to do what they can to work as a team with the student’s parents and try to keep the lines of communication flowing back and forth. They can use some strategies for all the students in their classrooms, not just the students with ADHD. One such example is posting schedules, rules and assignments so all students have access; adhering to a daily schedule is another.

Psychological Challenges

ADHD can cause students to believe they are “failures” or “stupid,” when they may actually be highly intelligent. Because they have failed in previous attempts or grades, they believe they are going to always fail. They may give up, deciding to settle for low grades, after hearing fellow students, siblings, teachers and even parents berate them, calling them stupid.

Because of how ADHD impacts the student’s brain, behavior, activity level and ability to concentrate, they may believe they can’t do anything to change their school performance, according to the Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders.

Behavior Modification Therapy

The student may benefit from behavior modification therapy, which uses a reward system to reinforce desired behaviors – doing homework, handing it in, not losing assignments or school supplies, listening to the teacher. A behavioral modification system can be set up and carried out at home and in school, letting the student know what is expected in both settings, according to the Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders.

Both teacher and parents must commit to working with the child, monitoring behaviors, charting them and rewarding for completion of desired activities. When the child has reached an agreed-upon number of successes, a reward can be given. Once the desired behavior has become a habit, the reward system is put away. If the therapist has been able to put together a strong behavior modification plan, the attention deficit and academic achievement issues should begin to resolve themselves in the classroom.

Older students can take part in cognitive behavioral therapy, learning how to recognize the connections between thoughts (or beliefs) and behaviors. Once this has been achieved, the student works to change behavior by working on changing negative patterns of thinking, according to the Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders.

Family Therapy

ADHD can draw the child, siblings and parents into patterns of thinking and behavior that communicate the message that the child is “bad” or “misbehaving on purpose.” This condition is frustrating because of its tendency to cause irritating behaviors in the child, which can potentially have a negative impact on the relationships between the child, siblings and parents.

Participating in family therapy helps each member learn coping skills as they change beliefs and patterns of behavior. The family therapist can work with the child with ADHD and teach the entire family how to change how they function and deal with the ADHD symptoms. The family can learn how to increase structure and consistency in its daily routines. As the new patterns become an ingrained habit, the child and family can carry this over into the classroom, where classroom performance may begin to improve.

Individual Therapy

Because of how ADHD has held the child back from recognizing and reaching full potential, they may believe they are “bad” or “stupid.” While teachers and parents know the child is capable of reaching academic goals, the student may have built up beliefs, anxieties and behaviors about failure and success. These hold the student back – in short, the student is “afraid to succeed,” and failure becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Attending individual therapy gives the student a chance to talk to the therapist about fears and address any negative feelings that have built up. The successful therapist helps the student learn about beliefs, feelings and behaviors so change becomes possible, according to the Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders.

Resources Preparing the School for Your Child with ADD/ADHD Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder