Schools prepared to work with students who have ADHD

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Michael Phelps might be a gold-medalist Olympian, but one out of every 30 children in a U.S. classroom has something in common with him: They have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The disorder negatively affects a student's concentration capacity while in the classroom, either through abnormally high activity or abnormally low interest. Students with the behavior vary in the degree it negatively affects them. But when a student with ADHD has trouble concentrating in class, a teacher has to spend extra time and may employ different teaching methods to help the student keep up with classmates.

Some administrators and teachers in the Cape Girardeau School District said it's most important to teach a student with ADHD proper behavior and efficient study methods while in a regular classroom. If these methods don't work, students receive special attention outside of the classroom.

In 2007, about 132 students in the Cape Girardeau School District had ADHD, according to ADDitude, a magazine that addresses ADHD issues.

The principals from three Cape Girardeau public schools, Franklin and Alma Schrader elementary schools and Cape Junior High School, said they favor keeping a student with ADHD with the rest of a regular class. They said they favor this method to teach these students the way to act while in front of the students.

"I can take them in my room," said Ruth Ann Orr, the principal at Alma Schrader. "But this won't always help the student, because it's one-on-one."

Russell Barkley, a psychologist who focuses on ADHD, says on his website the benefits ADHD children receive from treatment are usually specific to the settings where they received those treatments. If a child is treated in a separate room, away from the classroom where one's peers are, the treatments are less likely to be effective than if the child were treated in a regular classroom setting.

In order to keep students with ADHD focused and in the classroom, teachers at the three schools can use techniques that focus on reminding the student of what is expected of them to succeed.

For those who have trouble focusing, Orr said, a teacher may tap on a student's desk or look them in the eye when talking to the class.

A teacher may also use visual aids to help the students focus, Orr said. If a student is having trouble in the hallway staying in a single-file line with the rest of the class, a teacher might show a picture of students in a straight line.

Rhonda Dunham, the principal at Franklin, said teachers may allow a student who struggles with focusing for long periods to take frequent breaks from classroom assignments. For example, she said a teacher could let a student get up and briefly walk around the classroom.

All three schools said they try to keep the number of students with ADHD divided as evenly as possible between classes. This allows the teacher to spend more time with all the students in the classroom and not just a few students.

Attention-deficit or hyperactive disorders aren't always addressed in the classroom. If a classroom is too distracting to students with ADHD, a teacher can't always adequately instruct them. In this case, the student will be moved to a special classroom, where more one-on-one instruction time with a teacher can be provided. For example, a student might need more time to take a test or have problems grasping the objective of homework.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a nationwide set of standards designed to address the needs of students with learning disabilities, the Cape Girardeau School District can help students affected by an "adverse educational impact," its website states. Adverse educational impacts include an "attention deficit disorder" or an "attention deficit hyperactivity disorder."

A diagnosis of this kind would come at the suggestion from a parent to have their student evaluated by the school district. If the school district thought the child needed assistance, an individual education plan would be created. The plan is meant to inform instructors of the student's annual development. The plans help decide how much individual attention to give a student with ADHD, as well as decide if it is necessary to provide help outside the classroom.

Once a student gets to the junior high, his or her behavior is challenged in new ways, said Karen Gleeson, the eighth-grade counselor at the junior high.

"When students come here, they have to be more organized," she said.

Gleeson said it is a challenge for all students, not only students with ADHD, to keep track of the homework they have to complete each night.

In order to help students stay focused, Gleeson said, they are advised to use an agenda book, which teachers began distributing six years ago. They record homework throughout the day and parents are able to review what assignments need to be completed, she said.


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