What is ADHD?

       “Now is the time to blow the whole lid off the model that merely identifies pathology and to replace it with the more accurate- and hopeful- model that not only acknowledges the problems but also seeks and identifies the strengths as well.” –Edward M. Hallowell, Driven To Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder

         Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, is the term applied to a cluster of symptoms related to executive function and impulse control.  There are many questions in schools about ADHD: “How should we support these students?” “Can we use our regular (punitive) behavioral system with students who have ADHD?” and even “Is ADHD a real thing?” I will address the first two questions further into this series, but for now I would simply like to address the third, which questions the validity of the ADHD diagnosis.

ADHD is indeed “real”. ADHD is a cognitive difference that is rooted in the way the brain holds, processes, and reproduces information in order to complete tasks. Adults and Children can be diagnosed with ADHD- it is not simply a pediatric condition.

ADHD is a disorder in settings where a person is meant to follow a prescribed behavior and system for generating work (school and office work, for example). The differences in working memory ability, behavioral self management, and physical inhibitions can be a real deficit in situations where a methodical way of thinking, organizing, and task-switching is expected. In some cases, ADHD can be an asset for people who have learned to use their different way of processing to generate creativity, ideas and work output, and to see solutions to problems that others perhaps cannot, at a pace and through a process that may seem inconceivable to the “normative” mind. Many successful adults with ADHD consider what was once a disorder to be a gift.

Some also wonder if ADHD is a new “trend” in diagnosis, saying that in past decades one just had to learn how to “deal” if one had difficulty with focus, memory, or sitting still (among other indicators- there are many). When considering that there are advances in neuro-science, developmental psychology, and behavioral psychology being developed even now, it is easier to understand that when “we were young” we were also living with misconceptions about differences in learning and behavior, and we have come a long way. What we understand and approach/treat as a disorder now may be understood as a valuable diversity of thought in the future – even in school, even in children.

For your information, and to anchor the discussion in fact, the following excerpt has been taken from the CDC website (see Works Cited). Please remember that only a trained health care provider such as a medical doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist, can diagnose or treat ADHD:

DSM-5 Criteria for ADHD

People with ADHD show a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development:
  1. Inattention: Six or more symptoms of inattention for children up to age 16, or five or more for adolescents 17 and older and adults; symptoms of inattention have been present for at least 6 months, and they are inappropriate for developmental level:
    • Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work, or with other activities.
    • Often has trouble holding attention on tasks or play activities.
    • Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly.
    • Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (e.g., loses focus, side-tracked).
    • Often has trouble organizing tasks and activities.
    • Often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to do tasks that require mental effort over a long period of time (such as schoolwork or homework).
    • Often loses things necessary for tasks and activities (e.g. school materials, pencils, books, tools, wallets, keys, paperwork, eyeglasses, mobile telephones).
    • Is often easily distracted
    • Is often forgetful in daily activities.
  2. Hyperactivity and Impulsivity: Six or more symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity for children up to age 16, or five or more for adolescents 17 and older and adults; symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity have been present for at least 6 months to an extent that is disruptive and inappropriate for the person’s developmental level:
    • Often fidgets with or taps hands or feet, or squirms in seat.
    • Often leaves seat in situations when remaining seated is expected.
    • Often runs about or climbs in situations where it is not appropriate (adolescents or adults may be limited to feeling restless).
    • Often unable to play or take part in leisure activities quietly.
    • Is often “on the go” acting as if “driven by a motor”.
    • Often talks excessively.
    • Often blurts out an answer before a question has been completed.
    • Often has trouble waiting his/her turn.
    • Often interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g., butts into conversations or games)
In addition, the following conditions must be met:
  • Several inattentive or hyperactive-impulsive symptoms were present before age 12 years.
  • Several symptoms are present in two or more setting, (e.g., at home, school or work; with friends or relatives; in other activities).
  • There is clear evidence that the symptoms interfere with, or reduce the quality of, social, school, or work functioning.
  • The symptoms do not happen only during the course of schizophrenia or another psychotic disorder. The symptoms are not better explained by another mental disorder (e.g. Mood Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, Dissociative Disorder, or a Personality Disorder).
Based on the types of symptoms, three kinds (presentations) of ADHD can occur:

Combined Presentation: if enough symptoms of both criteria inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity were present for the past 6 months

Predominantly Inattentive Presentation: if enough symptoms of inattention, but not hyperactivity-impulsivity, were present for the past six months

Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation: if enough symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity but not inattention were present for the past six months.

Because symptoms can change over time, the presentation may change over time as well.


Stay tuned for Part II of this series, a discussion about support for students with ADHD! Thanks for reading.

Works Cited

“Symptoms and Diagnosis.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 29 Sept. 2014. Web. 28 Jan. 2015. <http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/diagnosis.html&gt;.

Hallowell, Edward M., and John J. Ratey. Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder from Childhood through Adulthood. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995. Print.


Twenty Years of Inclusive Education

Celebrating 20 years of the internationalization of inclusive education: A peek into IB’s own journey

Assessment Access and Inclusion Manager, Kala Parasuram, explores how the IB has developed its access and inclusion agenda, leading by example and taking the international community on this fundamental and important journey.
You can access the article here:

Celebrating 20 years of the internationalization of inclusive education: A peek into IB’s own journey | IB Community Blog.

