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e x c e p t i o n a l l e a r n e r s aprendedores excepcionales
Attention Deficit Disorder
Bilingual and bicultural learners
Attention Deficit Disorder
Emotional disorders
Communication disorders
Physical impairments
Giftedness
Aprendedores bilingües y biculturales
El Déficit de Atención
Desórdenes emocionales
Desórdenes comunicativos
Debilitaciones físicas
Talento

What is ADD?
Individuals with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) exhibit chronic, severe inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity to the point that it interferes with their ability to function in daily life.  Such students are often forgetful and readily distracted and find it difficult to focus in class.  Those with inattention often daydream and seem apathetic or sluggish to others.  Their energy is concentrated internally instead of externally, causing their movements and responses to appear slow.  In some cases, ADD is characterized by extreme, constant energy and movement (Attention-deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder).  Students with AD/HD often act impulsively, are more stubborn and prone to temper tantrums than their peers, and have trouble sitting still as well as playing quietly.  ADD is not a learning disability, but it can be accompanied by learning disabilities.  ADD differs from learning disabilities in that it is categorized as a health impairment (not a specific learning disability) under IDEA.  Like learning disabilities, however, ADD can make it difficult for a student to perform math calculations and complete reading assignments.  Likewise, many teaching strategies used for students with learning disabilities have also proved effective for students with ADD (Turnbull et al., 2002).

One mom's experience with an ADD child
 
Natalie*, a teacher in Rhode Island, shares her experience of having a child with ADHD.  Her son, Gregory*, begins second grade this fall and has not been diagnosed with any disabilities besides ADHD. 
 
How does Gregory's ADHD manifest itself? 
"ADHD  is a brain disorder that affects all aspects of normal living - not just school learning.  It is very difficult for Gregory to keep still and to concentrate on one thing at a time.  His brain is very scattered - like a radio picking up many frequencies at once.  He gets very distracted and has a very hard time keeping to a single task - whether it is a math assignment, or paying attention to a teacher in class without being distracted by all the other students, or reading or listening to a story without his thoughts going off on a wild tangent, or just eating a meal.  (Often he will spend the whole school lunchtime talking and will forget to eat until it is too late and he has to clean up and go out to recess).  Sometimes the simplest things - such as getting dressed - can take a really long time, because he gets distracted and starts doing something else, forgetting what he was originally supposed to be doing.  His doctor has assured me that although his attention deficit will continue to be a problem, his hyperactivity should lessen with time."
 
What advice would you give to other parents with ADHD children in school?
"The most important thing is getting the ADHD properly diagnosed.  We feel so lucky that Gregory was diagnosed at such a young age, and that we have been able to get help for him.  So many kids don't get diagnosed until they are much older (high school or older) and have been through such hell.  If you have understanding teachers who don't just think you have a bad kid, it makes a big difference." 
 
How well have Gregory's teachers accommodated his ADHD?  
"Half-way through his kindergarten year, Gregory's school (a private school) said that they were not going to give us a contract for the following year unless his behavior changed drastically and quickly.   That is what led us to having him evaluated by a child psychologist and by his pediatrician, who happens to be an authority in ADHD.  Once he was diagnosed and put on the first of various medications that we have tried, his behavior improved enough that the school agreed to let him come back for the first grade, under a kind of probation.  His first grade teacher was wonderfully understanding, supportive, and patient with him.  His other teachers (he has separate teachers for Science, Computer, French, Music, Art, and Phys Ed.) were not so understanding and patient. They saw him less frequently - about twice a week - and saw him as mostly an inattentive and disruptive kid.  The comment I would often get from these teachers was, "I know he can't help it, BUT he is such a disruption and he has to learn to control himself."  As a teacher, I have had kids with this disorder in my classes and I know how difficult it can be.  The teacher has to think of the well-being of all of the kids in her class.  It really isn't fair for a kid to be a constant distraction and to demand more than his fair share of attention from the teacher.  It hurts the other students.  I think, however, that there are ways of dealing with the situation so that the attention-deficit kid can learn without being a distraction for the other students.  It might depend on the set-up of the classroom, but such things as creative seating arrangement and physical contact (touching his head as you roam the room to remind him of his task) can help.  I think that it really is not fair for parents to insist that their child not be medicated and expect that the teacher just deal with it.  However, with parents and teachers working together, it can work!"
 
Does Gregory take medication for his ADHD?
"[He takes] Concerta, which is a time-release medication, so he only has to take it once a day."
 
Some people believe that the increase in the past decade of prescribing Ritolin and other drugs to difficult children reflects a "quick-fix culture" and that we are over-medicating children.  How would you respond to this criticism?
"There are all sorts of problems that could make a child 'difficult'.  ADHD is only one.  Gregory had a friend at school who was also 'difficult' and whose contract was withheld for first grade at the same time that Gregory's was.  When we got Gregory diagnosed and on medication and his behavior started improving so drastically, the parents of that child seemed to think that it was unfair that we were able to get such a "quick fix" for Gregory.  They wanted to know which doctors we had seen.  They seemed to want to have their child diagnosed with ADHD too (he was not!).
 
"There are different degrees of ADHD and different ways of dealing with it.  Believe me, the drugs are not a quick fix.  This is not a disorder that just goes away with a little pill, but the right drug (and there are many) can do just enough to help a child's brain to fire a bit more normally. This is not meant to be a quick fix for the benefit of parents or teachers, but for the child.  It is painful to think of all those children with this disorder who have to go through most of their lives labeled as "difficult" and who struggle with aspects of life and learning that come so easily to others, when the right medication can help so much."  (E-mail interview, 8/4/03)
 
*Not their real names
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Strategies for working with ADD students in the classroom

Students with ADD generally respond best when teachers engage multiple strategies to accommodate their needs.  First of all, teachers can help motivate students to learn by making lessons relevant to their lives, by introducing new or freshly presented material, by incorporating a variety of types of activities, by giving students choices in their learning, by including hands-on and interactive activities, by making sure that students are being challenged, and by providing them with immediate feedback.  Also effective are behavior plans that divide tasks into smaller tasks and grant awards based on a point system.  When appropriate, the right medication can greatly benefit a student struggling with ADD.  Teachers can further assist students by helping them to develop their self-efficacy (sense of control over one's environment).  An understanding of personal strengths and needs, knowledge of when to ask for help, and solid organizational skills are all essential with self-efficacy.  Finally, extra time for tests or oral tests instead of written tests can also help ADD students (Turnbull et al., 2002).

A blessing or a curse?

Josefina Lopez
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When asked why she juggles so many commitments (parenting, writing, film directing, and running a community theatre), Josefina López, Los Angeles screenwriter of the 2002 film "Real Women Have Curves," replies, "I have ADD.  Having ADD creates sort of a hyper-reality. . . Everything's about energy, about a teeter-totter effect. . . . The disorder is about action; you're bored very easily."  Says one of her students at a screenwriting class she teaches, "Josefina teaches in such an unconventional, wonderful way. It's like being in a screenwriting class, comedy club and motivational workshop all at the same time!  You come out of each session bursting with knowledge, joy and self-confidence."  (Whole Life Times, June 2003).

For more information

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