Since an estimated 11 percent of school-aged children are diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), it’s important to understand what that diagnosis really looks like — as well as the types of strategies that are available to students. In a recent post by Counseling@NYU, which offers a masters in school counseling online from NYU Steinhardt, we spoke with Counseling@NYU’s Professor Anil Chacko about how parents, teachers and school counselors can help.
Recognizing the Symptoms of ADHD
For most kids, the symptoms of ADHD include daydreaming excessively, fidgeting, persistent forgetfulness, losing things, taking risks needlessly, talking too much, exhibiting limited self-control, misreading social cues, and struggling with social interactions with their peers.
Sound familiar? Those are all normal behaviors for any child at some point, but the difference for those with ADHD is that they don’t go away — and usually get worse over time. In addition, to fulfill diagnostic criteria for this condition, these behaviors must result in impairment in key domains of functioning (e.g., social, familial and academic), and often co-occur in two or more settings.
However, Dr. Chacko notes that it’s also important to keep an open mind about what other factors may be in play: “It’s important to remember that many students with ADHD also have a learning disability or learning issues. School counselors, teachers and parents should appreciate that the challenges these children face may be more than just ‘ADHD.’ ”
For both parents and teachers, dealing with the effects of ADHD can be quite a challenge. As one teacher puts it, “Students who exhibit ADHD’s hallmark symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity can be frustrating. You know the brainpower is there, but they just can’t seem to focus on the material you’re working hard to deliver.”
That’s why teachers partner with school counselors to help students with ADHD — which is a good strategy for parents to follow, as well.
Partnering with School Counselors
School counselors play a major role in helping students with ADHD cope with the unique challenges they face. A primary way they do this is by using evidence-based interventions (EBIs) — which are an important part of managing ADHD symptoms. Since schools are often the ideal setting for their implementation, they offer a particularly effective approach that parents can learn to use at home.
In fact, EBIs have been found to be so effective that 2016 research revealed that children who received behavioral therapy as the initial component of early intervention experienced “four fewer rules violations an hour at school than the medication-first group.” That isn’t meant to imply that medical treatments shouldn’t be used, since they are an essential part of ADHD treatment for some children.
Instead, these findings demonstrate the important role that school counselors play in both encouraging behavior modification and teaching parents these techniques to use at home. Specifically, Dr. Chacko says school counselors can implement strategies that address organizational skills and the transition across settings:
“School counselors should utilize methods that support students’ time management, planning, and organization,” Chacko said, citing the work of Joshua Langberg at VCU and Howard Abikoff at NYU’s School of Medicine. “I would also encourage school counselors to work directly with parents to create a school-home note system to support cross-setting changes.”
Additional strategies parents can use at home to help their child with ADHD include things like:
- Providing positive communication and reinforcement — with praise and rewarding good behavior with simple things, like stickers.
- Creating and maintaining as much structure in their day-to-day life as possible — such as providing a written to-do list for chores.
- Reinforcing what was covered during therapy sessions — by practicing those same strategies at home.
- Learning more about available behavior parent training programs — which have been proven to be highly effective for kids with ADHD and related oppositional problems.
Although students with ADHD — and their parents — are faced with an array of challenges, the good news is that there’s help available. By accessing expert resources, like school counselors, parents can learn how to put effective strategies into practice at home.
Colleen O'Day is a digital PR manager and supports community outreach for 2U Inc.'s social work, mental health and K-12 education programs. Find her on Twitter @ColleenMODay.