Grit, SEL, and Learning Diversity

“Grit equals passion and perseverance over time” – Angela Duckworth

This TEDtalk conversation about Grit will not be new to many educators, but please watch the above clip if you haven’t seen it yet. It is a great message, one that we can use to improve our own lives and share with our students to create more success in theirs. There is an interesting discussion in education surrounding the concept of Grit, with professionals forming opinions that both support and critique the idea that Grit is a valuable and vital objective to emphasize in education. Those that critique the idea ask if Grit is too narrow a concept, and argue that Grit, when promoted without considering emotional intelligence, can even be detrimental to students. Perhaps the most recognized voice criticizing how schools have adopted Grit comes from Alfie Kohn, in a recent Washington Post contribution. He asks, “Do kids love what they’re doing? Or are they driven by a desperate (and anxiety-provoking) need to prove their competence?” This is a question that gets at the root of the teaching experience- is it more valuable for teachers to foster an emotional connection with learning, or is the “just do it” mentality a better way? And can’t there be room for both?

To add the Learning Diversity viewpoint to the conversation, kids’ learning needs must be considered when we discuss Grit. “Passion and perseverance over time” must be taught together with compassion and critical thinking. For example, a dyslexic student should never be asked to access Grit alone in order to read – this is not scientifically effective. Instead, educators do well to pursue an alternative route for the student to access the book (audible.com together with kindle immersion setting, and learningally.org are both excellent resources) and then teach perseverance – and yes, Grit – to think critically about the ideas in the book (especially when the subject isn’t that interesting to the student). In such a case, students will need to be “Gritty” to produce new ideas and questions- especially questions!- in class discussion and in project form.

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) posits that student learning is enhanced when self awareness, self management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making skills are valued and taught alongside (or integrated into) curriculum content. The IB programme actively includes SEL in its approach to teaching and learning for the greater goal of student success in creating a “better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect”.  (you can read the IB Mission Statement here.) Just as in the example of a dyslexic student and reading, above, there are students whose diagnoses inhibit their social awareness and ability to communicate emotions. Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder, for example, may find it difficult to understand and learn SEL skills, and may need to rely on Grit to meaningfully participate. However, teachers will again do well to explicitly and patiently teach SEL skills, especially to students on the autism spectrum. Expectations of “Grittyness” without the accompanying support of explicit instruction, patience, and compassion, will be a disservice to students who have difficulty interpreting social cues or who perseverate on particular interests and have difficulty engaging with topics outside of somewhat narrow interest areas.Teachers must also access Grit -that same passion and perseverance over time – in order to teach all students, including those they find most difficult to reach.

This discussion is very rich and ongoing- though it seems that in the big picture, Grit and Social and Emotional Learning go hand in hand. As learners adapt to new cognitive growth, as our understanding of the world and our role in it expands, and as we develop our identities as individuals within our communities, it seems logical that having Grit and Social/Emotional Learning skills will sustain us and produce lifelong learning.

LJA Welcomes Rick Wormeli, Oct 2014

Our learning community is excited to welcome Rick Wormeli to our campus for three days next month. We are looking forward to hearing more about how we can improve our differentiation strategies, particularly for assessments. At Le Jardin Academy, we use formative and summative assessments to report on each students’ learning process. We also use descriptive feedback in the form of criteria rubric descriptor marks and additional comments during this learning continuum, to help students gain skills and knowledge in each content area. One thing we can do -perhaps universally as educators- is consistently view scores and feedback that students receive as tools for reflecting on what we as educators need to do moving forward, to differentiate for and further authenticate student learning. Please take a look at what Rick Wormeli has to say about Formative and Summative Assessments:

Prediction, Action, Reflection

Prediction, Action, Reflection

In this photo, Le Jardin Surf Team Students are checking the surf at the HSA championships. This is an example of one skill we attempt to teach students in the classroom: making predictions. How can we apply what we know to new information, and why try? In the case of competitive surfing, it is vital to look out at the waves and apply our knowledge to what we see in order to make the best out of a fifteen minute heat. But in reading? How do we get “buy in”? How do we get students to think ahead, to guess, to wonder? I think in some cases we can’t. At least not in the beginning. It is important, then, to take the plunge: jump in. To carry the surfing metaphor further- if a struggling surfer just jumps into powerful waves, they will have to use every ounce of prior physical knowledge to survive- they would need to paddle, hold their breath, stay calm- and if that’s all they can do, fine. The reflection time is then invaluable: you say to your student, “Ask yourself; what do I wish I knew ahead of time? What was my goal? What do I need to know to be successful next time?” And the realization that the only thing that will create skill is practice, will bring them into that “buy in” mode. They will want to practice. They want to win. Back to reading- when a student attempts to read without any pre-reading structures such as learning new vocabulary, looking at images, having discussions related to the content, or making predictions about the text, they are in over their head. It is frustrating. They may feel like the unskilled surfer being tossed around in the waves. Help that student to reflect: “What was difficult? What skills do you think you need to practice in order to improve?” The attachment to skill building, or “buy in”, will strengthen as the student reflects on their learning. The cycle of Prediction-Action-Reflection can start at any point and can create a solid framework for learning, especially when learning itself is difficult.

“Flat Iron Pedagogy: Affective Data Meets Differentiation” (Amy Burvall)

A MUST READ: What follows are thoughts on differentiating assessments and pre-assessments from Le Jardin’s own Amy Burvall, a DP Theory of Knowledge instructor and tech extraordinaire. This is a great example of the creativity involved in approaching differentiation. Great differentiation techniques require inspiration, and the best inspiration are your students themselves- their strengths, their affinities, their way of naturally meeting information. Technology is (arguably) the most “natural” way that students share information, so integrating it into the classroom as a tool for communication just makes sense. Technology is constantly evolving -and differentiating(!)- to meet the many different demands of users. As teachers, it is almost imperative to keep up. Read on:

Flat Iron Pedagogy: Affective Data Meets Differentiation.