More Than Just An ADHD Diagnosis
Michele Heimbauer, Associate Director of Winston Innovation Lab
Students are often diagnosed with ADHD when they struggle to perform in ways that are expected in the classroom. Though this label can be comforting to some, it is largely inadequate in helping to understand an individual student so that we can develop an effective program for that child. To deeply understand a student, it is vital to go beyond the diagnosis of ADHD, which is simply a label that describes behavioral symptoms that are organized into two categories.
A Deeper Look At ADHD Symptoms
The first category involves symptoms of ‘inattention’ which include observable behaviors such as difficulty paying attention to details, difficulty following directions, difficulty staying focused during lengthy readings or conversations, disorganization, forgetfulness, or being easily distracted. The second category relates to symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity, including behaviors such as fidgeting, restlessness, difficulty taking turns and waiting, and interrupting conversations.
It’s More Than Just Learning To Focus
It is easy to see these symptoms and think that the student merely needs a program to increase attention and reduce hyperactivity/impulsivity. But it is not that simple. We need to dig deeper and understand why a student is struggling. What are the reasons behind their forgetfulness? Why do they leave their seat unexpectedly? Why do they seem restless or bored?
Our Approach To Understanding ADHD
What often lies beneath the surface of an ADHD diagnosis is a breakdown in executive functioning processes. Executive functioning is the system that allows us to plan, prioritize, and strategize to set, work towards and accomplish goals. It is the system that helps us delay gratification, adjust our responses and actions flexibly and appropriately, and make and reflect upon our decisions. It is the system that helps us maintain engagement during meetings and social interactions when we have a laundry list of to-do’s on our minds.
When the executive functioning process is not operating fluently, it is easy to see why a student might demonstrate the symptoms of ADHD. At WPS our priorities are firmly placed in understanding and remediating the cognitive underpinnings of the student’s struggles, unleashing their ability to effectively process, recall and express information, regulate their attention while remaining goal-oriented, and actively engage in learning. To accomplish this it is not enough to stop at the diagnosis. A diagnosis of ADHD does not tell us where and why the executive functioning process is faltering. It is our intention to look beyond the diagnosis so that we can focus our efforts on internalized remediation, leading to future independence and success.