“Stop! Don’t do that!” If only you knew…

Insights from attending the Certificate in Supporting Children with Attentional and Hyperactivity Issues (DAC & SSI)

“Stop! Don’t do that!” A common refrain exclaimed by teachers and parents when seeing their student or child engage in an undesirable behaviour. For children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), the journey of nurturing and guiding these young ones takes on an additional layer of complexity. In the classroom and at home, moments of seemingly “undesirable” behaviour may be more frequent for children with ADHD.

ADHD, a neurological condition, is one of the most prevalent childhood disorders, occurring in some two to ten percent of school- aged children (Polanczyk et al., 2007). In Singapore, students with ADHD form about 13.8% of students with mainstream Special Educational Needs (SEN), making them a significant group in mainstream schools.

ADHD comprises three subtypes- inattention presentation, hyperactivity/ impulsivity presentation, and combined presentation. Some key characteristics include impulsivity and difficulties in planning, inattention, hyperactivity, problems in modulating gratification, as well as challenges in regulating one’s emotions. Individuals with ADHD may find it difficult to self-monitor their actions and sustain effort in important tasks. For those with hyperactivity/ impulsivity or combined presentations, they may seem excessively restless and overactive, struggling to control their body movements when staying still. These individuals may often appear driven towards more immediate and predictable consequences, requiring gratification in shorter intervals than a single long-term reward. Finally, individuals with ADHD may have trouble modulating their emotional responses, thus potentially resulting in more challenges in understanding social cues and navigating their personal relationships.

Upon attending the Certificate in Supporting Children with Attentional and Hyperactivity Issues course by DAS Academy and Social Service Institute, one of my major takeaways was the Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) Approach by Dr. Ross Greene, a proven and compassionate way of understanding and helping children with social, emotional, and behavioural challenges. In this approach, a key tenet is to believe that children will do well if they can. Coupled with the ADHD- guided Strengths Framework, this helped me to reframe my thoughts regarding problem behaviours of ADHD students. Having quite a few students with ADHD myself, I am often frustrated and wonder why they cannot control their urges, and/or engage in negative behaviours without considering potential consequences. By distilling the ADHD traits as the cause of the students’ actions, I was reminded that managing ADHD students’ behaviour is not the same as managing a student without ADHD. Furthermore, this framework also allowed me to think of the many strengths that my students with ADHD had. For instance, repeatedly asking questions in class would seem disruptive to most teachers in school, but I could attempt to leverage on their strength of curiosity instead.

The impulsive actions and restlessness often associated with individuals with ADHD may often prompt an instinctive outcry by teachers and parents, “Stop! Don’t do that!” While well-intentioned, this response may not always yield the desired results and can inadvertently impact a child’s self-esteem and overall learning experience. By evaluating common behaviours of students with ADHD using the Antecedent- Behaviour- Consequence model, it was also useful for me to learn how I could focus on preventing and solving problems before they occur. This could be carried out by using tactful questioning techniques to help students realise what they could have done better, and provide my students with proactive, active and/or reactive strategies that can lead to better outcomes to the same scenario. In the classroom, this could be achieved through communicating expectations and possible strategies to my students could help them better regulate their emotions by taking active steps themselves and assuring that I would be there to support them when needed.

Example of a visual aid which could be placed in the classroom to aid students with ADHD in engaging in active strategies upon encountering a trigger event

Lastly, the role of culture in addressing negative behaviours of children was interestingly brought up by Ms Tina Tan, who is also the Vice-President of SPARK, a non-profit organisation supporting ADHD in Singapore. As adult parents and/or educators in an Asian society, it is often easier to reject and withhold incentives for children who display “undesired” behaviours, exerting our dominance over these children to immediately halt these behaviours. However, in the grand scheme of things, children are not guided to realise and learn what they have done wrong, and this may even cause other negative emotions to arise in them. Ultimately, this course has helped me gain valuable insights into how parents and educators can make undesirable moments teachable by first, adopting a shift in our own mindsets. With patience and consistency, our children with ADHD can learn to better regulate themselves, allowing them to thrive in various aspects of life.