Attention/Impulse Control: Attendion Deficit/Hyperactivity

General Information

An estimated 5% of children have a form of attention deficit/hyperactivity (AD/HD) When a student is:
  • consistently overactive in relation to other children of the same age
  • unable to pay attention and stay on task
  • impulsive
  • quick to answer questions before raising his/her hand
  • liable to forget things, fidget, squirm, or talk too loudly

Or Alternately:
  • is quiet, inattentive, forgetful, and easily distracted
  • when classroom strategies such as increasing structure, decreasing stimulation, and clarifying expectations do not help attention deficit problems may be at risk of affecting the student’s mental health.

ADHD is the leading cause of referrals to mental health professionals and the youth justice system; it seems to affect more boys than girls. The impact of ADHD is often experienced most intensely when children try to meet the normal demands of school life—children may not have the same difficulties at home, where the environment is different. Some students may be able to stay on task when doing a project they find enjoyable, such as an art project, but have a harder time when they have to work on something that is more difficult for them. AD/HD—where children struggle with attention problems but without hyperactivity—tends to be less noticeable to parents/caregivers and teachers, even though it may affect the children’s ability to perform at their best.

General Characteristics To Look For

Students with INATTENTIVE traits may
  • have short attention spans
  • have difficulty with organization
  • fail to pay attention to details
  • be easily distracted
  • have trouble listening even when spoken to directly
  • fail to finish their work
  • make lots of mistakes
  • be forgetful

Students with HYPERACTIVITY/IMPULSE difficulties may
  • fidget and squirm
  • have difficulty remaining seated
  • run around and climb on things excessively
  • have difficulty playing quietly
  • be “on the go” as if “driven by a motor”
  • talk excessively
  • often blurt out atten answer before the question is completed
  • find it hard to take turns in games or activities
  • interrupt or intrude on others

Impact On Student Success

  • Students may have trouble staying on task or finishing assigned work.
  • Students may lose books, supplies, and/or homework.
  • Students may be irritable and impatient.

A student’s mental health is at risk if untreated attention problems leave the student feeling that he/she is “bad” and/or “lazy”, powerless to do better, and/or unable to form positive social relationships with others. This “chain of failure” can lead to depression, low self-esteem, behaviour problems, and school failure.

  • Reduce stress and pressures on children whenever possible.
  • Provide consistent structure and clearly define expectations.
  • “Catch” student being good. Look for positive behaviours to reward and reinforce.
  • Always keep in mind that ADHD is not a sign of lack of intelligence or ability. It signals that a child needs particular ACCOMMODATIONS, medications, and/or behavioural coaching to be able to effectively use their abilities.
  • Allow students to have body breaks—give them tasks that will allow them to get out of their seats (e.g., passing out papers, taking messages to the office).
  • Use non-verbal prompts to help students recognize that they are off task and should refocus.
  • Use “check in” strategies to make sure that assignments have been written down correctly.
  • When giving instructions or tasks, chunk work into more manageable sections.
  • Set out a plan that allows for revision and extended deadlines.
  • Provide visual aids and visual schedules to assist students in remaining on task and to support them when the tasks include the use of tables and formulas.
  • Encourage parents/caregivers to seek out further information from their family doctor or specialist in AD/HD. If medication is warranted, this must be managed by a medical professional.
  • Support school practices and policies that naturally assist students with AD/HD to succeed—structured physical activity breaks, modified learning practices, etc.
  • Support parents/caregivers who seek information by reinforcing that AD/HD is a concern because it prevents the student from learning, not because it may cause the student to engage in difficult behaviour.
  • Share strategies that assist students to succeed at home (e.g., how are directions given? how are expectations paced? how are accomplishments rewarded?).
  • When children are taking medication, work with the school team to track effectiveness in the school/classroom setting.
  • Pursue skill training for children that can assist them in managing the effects of AD/HD (stressors and structure).
  • Ensure that children are engaged in community activities in their areas of interests (sports, drama, etc.).
  • Be available for consultation with parents/caregivers and school teams.
  • Assist in building a team approach involving home, counselling services, and the school team so that the expectations for children are consistent across environments and that the particular challenges of the school environment are respected.
  • Provide education and support for parents/caregivers on how to access help and resources.
  • Engage in ongoing joint training initiatives.
  • Focus on “UPSTREAM” prevention initiatives.