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Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) is a neurobiological disorder resulting from problems in the dopamine neurotransmitter systems in the brain. It is comprised of deficits in behavioral inhibition, sustained attention, and resistance to distraction, and the regulation of one's activity level to the demands of a situation (hyperactivity or restlessness).

Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder is characterized by symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. Students with AD/HD have difficulty with attending to details, sustaining attention, and following through on instructions. They will tend to avoid tasks that take significant amounts of time, have difficulty with social interactions and be easily distracted by extraneous stimuli.

The term 'attention deficit' is somewhat misleading as individuals with AD/HD actually have difficulty regulating attention rather than having a deficit in attention. Attention regulation is a process of monitoring the environment and making a decision whether to attend to particular stimuli or to ignore it.

Another aspect of AD/HD is hyperfocus where the individual locks onto another person or activity to the exclusion of everything else in the environment. Individuals with difficulty in attention regulation will also display inconsistent performance over tasks and may complete a more difficult task with ease but be unable to complete a less difficult task.

The hyperactivity aspect of the disorder involves difficulty in finishing tasks, sitting still for long periods, and a tendency to be impulsive especially in stressful situations when the student is feeling rushed to make a decision. Difficulty processing auditory information is often a characteristic of AD/HD

Observing Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder in the Classroom

Faculty might observe the following for students with AD/HD:

  • May seem easily distracted or have a hard time focusing on lectures
  • May have difficulty taking notes
  • May have problems completing tasks
  • Focus on areas of interest to the exclusion of other critical information
  • Have difficulty organizing information or following directions
  • Make inappropriate comments
  • Display widely varying performance


Related Functional Characteristics

Attentional Overfocus : Students with AD/HD may become focused on a particular activity or idea to the exclusion of all other information and have difficulty transitioning between activities.

Attentional Underfocus : Students with AD/HD may have difficulty maintaining concentration due to an inability to filter out extraneous thoughts or environmental stimuli.

Distracting Behavior : Due to impulsivity or restlessness, students with AD/HD may exhibit behaviors that distract others.

Fatigue (Cognitive) : Students with AD/HD experience cognitive fatigue because of the effort required to ignore distractions or resist impulsive behavior.

Impulsivity : Students with AD/HD may be inclined to act immediately sometimes without fully considering all options or consequences.

Inability to Comprehend Social Cues : Students with AD/HD have difficulty interpreting body language and voice inflection and may show little affect, fail to make eye contact, pace, or avoid contact altogether when stressed.

Restlessness (Physical) : Students with AD/HD may be hyperactive, causing them to shift in their seat, tap their hands or otherwise move when sitting for extended periods.

Sensory Distractibility : Students with AD/HD are frequently distracted by sights and sounds in their surroundings.

Time Management : The inability to sense the passage of time makes it difficult for students with AD/HD to plan their time effectively.

The Building Accepting Campus Communities (BACC) project was funded by the US Department of Education Office of Secondary Education grant #P333A080070-09. The University of Nebraska does not discriminate based on gender, age, disability, race, color, religion, marital status, veteran's status, national or ethnic origin, or sexual orientation.