In today’s world, everything is fast paced. Electronic communication gives us no down time. We don’t have the luxury of waiting for “snail-mail” communication before we respond.
As adults we hear, “Did you get my email?” or “Did you get my text?” with the unstated question being, when are you going to respond? Gone are the days when you have three days from when you pay a bill with a check to when it is cashed. Our children’s lives are not any slower or easier. Immediate reinforcement, bells and whistles on infant and toddler toys, and over scheduling children’s free time to ensure they have every advantage are the norm. Who sits still anymore?
Today’s public and private schools are advanced relative to what we were exposed to in school. Today’s education system expects children to learn more, learn it faster and know more at earlier ages than 15 or 30 years ago. It is not surprising that many children struggle in school. They say, “The teacher goes too fast” or “This work is too hard.” Teachers say, “Children can’t sit still the way children of the past could ” or “If the pay-out for the activity isn’t instantaneous or entertaining, many children become impatient.”
Given this phenomenon, we observe how children handle the school work, how they act with their teachers and their peers in this new climate, and begin to understand why school may be difficult for some.
Today, there are those that say ADHD (Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder) is a buzz term and children are assigned this diagnosis liberally. The thinking is that some children are just more active than others and some children are just better students than others. They say there is no need for a label.
I respectfully disagree with those global statements for several reasons. When appropriately trained professionals evaluate a child, taking into account academic, social and emotional information from parents and teachers, the diagnosis of ADHD is reliable and valid.
- Here are some of the behaviors reported in children who struggle with attention, self-regulation and overall organization.
- Difficulty paying attention
- Frequently daydreaming
- Difficulty following through on instructions and apparently not listening
- Frequent problems organizing tasks or activities
- Frequently forgetful and loses needed items, such as books, pencils or toys
- Frequently fails to finish schoolwork, chores or other tasks
- Easily distracted
- Difficulty with peers, such as being too “bossy” or not able to sustain play routines or not able to sustain peer relationships
- There are also specific academic characteristics that may be associated with children who have ADHD. These same learning characteristics may also be associated with children with a learning difference or a learning disability.
Not all children demonstrate all these characteristics. And in some cases, children with ADHD do not exhibit any learning difference with respect to school work or oral language. However, when school is a struggle for children with ADHA, here are the issues we may observe.
Difficulty with math:
Remembering math facts:
- Remembering steps in a multi-step calculation sequence
- Paying close attention to the wording in math word problems that are crucial for solving the problem
- Resistance to writing all the math information on paper when engaging in calculations or problem solving
Difficulty with written language:
- Inconsistent spelling errors
- Inconsistent use of capitalization and punctuation
- Use of run-on sentences
- Poor organization of essays
- Resistance to extended writing activities
Difficulty with reading:
- May not learn phonics well, which affects spelling and reading multi-syllable words
- May not comprehend the written word well because they don’t “stay connected to the text” – that is, they daydream while reading
Difficulty with executive functions:
- Flexibility of thought or actions
Difficulty with oral language:
- Following directions — not fully listening to directions because attention wanders
- Organization of oral language – doesn’t tell a story or set of experiences efficiently (may ramble on or not tell the most important aspects of a story or experience) and/or jumps from topic to topic
It is important to understand that a very targeted and thorough evaluation by qualified professionals will help parents and educators know if a child has ADHD, if a child has a learning difference associated with ADHD, and whether the learning difference makes the child appear to have an attention difficulty or whether the learning difference occurs along with ADHD.
Dr. Joan A. Mele-McCarthy, CCC-SLP, ASHA Fellow, is a regionally and nationally recognized expert in the field of speech and language development and disorders, learning differences, reading intervention, executive functions, and the connection between oral language development, reading and academic success. She serves as executive director/head of school for The Summit School in Edgewater. Questions regarding language development and disorders can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Mele-McCarthy will be hosting a series of community talks throughout the summer, visit www.thesummitschool.org for more information.