A new research project aims to provide a toolkit of resources for teachers facing challenges of supporting children with ADHD in schools.
The project, Tools for Schools, focuses on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) interventions in primary school-based settings and aims to develop a guide for school staff to use with children with traits of ADHD to help maximise their school experience.
Funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), the electronic toolkit will consist of different modules around time management, attention, self-esteem and relationships with teachers that will signpost teachers to solutions that will help the child deal with uncertain and overwhelming situations.
Led by the University of Exeter and supported by PenARC, the project’s principal investigator, Dr Abby Russell, said: ‘’ADHD can be diagnosed if somebody’s hyperactive, impulsive or if they have problems paying attention which can be seen as an issue in a school where you’re expected to sit still and do what you’re told. Lots of people struggle with some of these issues even if they don’t meet criteria to be diagnosed with ADHD, and it can be a real challenge to succeed at school.”
‘’Many mainstream schools lack specialist knowledge in managing a child with ADHD and use the same strategies that they would use with any other child who would be behaving differently from the rest of the class. Commonly, teachers feel negatively towards children with traits of ADHD because they don’t necessarily understand the condition and think they are misbehaving on purpose. This then snowballs into the child feeling anxious and having low self-esteem as they don’t know what’s expected of them.’’
The Senior Lecturer in Child and Adolescent Mental Health followed on: ‘’There’s a gap in ADHD research whereby we already know that the coping strategies are successful but the problem is that nobody has managed to implement what we already know effectively into schools.
‘’We’re creating a toolkit where we have taken all the best strategies taken from other research and package it in a way so teachers can log in to a toolkit, think about the problem the child is having and then be signposted to suggestions that they can try with the child.’’
Dr Rachel Hayes, PenARC Senior Research Fellow added: “One of the things I like most about the Tools for Schools project is that it works so closely with schools and people with lived experience of ADHD, they are integral to shaping the direction the toolkit takes which should make it more useful once finished. This project is also very much about providing support to help children enjoy and benefit from their time in school and focuses on current difficulties being experienced rather than seeking a medical diagnosis before any intervention.”
The project is co-created with parents, school staff, special educational needs coordinators, psychologists and people with ADHD who have all contributed to the toolkit strategies.
Taking part in the Tools for Schools project, James Wenger, a father whose son lives with ADHD, was diagnosed with the condition himself in his late adult life. He had no idea that the things he struggled with as a child were common symptoms for people with ADHD.
James didn’t know much about ADHD growing up and it wasn’t until his son who received a diagnosis at age 7 that he started to look into the condition.
He said: ‘’There were things that my son was doing which I thought were perfectly normal that apparently weren’t. And then when he started primary school, those started becoming impairing. And again, for me, well these were just normal. So, we started to look into this and turned out these looked like hallmark ADHD symptoms at which point I worked very hard on becoming an expert on ADHD very quickly.’’
The Neuroscience master’s student said: ‘’Throughout my studies, one thing that struck out to me is that by the time people with ADHD reach their twenties, two-thirds of them continue to have impairing ADHD symptoms into adulthood. Because of the negative repercussions of ADHD, this means they are more likely to develop mental health problems like depression and anxiety.
‘’Having this toolkit nice and early in a child’s development will hopefully reduce the risk of individuals going on to develop mental health difficulties as well as reducing the risk of impulsive and unhealthy behaviour.’’
Eager to share his experiences and knowledge about the condition, James took part in Dr Abby Russell’s ADHD and Science Family Fun Day at Exeter’s St. Luke’s campus where he spoke on the Q&A panel about what it’s like to be an entrepreneur and grow a business with ADHD.
He said: ‘’Research projects such as Abby’s and events like the ADHD and Science Day are extremely invaluable to us because not only does it raise awareness and celebrate the talents of those with ADHD, but it also allows society to start putting stigma in a box.’’