ADHD and Better Decisions

In a study by researchers from the University Clinics for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, at the University of Zurich, decision making processes- not learning ability- were the focus for determining whether kids with ADHD had more difficulty than others when making choices that would benefit them in the long term.

“We were able to demonstrate that young people with ADHD do not inherently have difficulties in learning new information; instead, they evidently use less differentiated learning patterns, which is presumably why sub-optimal decisions are often made,” says first author Tobias Hauser.

“Less differentiated learning patterns” (Hauser et al., 2015) can be understood as cognitive processing during which an individual is less apt to discern between reliable and unreliable sources, or less likely to synthesize new information with existing information in order to apply it to current situations. The good news is that learning new information is not the problem- applying it to making better choices is where the difficulty lies.

These types of studies are beneficial because they can inform educators about how best to teach students to build decision making skills, and it lets educators know that the process of making decisions must be taught directly. Again it is not that these particular students cannot learn to make sound decisions- it is simply that they need scaffolding to be able to consider the outcomes of the different choices they might make.

This could be as simple as keeping a note card which reads what when where why who, which will lead students through the thought process of each term, to consider what will change, who will this affect, and why it might be a good or bad decision. In addition, having a trusted person to call or meet with  to get feedback on the implications of making certain choices is important when faced with a big life decision that should not be made impulsively. There are also apps like Best Decision or Choicemap (better for older teens or young adults) which lead the decision maker through a thinking process and then uses an algorithm to rate the better long-term choices using a set of criteria that are important to the user, such as safety, potential fun, time constraints, etc.

Being able to stop and think before acting, evaluate the merits and pitfalls of decisions before they are made and after, and taking responsibility for ones actions, are all skills that must be taught, practiced and supported in a safe and forgiving environment for any student – but especially for those diagnosed with ADHD.

Sources and for further reading:

“About Good Decision-making.” KidsMatter. Web. 10 Oct. 2016.

Butler, Alia. “ADHD and Decision Making Capacity”. Web. 10 Oct. 2016

Hauser, Tobias U., Reto Iannaccone, Juliane Ball, Christoph Mathys, Daniel Brandeis, Susanne Walitza, and Silvia Brem. “Role of the Medial Prefrontal Cortex in Impaired Decision Making in Juvenile Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.” JAMA Psychiatry 71.10 (2014): 1165. Print.