The start of a new school year is an exciting time as children are reunited with their friends, meet their new teachers, and prepare for the year ahead, but for children with ADHD, this excitement can be overshadowed by the strain of coping with the everyday challenges of school life. ADHD is one of the most common disorders diagnosed in childhood, with prevalence rates estimated at 5–10% among school-age children.
Children with ADHD present with a number of behavioural, social, and academic challenges, often lacking the very skills most valued within school settings, leading to experiences of frustration and failure. However, the importance of understanding the strengths and abilities of these children should not be underestimated, particularly in the school environment. This is the proposal from Climie and Mastoras (2015), who draw attention to the application of positive psychology to a population frequently portrayed in a negative light—children with ADHD.
Current assessments of children with ADHD look at core deficits to help identify solutions to social and behavioural difficulties. Though medication and behaviour management strategies have been shown to help reduce presenting difficulties, attempting to “fix” deficits directs the attention of parents, teachers and children to what’s going wrong rather than what’s going right. According to the strengths-based perspective, effective intervention must place equal importance on nurturing strengths and developing well-being, as well as remediating deficits.
A greater emphasis on what is going well for children with ADHD may allow teachers and parents to draw on an individual’s strengths and abilities to help improve and compensate for areas of difficulty. Identifying and building on the strengths, resources, and abilities of children with ADHD may help parents and teachers to see beyond frustrating behaviours and better support these children to develop positive coping strategies. These strategies may offer more holistic support, developing areas of strength, well-being and fostering resilience – leading to more positive classroom experiences for children with ADHD.
Strengths-based intervention practices for children with ADHD:
- Fostering positive relationships with school staff and using goal directed solitary play to buffer a child from the impact of peer rejection
- Incorporating a child’s interests into classroom activities to encourage focus, motivation, and perseverance
- Using group activities with a variety of roles that play on each child’s strengths to foster inclusivity
- Using enthusiastic teaching with active participation and novelty to maintain interest and focus
- Identifying and promoting promising friendships
- Creating helper roles in the school setting to promote self-worth and a sense of responsibility
Climie, E. A., Mastoras, S. M. (2015). ADHD in schools: Adopting a strengths-based perspective. Canadian Psychology, 56, 295-300