What Is ADHD

One of the best metaphors for ADHD is that of an iceberg: The Tip Signifies the best known symptoms, ranging from hyperactivity and impulsiveness to distractibility and poor focus. The Rest (often hidden but resoundingly impairing) is the many facets of executive function. To address ADHD only as a disorder of attention or hyperactivity, underestimates its impact on education.


ADHD is a developmental delay in a broad skill set called executive function.
Imaging studies confirm that children with ADHD experience immature brain development, showing again that it's neither a child's fault, nor a parent's, nor society's. 
  • We depend on executive function for activities as simple as getting out the door on time for the bus to complex activities such as planning a long-term project.
  • A high school student of 15 with the executive function skills of a 10-year-old needs to be supported like a much younger student in order to succeed -- it is not a matter of effort alone. We can teach children what they need to know only if we see their struggles as they actually are, a frustrating and demanding developmental delay. 
  • In addition, up to two thirds of children with ADHD have a separate learning disability; according to Dr. William Barbaresi of Harvard, studies suggest that nearly 40% have specific deficits in reading, math and writing. the capacity to organize information and get it onto the page relies heavily on executive functioning. Math is the same, with careless mistakes rampant and multiple executive-function driven steps inherent to solving any problem. 

Executive function defines how we live (behavior and social skills) and how we learn 
Executive function is a set of mental processes that helps connect past experience with present action. People use it to perform activities such as:
  • Self-regulating
  • Planning
  • Organizing
  • Strategizing
  • Paying attention to and remembering details
  • Managing time and space
If you have trouble with executive function, these things are more difficult to do. You may also show a weakness with working memory, which is like "seeing in your mind's eye." This is an important tool in guiding your actions.

How Does Executive Function Affect Learning :
  • Make plans
  • Keep track of time and finish work on time
  • Keep track of more than one thing at once
  • Meaningfully include past knowledge in discussions
  • Evaluate ideas and reflect on our work
  • Change our minds and make mid-course corrections while thinking, reading, and writing
  • Ask for help or seek more information when we need it
  • Engage in group dynamics 

What does it take to write down daily homework assignments??

  • A strategy for action (e.g. having a day planner)
  • Paying attention when the assignment is put on the board and prioritizing the act of writing down your notes over any other activity at that moment.
  • And even if you have a day planner, you have to remember where it is, find it in time to use it and track down a pencil as well. 
  • The stress continues as you must hold the information in your mind long enough to get it on paper while avoiding procrastination or assuming it can be written down later (both prioritizing and holding thoughts in mind rely on executive function).
  • Then you must get the planner back in the correct place in what is probably a chaotic mess in your backpack. And that's only an abbreviated list. 

Executive Function And Educational Policy
Many educational choices today put children with ADHD at a further disadvantage. From classroom design to curriculum, schools place huge demands on executive function. For a child with ADHD, already years behind peers in this area of development, the gap grows between what is expected and their actual skills.
Traditional curricula rely on sustained instruction regarding the basic building blocks for any subject. These techniques are presently out of fashion in mainstream settings. However, if you ask experts in almost any field, they will tell you that we require automaticity of the basics before acquiring advanced skills. You can't play a Mozart sonata without first learning to play the scales fluently. 
Many popular programs used in schools today rely on 'experiential learning,' playing down the crucial need for a solid academic base built through routine and memorization.
While experts often thrive without much guidance, nearly everyone else thrives when provided with full, explicit instructional guidance (and should not be asked to discover any essential content or skills)... Decades of research clearly demonstrate that for novices (comprising virtually all students), direct, explicit instruction is more effective and more efficient than partial guidance.
Delays in executive function skills in ADHD, meanwhile, often make assimilation of new information particularly difficult. To develop expertise in any area of academics, even more than other students children with ADHD need repetition, routine and a solid foundation of academic facts. Without it, the academic gap grow.

What do these modern curricula look like? 
  • Silent reading time is emphasized
For someone with ADHD who is distractible, impulsive and behind in reading skills, there is an unrealistic expectation they will attend, behave and basically teach themselves during this unstructured instructional time.
  • In writing
children who struggle to organize their thoughts are asked over and over again to create coherent essays without a linear outline.
  • In math 
children still counting on their fingers are pushed to not only solve higher-level problems but to show their work, an activity relies again on their ability to organize and get their ideas on paper.