Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is the most common childhood psychiatric disorder worldwide. It is also the most common neurodevelopmental disorder that impairs students’ learning in Canada. Unfortunately, most education systems across the country have not adapted how they understand and support students with ADHD. This disorder has yet to be officially recognized as a learning risk by many provincial Ministries of Education or the Canadian government.
ADHD is commonly misunderstood as a disorder of rowdy, undisciplined children who can’t stay still or are unmotivated and lack willpower. While ADHD does impair attention regulation and may include hyperactivity and impulsivity, research over the last several decades indicates that this disorder's impact on students is much more complicated, pervasive, and disabling. ADHD impairs: cognitive processing speed; executive functioning skills (which hinders the acquisition of reading fluency and comprehension, written expression, and mathematical problem-solving skills); and the acquirement of learning strategies, study, and organizational skills. Students with this disorder are three times more likely to drop out of high school than their classmates.
A conservative estimate indicates that roughly 5% of Canadian students have ADHD, but the actual prevalence could be as high as 9%. There are generally 1 – 3 students with ADHD in every classroom. Even so, some provinces will not officially recognize this disorder in their coding systems, leading to students with ADHD being unable to access special education resources or to benefit from reasonable learning accommodations.
ADHD is now classified as a neurodevelopmental disorder in the updated Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), instead of being considered a disruptive behaviour as it was in the past. Unfortunately, many school boards and Ministries of Education in Canada have not caught up to this new understanding of ADHD. As a result, there generally hasn’t been sufficient educator training on ADHD, and the current training is often superficial and without a focus on changing the current perception of the disorder.
The Centre for ADHD Awareness, Canada (CADDAC) is a national charitable organization that aims to improve the lives of those with ADHD by raising awareness of this disorder, education, and advocacy. One of CADDAC’s current efforts towards these goals is the Right to Learn campaign. As stated on the Right to Learn website, CADDAC is asking the Ministries of Education in all provinces and territories across the country to formally acknowledge that ADHD is a serious leaning risk by agreeing in writing that:
· ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that causes learning impairments on par with Autism Spectrum Disorder and learning disabilities;
· students with ADHD have a right to access accommodations and special education resources for their disability, exceptionality (if applicable) notwithstanding; and
· these resources and accommodations be based on a student’s specific needs and not generalizations, understanding that even a student with ADHD who is performing “well enough” academically can still be a student with a disability that requires accommodations to address barriers in education.
CADDAC is encouraging parents and caretakers of children with ADHD and anyone else who is interested in equal access to education for all students to join the Right to Learn campaign. More information about this campaign is available at caddac.ca/adhd/adhd-right-to-learn.
Dean LaBerge, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Grizzly Gazette