For Teachers

“We Are Behind the Times:” Only 4 in 10 Educators Receive ADHD Training

Despite the prevalence of ADHD in the classroom, most educators say they’re conducting their own ad hoc research and training on the condition and its comorbidities, according to a recent ADDitude survey.

ADHD teacher trainings

Most educators have received no formal training for teaching students with ADHD and its comorbid conditions.

Though 100% of the teachers, tutors, counselors, and administrators surveyed recently by ADDitude said they serve at least one student with ADHD and/or autism, only 40% said they have undergone specialized training in these conditions. The same goes for auditory processing issues, dyslexia, and/or dysgraphia, which 70% of educators said impact their students.

Nine out of ten educators said they taught themselves about ADHD, using books, magazines (many named this one!), and websites for research. More than four in five said they learned about neurodivergent learners from co-workers, parents of students, and the students themselves. Half of the current and former 326 educators surveyed by ADDitude said they used their own personal experience with LDs and ADHD to help students thrive.

“Much of my knowledge about ADHD, executive functioning, and evidence-based instruction is self-taught,” one educator said. “Podcasts, such as ADDitude’s ADHD Experts and The Learning Scientists, have been valuable resources for learning about ADHD and effective instruction, respectively. I’ve also gained a lot of practical knowledge from ADHD social media creators.”

If this informal, ad hoc approach to educator training sounds dangerous, it’s because it is.

[Sign Up for ADDitude’s ADHD Learning Series for Educators]

When educators lack an understanding of ADHD’s executive dysfunctions, self-regulation struggles, and dopamine deficits, students are more likely to hear these refrains: “You’re not trying hard enough.” “You have so much potential; if only you would apply yourself.” “You need to learn to control yourself.” These unhelpful comments and harsh punishments tear down a child’s self-esteem while offering no strategies for improvement; they are counterproductive at best and cruel at worst.

“It is a very misunderstood disorder, and we are behind the times in updating education and awareness where it is needed most,” one teacher said in the survey.

Managing neurodivergent students’ anxiety levels, gaps in learning, social skills, and difficult behavior, plus bridging support gaps between parents and teachers were among the most daunting issues facing educators, they said. A majority of respondents, 80%, said they did not work at specialized schools for students with ADHD. The educators worked at public elementary schools (60%), middle schools (50%), high schools (20%), and colleges (30%).

“Trying to help a child become more independent in finding self-soothing sensory activities and impulse control” is the biggest challenge, said another educator.

[Read: Choosing the Right School — Questions to Reveal Your Child’s Best Options]

Lack of parental support of children at home also was cited as a problem. “Parents of students with ADHD who don’t get what they could be doing to help their child are extremely frustrating. I see many in denial, and many who have no idea how extreme their child is compared to an average child, or how difficult it is for their child in school with only the tools they learn from caring teachers, when parents could be helping.”

One educator said their biggest frustration stemmed from “parents who don’t get their children diagnosed due to cultural taboos or fear of being labeled.”

And one teacher summed up her days like this: “With a class of 32 seventh graders with diagnosed and undiagnosed ADHD, autism, English language learners, and giftedness, I sometimes feel that I’m a circus performer spinning plates.”

ADHD Teacher Training: Next Steps

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