Sunday, March 6, 2011

Psychology Talk: ADHD

I'm almost one year away from becoming a school psychologist, so I wanted to share some of the things I have learned in the last 2 years of graduate school.

First, what does a school psychologist do?

The main priority of a school psychologist is to find out if a student qualifies for special education. To do this I have to look at all aspects of a child's life. This includes giving them standardized tests that measure cognitive ability, and how they process information they see and hear. I would also take a look at their previous academic records (unless they are too young) and see if there has been a pattern of below average performance. Another important thing I look at is their social/emotional skills. Do they play with other students, have any friends, and is their communication developed? Finally, I would look at their home life and interview the parents. Things I want to know are: is their behavior at home the same as at school? Is there anything traumatic going on? Were there any complications during pregnancy and birth?

The key is to look at the whole child and to put all the pieces together to be able get the appropriate help for the student. So that gives you a good idea of what I'll be doing, and I have already begun practicing those things at my current practicum school site.

The first topic I'm going to discuss is:

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

 Many students suffer with this disorder and it can negatively affect their school and home life. It has also become a controversial topic as well. Some argue that young kids are being over diagnosed and over medicated. What do you think?

True or False?
People with ADHD have an overactive brain which causes them to be hyperactive.

That statement is false and is why a lot of people don't understand ADHD. That's why I'm here to break it down for you!

The part of the brain that controls and regulates decision making, emotions, behavior, and your motor movements is called the Prefrontal Cortex which is shown in the green area below. 

People with ADHD have low activity in this region which causes:

They may know the rules, but they can't access them fast enough in their brain. They may blurt things out in class, interrupt others, and have difficulty waiting their turn

 They have difficulty screening out irrelevant background noise, movements, and other stimuli. They may have a hard time sustaining focus on one thing

May have difficulty keeping their brain "awake" without fidgeting or moving around. It may seem that these kinds of behaviors are a sign of not paying attention, but for some people with ADHD, some movement or muscle tension actually helps them focus. 

True or False?
Children with ADHD will grow out of it.

This is false. ADHD is something that usually follows someone into adulthood because it has been passed on through their genetics. 

To medicate or not to medicate?

I know some people who believe that medication for ADHD has been created by the pharmaceutical companies just to make more money, but I don't believe that is the case. Sure they do make a lot of money for selling these medications, but they do work for many kids.

I've met parents who have tried almost everything to help their kids and have sworn to never medicate their child. They are exhausted, hopeless, and desperate for help, so some will decide to put their child on medication. For some it works and some it doesn't, and sometimes you have to try different medications and different dosages. It really depends on each individual child. 

One thing I do believe is that medication has worked for some children and has allowed them to become more functional in school. I'm not saying that every child with ADHD needs medication, but I do believe it is an option for parents if they make that decision. 

How does the medication work?

Since a person with ADHD has low activity in the prefrontal cortex, the medication is a stimulus that will stimulate more activity in their brain that will help with the symptoms that were mentioned above.

How can I help a student with ADHD?
Chunking work (give frequent breaks, break apart assignments
Lists (give lists and them check it off, helps them organize)
Action (connect an activity/movement with learning)
Prompts (sticky notes, cell phone alarm reminders)

Don't forget to recognize the gifted abilities of a person with ADHD. They tend to be good thinkers, good at noticing details, creative writing, improv, and can make good CEO's!

I hope that all made sense. I really enjoyed putting all the information together, and it helps me remember it too! So what did you think? This was my first time doing a post like this, so I would appreciate your opinion. Did you learn something? Was there too much information? Too wordy?

Thanks for taking the time to read it!


  1. TOTALLYYYY learned a lot!!!! I had no idea that is what school psychologists did... I think I was confusing them with school counselors,,,Amazing! A lot of good information!Thanks for sharing Breeanna.. was cool!

  2. I loved this post! I totally tweeted it! I like the casual discussion presentation style, not to wordy at all and very informative. Way to take a complex subject and make it completely understandable. I work in HR with putting applicants into the Navy, and that involves looking through and assisting in collecting medical documents. We have to get transcripts and IEP from their school if they every had been diagnosed with ADHD, but I didn't really know what the school did. You really filled in some blanks for me, thanks! Hearts, Janna Lynn

  3. Excellent explanation! The sign of a great teacher is one who can take the complex and make it attainable and understandable to the rest of us! You will do well as a school psychologist!! (@shewearscrazywell tweeted your blog today)

  4. This was a very informative post. Some things I knew (only because I work in a pharmacy), but most of it I didn't. Interesting post and good luck with your final year!

  5. This was very informative. I am a true believer in medication for problem such as this. And as with ever disorder there are varying degrees, which some methods make work to treat alternative to medication. Thanks for this post, I think you will make an awesome school psychologist! I also think this post was perfectly written interesting and not to long {where I would lose interest} Have a great day sweetie!

  6. That was really interesting. You told me a lot I didn't know. Especially about what it really is.


I love hearing what you have to say! Thanks for taking the time to share!