What does research tell us about ADHD?

All brain activity arises when brain cells (neurones) communicate with each other. Each of the brain’s 100 billion neurones has a connection with at least 1000 others. Electrical signals (impulses) travel down a neurone and are passed to connecting neurones. These neurones are not physically connected but are separated by tiny gaps called synapses. The impulse is passed across the synapse from one neurone to another by chemical neurotransmitters which are manufactured at the site.

People with ADHD either do not manufacture enough of these neurotransmitters (usually dopamine or norepinephrine) or reabsorb/degrade them so quickly that the transmission of the impulse is less efficient. This has an impact on the brains executive functions and manifests in behaviours that include lack of attention, impulsiveness and hyperactivity. Most medical treatments for ADHD are either stimulants (stimulate the brain to produce noradrenaline which is a chemical precursor to dopamine) or uptake inhibitors (prevent neurotransmitters from being reabsorbed or degraded too quickly).

The neurochemical action described above is not affected by upbringing, socio-economic circumstances or ‘lack of discipline’ although these and other factors can all exacerbate the types of behaviour seen in students with ADHD. It is important to see these children not as ‘naughty kids’ but as students whose SEND has a profound impact on their ability to focus, learn and make well thought out decisions. Our response to this additional need will have a huge impact on their learning and wellbeing and that of other children who share the classroom with them.

Read the research articles provided in this step, to which you will find links at the bottom of the page in the ‘See Also’ section. As you read, think about students you teach or have taught. How do the described impairments impact upon the affected person? Considering Maslow’s Hierarchy along with the articles you read, are there any strategies you use or can adopt that can mitigate the effects of these impairments and thus make challenging behaviours less likely?

Add any thoughts or suggestions you have to the discussion below having read the research and expand upon these ideas in the ‘Reflections on theory input – behaviours and strategies’ section of your workbook.

The first article is from Thomas E. Brown, Ph.D. and in it he talks about his model of how ADHD affects executive functioning of the brain. Dr. Brown is a clinical psychologist who received his Ph.D. from Yale University and is Director of the Brown Clinic for Attention & Related Disorders in Hamden, Connecticut. He specializes in assessment and treatment of high-IQ children, adolescents and adults with ADD/ADHD and related problems. The ‘Articles’ section of this site is an interesting source of wider reading on Dr Brown’s model.

The next link is to a factsheet from CHADD. This is The National Resource Center on ADHD in America which provides science-based information on ADHD

Finally, we are used to considering ADHD through the lens of classroom management but most of us will spend less time imagining ADHD from the viewpoint of a child. The final link is to an ADDiSS report on ADHD from the perspective of children and parents. The data and personal accounts paint a powerful picture of living with ADHD and its implications for future life chances. ADDiSS is the UK National Attention Deficit Disorder Information and Support Service.

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This article is from the free online course:

Challenging Behaviour: Strategies for Helping Young People

Ambition School Leadership