ADHD in High School: Special Needs at Their Most Special

A recent study by the National Institute of Health has come to a startling conclusion about ADHD. While ADHD is most obvious at the very beginning of school — when the lack of impulse control and short attention span prevents a kindergartner or first grader from sitting still long enough to even hear what the assignment is – it is most hampering in high school. This is because the developmental delay experienced by children with “significant,” “profound,” or “serious” ADHD has been established as up to a thirty percent delay.

This means that for a five year old, the delay is approximately 1.5 effective years — without outside assistance, an ADHD 5-year-old will learn like a 3.5-year-old. But for a 15-year-old, that same 30% translates as a four and a half year delay. So a 15-year-old with ADHD learns as well as a 10.5-year-old. That’s the difference between “just starting high school” and “just finishing elementary school.”

ADHD in High Schoolers

9 out of 10 children with ADD (the ‘inattentive’ variation), Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD (the ‘combined’ form) will experience difficulty scholastically. Each child is unique, but almost every child diagnosed with some form of ADHD will display one or more of these problems in high school:

• Spacing Out: The most common problem for teens with ADHD is their tendency to simply daydream the time away, missing crucial events like the assignment of homework, the content of a lecture, or the instructions for the next activity.

• Lack of Attention to Detail: Very nearly as prevalent: the tendency to leave out important details of an assignment. Teachers who refuse to grade an assignment that has no name and/or date on it, for example, can be extremely hard for ADHD students. Similarly, any subject where every detail counts — algebra, for example, or grammar — can prove almost impossible to a brain that has trouble realizing that details exist at all, much less keeping track of what they all are.

• Impulse Control: Teenagers are apt to show this problem in the form of shortcuts, not showing their work (especially in math), and hating writing (it takes far too long when you could type!).

• Poor Organizational/Time Management Skills: ADHD teens are notorious for their inability to delay gratification; they want to do the cool stuff first, and then get to the working part later… which often means never. They often don’t know where to begin on tasks that aren’t laid out in detail, and they essentially don’t plan for the future at all.

• Poor Memorization: Rote memorization such as multiplication tables and especially names and dates (history class!) is very difficult for a teen with ADHD. This same effect often means an ADHD teen will simply forget which class is supposed to come next, or simply forget to turn in their homework.

Addressing the Problems

The best way to address these problems, unfortunately, is usually through pharmaceutical medicine. As much as we would all like to be able to solve our children’s problems with less artificial forms of intervention, none of the standard interventions have a success rate anywhere near that of pharmaceuticals.