Attention deficit rates are skyrocketing in high school. Mentorship could prevent an academic free fall

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Most children with attention deficits don’t just grow up, new research shows, but early supports in high school can help them avoid long-term academic problems.

While previous studies have suggested that at least half of students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder no longer experience symptoms in adulthood, a new study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry reveals that the real situation is more complicated.. The researchers, in an ongoing federal study, followed children diagnosed with ADHD from about age 7 through their early 20s.

Almost a third of children went through periods without attention problems, but researchers found that less than one in 10 children had really “grown” out of their symptoms permanently.

“After a period of complete remission, recurrent ADHD symptoms were the rule rather than the exception,” concluded Margaret Sibley, associate professor of behavioral medicine and psychiatry at Seattle Children’s Hospital and lead author of the study. “Overall, the results suggest that over 90 percent of people with childhood ADHD will continue to struggle with residual symptoms and impairments, although sometimes fluctuating, at least until adulthood. “

All adolescents, including those with attention deficits, improve their self-regulation compared to elementary-age children, so children with ADHD often become less impulsive and able to pay attention for longer periods of time. But, “children with ADHD can improve their development in these areas, but they are still relatively disadvantaged. [compared] to their peers, ”said George DuPaul, associate dean of research in the school psychology program at Lehigh University’s college of education, which was not part of the longitudinal study.

“There was a feeling that ADHD was primarily a childhood problem that vanished in adolescence, although this myth has been debunked on several occasions,” said DuPaul.

New, separate federal data reveals that nearly twice as many students are identified with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or similar learning disabilities in adolescence than in elementary school, and Identifying disparities for poor students and students of color are greater in high school than in lower grades. .

While in general, children whose parents had only a high school diploma or less are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD or a learning disability than children whose parents were more educated. , about 15 percent versus 13 percent, the disparity was particularly striking for white college students. More than one in five white students whose parents have graduated from high school or less are labeled as having attention or learning disabilities, compared with just 13% of white students from more educated families.

These students in particular need not only support to learn to manage their time and focus, but also to defend themselves without the more intensive structural supports more often available in primary school.

“Classrooms are sort of the worst places we can put students with ADHD, and this is especially true at the high school level, where you have multiple teachers, each with different performance expectations and perceptions. different student performance, ”said DuPont. . “So now the student has to discriminate, negotiate all of this, while keeping their focus on longer term homework and studying for the tests. “

In a separate study in the Journal of School Psychology, DuPaul and his colleagues evaluated an expansion of the Challenging Horizons program, originally developed for middle school students. Students in the program receive 30 mentoring sessions, twice a week, to practice and receive feedback on organization, study skills, and social behavior. In high school, students also practice becoming their own educational advocates, setting and monitoring indicators of their academic progress and behavior, and developing strategies to solve specific problems.

The researchers found small to moderate improvements in organizational skills and student performance on homework, but those early benefits “translated into protection against a larger drop over the course of the year,” said DuPaul. Students who received mentoring support had better report card grades six months after the start of the school year than their peers with ADHD who did not participate in the program.

He suggested that while high school students need to learn more skills to manage their behaviors as they age, their parents and high school teachers could help them by staying more engaged with older students, especially during times of transition.

“For students with disabilities at all levels, supports move from middle school to high school, even if you have more responsibilities,” he said. “Teachers tend to be more subject-oriented than student-oriented because we only see them part of the day. … But from a public health point of view, [mentoring] is that kind of academic inoculation, to protect against the decline that students with ADHD would typically experience during the school year.


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