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3 min read

How Does ADHD Affect Students?

A neurodivergent brain with lots of colours to represent ADHD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders in childhood. Globally, it’s thought that around 5% of children are affected. The symptoms tend to fall into two categories. The first is inattentiveness, in other words difficulty focusing and concentrating. The second is hyperactivity and impulsiveness. 

Many children with ADHD have characteristics relating to both categories, but in some cases, they only have trouble focusing and concentrating, without also experiencing hyperactivity or impulsiveness. The condition is more commonly diagnosed in boys than girls, and this is partly because girls are more likely to have signs of inattentiveness only. For this reason, it’s widely thought that ADHD is underdiagnosed in girls. 
Symptoms tend to become noticeable at an early age, and they may become more obvious when a child starts school. ADHD can affect people in different ways and to different extents. Many of those with the condition benefit from support in school. In addition, medication can be useful for some people, and there are a range of therapies available. These include behaviour therapy, social skills training, cognitive behavioural therapy and psychoeducation, which involves learning about mental health and wellbeing. As well as support for children with ADHD, there are training and education programmes available to their parents and guardians. 

What do students with ADHD struggle with?

It’s well known that having ADHD can make studying more difficult. Inattentiveness can make it hard for pupils to stay focused on tasks for long periods of time and mean that they are more easily distracted by other things going on around them. It’s also more common for pupils with ADHD to make seemingly careless mistakes in their schoolwork, or to appear forgetful or to lose things. This is at least partly explained by the fact that people with this condition often report having lots of different thoughts at the same time, making it more difficult to retain details. This can also affect students’ ability to follow instructions.
The major signs of hyperactivity can include finding it hard to sit still, particularly in a quiet setting such as a classroom, fidgeting more than usual, talking a lot and struggling to wait to take turns. In terms of impulsivity, pupils might sometimes act without thinking, have a reduced sense of danger and interrupt conversations more than usual.

How does ADHD affect students in the classroom?

These symptoms can have a big impact on children’s ability to learn and on their experience of school overall. For example, students with ADHD may underachieve academically compared with their peers and they’re at a higher risk of being excluded from school. They might also experience more emotional strain, as well as lower self-esteem, and this could mean they are more likely to have incidents related to mental health recorded. Their condition can make it harder for them to make friends and have good relationships with other students and adults in the school setting too, and they may feel unpopular and misunderstood because of their differences.
However, there are a number of ways that parents, teachers and other caregivers can help students to manage their symptoms and get the most from being at school. This often involves a combination of educational, psychological and developmental therapies. As mentioned previously, it can also involve medication. There are both stimulant and non-stimulant medicines available to help treat ADHD. The type and dose can be tailored to suit individual children’s needs, and this may change over time depending on how they respond. Some medicines are taken before school and their effects last for the entire school day, while others have a shorter duration and have to be taken during school hours. 

It’s really important that any barriers that could prevent pupils from taking their medication correctly at school are identified and dealt with. For example, students may need support from teachers or other staff to make sure they take their medicines at the right times. Online medication administration records can make it much easier for schools to manage this element of student care. 

School environments can also be adapted to help students with ADHD. For example, in primary schools, teachers can factor in timeouts during lessons to allow students to move around or de-stress with relaxation or breathing exercises. Students might benefit from having access to quiet zones too, and it’s recommended to seat children with ADHD at the front of the class and away from visual displays that could be distracting. Adaptations in secondary schools can include writing homework down in students’ planners, arranging for pupils to have learning buddies or mentors, not setting very long homework tasks and allowing students to doodle or make notes while listening during lessons. 

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