Students with ADHD and executive function impacts come in all shapes, sizes, and abilities. Believe it or not, there are plenty of above-grade-level (Gifted and Talented, or G/T) students with ADHD. These students, as with all students with ADHD, should be taught at the level that their cognitive ability demands. Having ADHD does not mean a student has a learning disability; they have a “producing disability.” These students may know what to do but can’t do it consistently. Executive dysfunction, and by extension ADHD, are not disorders one can “teach away” or that one will outgrow.
What The GT/ADHD Student Looks Like
Regardless of the rigor of the class, many students with executive function difficulties show the same signs:
- Fall behind or miss deadlines
- Misplace or lose belongings
- Difficulty following multi-step directions
- Act without thinking
- Inattentive in class
- Inconsistent work habits
But for G/T students, they have greater difficulty with analysis/synthesis & organization of material, such as outlines, research papers, and study skills. It is in this higher level realm of thinking that their breakdown is most evident.
So What Do We Do?
To help these students, scaffolding, or supports and accommodations, is needed and should be taught and modeled by others. To help the student, we have to meet the student at the point of performance, or the place and time in their environment where they are displaying the breakdown.
To begin with, we have to change the way we are supporting our students. We cannot always teach them at their chronological age or the grade in which they are placed. We need to meet them at their emotional age– or the age of their executive function skills. Students with ADHD can be as much as 30% behind their non-ADHD peers in these areas that are often referred to as Self Regulation, which is defined as “is the ability to monitor and control our behavior, emotions, or thoughts, altering them in accordance with the demands of the situation.” So, the 15-year-old 9th-grade student can be thinking at/or above 9th grade, but her executive functions may be firing at around 11 years old, or about 6th grade. We have to adjust expectations to match the emotional age of the student. This includes school tasks and home tasks and takes some practice and above all else, patience.
Part Two of this blog will cover How we can go about supporting these students.