By Hilderbrand Pelzer III
Author of Unlocking Potential
According to Dr. Marco Ferrucci, founder of The Chiropractic Source, “The problem with kids with ADHD who don’t get help and treatment is that they have behavioral problems, impulse control issues, anger and rage, and start to do things that will get them in trouble with the law.” He also says, “These kids can’t control it; it’s their neurology. They don’t know what they are doing is wrong.”
ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is one of the most common childhood disorders, and it can continue through adolescence and adulthood. According to research, symptoms include difficulty staying focused and paying attention, difficulty controlling behavior, and hyperactivity. While it may be normal for all children sometimes to be inattentive, hyperactive, or impulsive, in children with ADHD, these behaviors are more severe and occur more often.
As an educator, I hold the belief that all children can learn and every child deserves a quality education. However, as my educational career evolves and my knowledge of ADHD sharpens, I am beginning to see serious problems for schools. In particular, these problems are rife in urban schools that consistently underperform, have high percentages of suspensions and violent incidents, and spend the majority of the school day trying to manage student behaviors rather than managing the elements of teaching and learning. I don’t want to believe students with ADHD cause problems for the schools, but Dr. Ferrucci’s claim really resonates with me.
With respect to ADHD, I see more and more urban schools with a high number of students diagnosed (or undiagnosed) with ADHD and other behavioral health disorders facing some serious challenges:
- Students are easily distracted, miss important details, forget things, and frequently cannot sit through an entire class period or school day
- Students have difficulty focusing their attention on organizing, planning, and completing a task or learning something new; they have trouble seeing a learning project or assignment through completion
- Students are often unprepared to learn or do not see the value in being organized around school tasks; they don’t complete tasks or activities; and rarely do they carry typical school tools, such as pencils or pens, notebooks, or book bags
- Students do not seem to listen when spoken to; a direct instruction or specific conversation appears to go in one ear and out of the other ear
- Students struggle to follow very basic and simple instructions and must be told the same thing over and over and over again
- Students are very impatient with the teaching and learning process; they have difficulty waiting their turn for the teacher to give them attention and assistance; student-teacher relationships lack trust
- Students shout out curse words and other very inappropriate comments; they show their emotional instability without restraint, and act violently without regard for consequences
- Students need to have a lot of structure and routine, limiting the schools’ ability to design flexible, open, or non-graded academic and educational programs; it is very difficult to assign students with ADHD to work alongside other students who do not have ADHD
- Middle school students and high school students are often dissatisfied with the constant change of teachers and classrooms, as well as the marking periods or semesters required to participate in new courses
- Teacher professional development opportunities are often limited to classroom management and behavior modification strategies
- Students struggle to interact within schools with large student populations; they struggle with large student-to-teacher ratios and class sizes
- Students are supported with remedial-level schoolwork; it is not uncommon to find poorly skilled and underprepared teachers in these schools
- Students typically have learning disabilities or require prescription medication or therapy sessions regularly and throughout the school day in order to manage their behavioral disorders.
As more and more students with ADHD or other behavioral health disorders enroll in schools, the focus on teaching and learning declines significantly. The students’ behavioral health disorders start taking over, and teaching and learning take a back seat. At a time when all schools need to focus on each student’s academic development, the needs of the students with ADHD displace the academic and educational mission of the schools. This is not to give the impression that students with ADHD cannot achieve academically or excel in school. They can! However, students with ADHD have a definite effect on the type of learning environments schools produce and how teachers and administrators utilize and manage school resources, including time, space, people, curriculum, and budget.
Data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics 2010, show:
- Five million children aged 3-17 years had ADHD (8%); boys (11%) were about twice as likely as girls (6%) to have ADHD
- Hispanic children were less likely to have ADHD (4%) than non-Hispanic white (10%) or non-Hispanic black (11%) children
- Children in single-mother families were about twice as likely to have learning disabilities (12%) or ADHD (13%) as children in two-parent families (6% and 7%, respectively)
- When compared with children with a reported “excellent” or “very good” health status, children with a “fair” or “poor” health status were almost five times as likely to have a learning disability (28% and 6%, respectively) and more than twice as likely to have ADHD (18% and 7%, respectively).
As if this were not bad enough, thousands of students with ADHD are missing opportunities to learn and achieve at high levels. Many of these students drop out of school because they have either easily grown to be disinterested with school, or their schools have become increasingly tired of the burden of servicing them. In these austere economic times, school districts are making critical decisions about what to pay for and how to utilize meager resources. In many instances, students with ADHD and other behavioral health disorders are overtaking the core mission of public schools and draining them of limited resources.
In my work with inmate learners and schools inside of jails, I have found strong evidence of increasing numbers of incarcerated school-age youths with ADHD, learning disabilities, or regular prescription medication required to manage their behavioral disorders. They either did not get the treatment they needed before getting in trouble with the law, or they could not learn to manage their disorders despite the behavioral health services they received.
Perhaps ironically, because of the rising tide of students being diagnosed with ADHD and other behavioral health disorders, behavioral health organizations and agencies that have behavioral health as their core mission will invest in more resources. Public schools in urban areas cannot continue to lead this work or shift their focus on academics and education to the problem that is students with ADHD or behavioral health disorders. As Dr. Ferrucci effectively put it, these students require treatment. Public schools are not treatment facilities. These students have behavioral health problems. They have impulse control issues. They demonstrate anger and rage. They start to do things that will get them in trouble with the law.
What do you think? Do you think students diagnosed with ADHD and other behavioral health disorders burden schools with behavioral problems? Do they play an integral part in the poor performance of many schools in urban areas? Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.