how online school affects students with ADHD

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Image used with permission from Hey Paul Studios

An Etsy embroidery by Hey Paul Studios shows the complexity of the human brain.

For students with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or, ADHD, the experience of online school has presented them with frustration and draining challenges as they sit behind a screen. ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder, which means there are impairments in the growth and development of the brain. This means that when stimulants are taken for ADHD, the ADHD is still there, however it may be more dialed down since stimulants regulate it.

Stimulants help regulate the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine by supplying the brain with more of those neurochemicals to help with attention and concentration issues. “Your brain does not make enough dopamine or epinephrine—chemicals that are important for self-control and self-regulation. So students with ADHD can’t regulate their impulses, their attention, their emotions. They struggle with being disorganized and with time management,” Adiaha Spinks-Franklin, MD, MPH, FAAP said in an interview with edutopia.

I’m not faking anything, I was never taken to any diagnostic examination of any kind therefore I do not want to say I have anything- but I’m not faking any of ‘the symptoms’…”

— Shani Glassberg

Before the transition to online school, students with ADHD may have found it more difficult to focus due to distractions in the classroom, so they favored online learning specifically for the lack of those distractions. However, even though these students could focus better in online learning, it does not mean that this was the better option in terms of long-term learning and engagement including students with undiagnosed ADHD. “I’m not faking anything, I was never taken to any diagnostic examination of any kind therefore I do not want to say I have anything- but I’m not faking any of ‘the symptoms’, and people don’t get that sometimes, and forget that every diagnosed person was once undiagnosed,” sophomore Shani Glassberg said.

In person learning pushes students with ADHD to follow a structured schedule, which helps them by giving them steps to follow and organizes their plans. Part of an everyday structured schedule could be that during in person school, exercise is encouraged by walking between classes. “I feel that people need to understand that people with ADHD learn things at a different pace or through different forms, just because they don’t fall into the cookie cutter shape of MCPS curriculum doesn’t mean they can’t understand the material or that they’re bad at it,” senior Nimrod Ravin said.

Online school can be difficult for certain students with ADHD to focus on since it is more self guided, and ADHD can make it difficult to stay organized and on top of work. “Students with ADHD often need order to their day to be able to function their best. Different schedules and routines, whether at home or with school, can increase a child’s ADHD symptoms. These behaviors are often signs the child is under stress. Repeated stress can affect how a child develops and learns, focuses, and behaves,” according to healthychildren.org.

Exercise is recommended for students with ADHD, since it helps regulate and balance important neurochemicals in the brain, which is why when a person with ADHD exercises they may feel euphoric after. But when online school started, students would be sitting down for long periods of time and not take the time to exercise as much. “I don’t exercise everyday but I find that when I do I have a significant boost in productivity and an improved mood for the rest of the day,” sophomore Vishal Jain said.

Even though students sat for long intervals during in person school, that situation was different than the situation with online classes since students are not getting up to walk to each class. The small interval walks before classes actually helps students with ADHD since it gives the brain a little jolt of dopamine between classes, but in online school the various opportunities to walk aren’t acknowledged as a necessity since everything they need is on their screen. According to ADDitudemag, “People with executive dysfunction and/or ADHD commonly lack the ability to handle frustration, start and finish tasks, recall and follow multi-step directions, stay on track, self monitor, and balance tasks (like sports and academic demands). Remediating the area of deficit reduces academic or work difficulties.”