Redefining ADHD

Sir Ken Robinson gave a great presentation at  previously on education.

His entire speech is very insightful, and one thing that strikes me was his take on the meaning of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

I once took on a class of about 10-20 primary school students who are deemed to be weaker in Maths.  Over the course of a few months, through my interaction with them, I have noticed some differences between them and other students. Some of these differences include:

1.  A greater tendency to interact

2. A stronger desire to engage in hands-on activities (such as taking the initiative to come up to the whiteboard to write their answers, wanting to learn more through games)

3. A higher level of competitiveness

4. A greater proclivity to interact with their peers and myself as their teacher

All these characteristics are strong indicators of successful students when in reality, the school considers them to be otherwise. This is what interests me in the first place. More interestingly, a few of these students have even undergone counselling and subsequently diagnosed with ADHD

According to Wikipedia, students with ADHD exhibit all or some of these symptoms:

  • Be easily distracted, miss details, forget things, and frequently switch from one activity to another
  • Have difficulty maintaining focus on one task
  • Become bored with a task after only a few minutes, unless doing something enjoyable
  • Have difficulty focusing attention on organizing and completing a task or learning something new
  • Have trouble completing or turning in homework assignments, often losing things (e.g., pencils, toys, assignments) needed to complete tasks or activities
  • Not seem to listen when spoken to
  • Daydream, become easily confused, and move slowly
  • Have difficulty processing information as quickly and accurately as others
  • Struggle to follow instructions
  • Fidget and squirm in their seats
  • Talk nonstop
  • Dash around, touching or playing with anything and everything in sight
  • Have trouble sitting still during dinner, school, doing homework, and story time
  • Be constantly in motion
  • Have difficulty doing quiet tasks or activities
  • Be very impatient
  • Blurt out inappropriate comments, show their emotions without restraint, and act without regard for consequences
  • Have difficulty waiting for things they want or waiting their turns in games
  • Often interrupts conversations or others’ activities

Based on the above characteristics of a ADHD person, wouldn’t teenagers or even adults who are overwhelmed with social media exhibit some of these symptoms as well? If so, then wouldn’t most of us been a ADHD at one point or another? Furthermore, younger students are known to have a shorter attention span. Seen in this light, maybe those young students who are diagnosed with ADHD are just those individuals who have an even shorter attention span?

If this is the case, then shouldn’t the education system be enhanced and improved to cater to such students, rather than grouping them into a single group to be taught by a teacher? Of course, it’s much simpler to group these students together to be taught than to tweak the system (which could take years), but are we helping these students when we put them together? It’s understandable that to teach these students well, they have to be taught individually and this is often not achievable due to lack of manpower resources but more importantly, schools are institutions of group (and not) individual learning.

Which brings us to the question: are some students more suited for home/individual learning?

Some critics have argued that home/individuals learning deprives students from developing collaborative skills which is true to a certain degree. Educators and parents might like to look into small learning groups for such students, something that schools – considering the large enrollment intakes and scarcity of teachers – are not able to achieve at this point in time.

As for schools, teachers, parents, counsellors and psychologists, it’s time to take a second look at what it means by being ADHD.

Let it not be a term that provides a plausible excuse not to coach students who are not inclined to sit still for hours on ends, and being force-fed with contents from curricula which ,of themselves, contains fallacies of their own.

As what Sir Ken Robinson has mentioned, “The role of a teacher is to facilitate learning. That’s it.” (at the 8.30 mark).

A bonus video on the “mass productions” by schools:


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