What teachers need to know about ADHD

Dr Mark Kennedy is a Senior Teaching Fellow at The Institute of Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience, King’s College London. He is also Lead Educator on the Understanding ADHD: Current Research and Practice course on the FutureLearn Platform. 

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is regarded as a “neurodevelopmental disorder”; which puts it in the same category as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). It’s the most common neurodevelopmental disorder, affecting around 4-5% of children. Despite this, teachers frequently say that they lack specific knowledge about ADHD and what strategies can be used to help children affected by ADHD.  

When you ask people what ADHD is, they describe a child with too much energy. In reality, there’s a lot more to it than hyperactivity. In fact, there are three “presentations”; Hyperactive-Impulsive, Inattentive and Combined Type. The most common form in the general population is actually inattentive, not hyperactive-impulsive, which comes as a surprise to some people. Dr Mark Kennedy – Lead Educator on the Understanding ADHD: Current Research and Practice course on the FutureLearn Platform. 

Teachers need to be aware of ADHD for a number of reasons. Children with ADHD often struggle academically. As well as being a concern for parents and teachers in itself, ADHD and associated difficulties in school can also begin to impact the child’s self esteem. Beyond this, it has been linked to poorer outcomes in adulthood, such as unemployment and difficulties in relationships. Importantly, research has shown that teachers simply being aware of what the disorder is, can actually be beneficial. I think that’s a really positive message, especially given the immense pressure teachers are under to accommodate the broad range of issues children in their class may be facing. 

Free-to-join online ADHD course

Motivated by a desire to increase awareness, King's College London have partnered with FutureLearn to create the free-to-join, online course: Understanding ADHD: Current Research and Practice, which launched in May. The course is an accessible and time-efficient resource for anyone looking to learn a bit more about the disorder.

Being ADHD aware also matters because there’s reason to believe that girls with ADHD are being missed. When you look at population-based studies, for every one girl with ADHD, there are two boys. But when you look at clinical referrals, the ratio is double that (1 girl: 4 boys). In our course, we speak with a mother of a daughter with ADHD. She describes her daughter’s report card, which contained descriptions of ADHD behaviours, but no-one had considered that she may have ADHD. 

Much like Autism Spectrum Disorder, there’s a huge amount of evidence to suggest that the brains of children with ADHD are hardwired differently, compared to those without it. That matters because it means that children with ADHD are less able to regulate their behaviour, again like those with ASD. Understanding that – and the increased empathy that this understanding brings – along with helping children to understand this, has again been shown to help. 

As well as being aware of the disorder, there are low-cost, practical things teachers can do to help. For instance, sitting a child with ADHD close to the teacher has been shown to help; it’s harder to get distracted and makes it easier to pick up on the teacher’s cues. 

More practical tips, strategies and evidence based advice is discussed in the Understanding Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder course on the FutureLearn platform.

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