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ADHD symptoms do contribute to poor school performance. Classroom accommodations can be extremely helpful to children with ADHD.

ADD and ADHD are neurobiological disorders which affects approximately five to twelve percent of all children. Researchers believe that neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers of the brain, do not work properly causing symptoms of ADD or ADHD. Inattention and impulsivity, the two major characteristics of attention deficits, can make complying with parental requests and succeeding in school more difficult for these children. Symptoms of ADD and ADHD vary from mild to severe.

Approximately 50 percent of adults no longer experience major problems with symptoms of the condition. Some children with attention deficits do extremely well in school. However, for many others, underachievement in school is a hallmark characteristic of the condition.

Three major types of Attention Deficit Disorder have been identified:

  • ADHD (predominately hyperactive-impulsive)
  • ADHD inattentive (predominately inattentive without hyperactivity--schools call this ADD)
  • ADHD, combined type (a combination of both hyperactivity and inattention).

Children who have ADHD tend to be very energetic, talkative, and outgoing. In contrast, children with ADD inattentive, previously called ADD without hyperactivity, tend to be lethargic, less likely to talk in class, and introverted. Although many children are diagnosed and treated in elementary school, some children, especially those with ADD inattentive or mild cases of ADHD, may not be diagnosed until high school or college.

Although they may be bright intellectually, many children with ADD or ADHD lag behind their peers developmentally by as much as 30 percent in certain areas, according to research by Dr. Russell Barkley. This translates into a delay of 4-6 years for teenagers. As a result they may seem immature or irresponsible. They are less likely to remember their chores or assignments complete their work independently, are more likely to say things or act impulsively before thinking, and the quality and amount of their work will fluctuate from day to day. Consequently, parents and teachers may need to provide more positive feedback, supervise school work more closely, give reminders of homework, and interact more frequently with each other to help the child cope with this disability.

Research has shown that medication can help most children with ADD and ADHD improve their performance at home and school. Medications commonly used to treat attention deficits such as Adderall, Concerta, Strattera, Ritalin or Dexedrine, help the neurotransmitters norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin work properly. Thus, when medication is effective, attention and concentration improve, more chores and school work are completed, compliance with adult requests increases, hyperactivity and impulsivity decrease, and negative behaviours decrease.

Frequently, ADD or ADHD may coexist with other major problems--learning disabilities (25-50%), sleep disturbances (50%), anxiety (37%), depression (28%), bipolar (12%), oppositional behaviour (59%) substance abuse (5-40%), or conduct disorder (22-43%)-which further complicates their treatment and school work.

The majority of children with ADD or ADHD will experience difficulty in school (90%). Common learning problems and their practical implications for home and school performance are described below. However, keep in mind that each child with an attention deficit is unique and may have some, but not all these problems.

1. Inattention and poor concentration: difficulty listening in class; may daydream; spaces out and misses lecture content or homework assignments; lack of attention to detail, makes careless mistakes in work, doesn't notice errors in grammar, punctuation, capitalization, spelling, or changes in signs (+,-) in math; difficulty staying on task and finishing school work; distractible, moves from one uncompleted task to another; lack of awareness of time and grades, may not know if passing or failing class.

2. Impulsivity: rushes through work; doesn't double check work; doesn't read directions; takes short cuts in written work especially math (does it in his head); difficulty delaying gratification, hates waiting.

3. Language Deficits: slow processing of information; reads, writes, and responds slowly; recalls facts slowly; more likely to occur in children with ADD inattentive. Three language-processing problems may be common among children with ADD or ADHD.

a) Listening and Reading Comprehension: becomes confused with lengthy verbal directions; loses main point, difficulty taking notes; difficulty following directions; may not "hear" or pick out homework assignments from a teacher's lecture; poor reading comprehension, can't remember what is read, must reread material.
b) Spoken Language (oral expression): talks a lot spontaneously (ADHD); talks less in response to questions where they must think and give organized, concise answer; avoids responding in class or gives rambling answers.
c) Written Language: slow reading and writing, takes longer to complete work, produces less written work; difficulty organizing essays; difficulty getting ideas out of head and on paper; written test answers or essays may be brief; responses to discussion questions may be brief.

4. Poor Organizational Skills: disorganized; loses homework; difficulty getting started on tasks; difficulty knowing what steps should be taken first; difficulty organizing thoughts, sequencing ideas, writing essays, and planning ahead.

1) Impaired Sense of Time: loses track of time, is often late: doesn't manage time well, doesn't anticipate how long task will take; doesn't plan ahead for future.

5. Poor Memory: difficulty memorizing material such as multiplication tables, math facts or formulas, spelling words, foreign languages, and/or history dates.

a) Math Computation: difficulty automatising basic math facts, such as multiplication tables, cannot rapidly recall basic math facts.
b) Forgetful: forgets chores or homework assignments, forgets to take books home; forgets to turn in completed assignments to teacher; forgets special assignments or make-up work.