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Signs of ADHD in Children at School

Margaret V. Austin, Ph.D., edited by C. E. Zupanick, Psy.D.

How does ADHD affect my child at school?

Poor school performance and underachievement are almost universal for kids with ADHD. A child who cannot sit still, or otherwise disrupts the classroom, is hard to ignore. A child's hyperactive or impulsive behaviors (e.g., interrupting or touching others) may be incorrectly interpreted as a disciplinary issue; rather than a legitimate mental health issue. As a result, the child may be wrongly judged or punished. Sometimes people attribute these behaviors to diet (e.g., too much sugar), or to permissive parenting. No matter the interpretation, a hyperactive child is hard to ignore. In contrast, the child who appears to be a daydreamer (who actually has ADHD, Predominately Inattentive Type), is often overlooked. Or, if noticed at all, they may be viewed as lazy or unmotivated.

school items ADHD problems are usually first identified in school settings. This is particularly true for those with hyperactive or impulsive behavior since the teacher must frequently intervene with such students. The fact that hyperactive behaviors are so readily noticed may account for a gender bias. As discussed in another section, girls are less frequently diagnosed with ADHD than are boys. Some researchers think this is because girls more commonly have the "attention deficit" component of ADHD. Boys more commonly have the "hyperactive" component of ADHD. As such, girls with attentional problems are less noticeable than boys with hyperactive behaviors. This is particularly problematic for girls because early identification and treatment of this disorder is strongly linked to better outcomes.

Students with ADHD tend to have lower than average IQ (intelligence) scores. However, this may not reflect their true intelligence. A child with ADHD, no matter what type, is sure to perform poorly on tests requiring concentration; sitting still for long periods; and tests that prohibit breaks or other modifications. Typically, standardized tests are timed. The instructions cannot be repeated. No modifications are allowed. This places students with ADHD at a disadvantage. However, when these testing limitations are removed, these students demonstrate abilities comparable to that of their peers.

Academic tasks that require repetition, problem-solving, and memory (e.g., spelling, math, and writing) are greatly impacted by ADHD symptoms. Learning tasks that do not require concentration and disciplined effort (e.g., comprehension, general information, and vocabulary) are not as greatly affected. Psychologists who evaluate children to determine if they have ADHD often look for such discrepancies in school performance as one indicator of the disorder.

Signs of ADHD in children at school:

  • Excessive activity or talking;
  • Frequently making disruptive noises;
  • Problems following the rules;
  • Can't remember more than one thing at a time;
  • Difficulty taking turns;
  • Inability to sit quietly, even when motivated to do so;
  • Poor peer relationships;
  • Engaging in activity without consideration of consequences;
  • Low frustration tolerance;
  • Careless or messy approach to assignments or tasks;
  • Failure to complete activities; and,
  • Tactile/Kinesthetic learner

Signs of ADHD in teens at school

  • Frequently interrupting or changing the subject;
  • Poor peer relationships;
  • Difficulty sustaining focused attention;
  • When focused attention is required, it is experienced as unpleasant;
  • Distractible;
  • Frequent daydreaming;
  • Forgetfulness or absentmindedness;
  • Difficulty retaining learned information;
  • Continued messy work;
  • Rushing through assignments;
  • Losing work or failing to turn it in on time;
  • Difficulty organizing or prioritizing activities or possessions;
  • Frequent impatience;
  • Beginning to doubt self and abilities; and,
  • Creative thinking