Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Stress and ADHD
That title may make you think of teacher stress as a result of kids having ADHD, however I'm really thinking about a comment Eric Jensen made at the 2017 ASCD conference in California. His session was filled with rich nuggets of information, more than I could process at once, so I'm thinking his newest book will contain most of the information he covered.
One particularly fascinating piece was about how the human body responds to stress. Chronic stress, the kind that comes from stressors occurring again and again (think about soldiers in a battle, or kids who are abused or beaten) creates not only physical changes to the brain due to high levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) but also behavioral changes. Kids will generally respond to stress one of two ways: 1) hyper-vigilance or 2) apathy. Kids will either “blow up” at very little provocation, or seem very unmotivated and as if they don't care. It brought to my mind the parents at high-poverty schools who can be extremely difficult to deal with, seemingly quick to anger and “go off” on the principal or teachers. Jensen explained that this hyper-vigilant behavior is an effort to control situations in a life that often seems out of control. If your world is crumbling around you, and it has been for a while, it makes sense that you do your best to take control the best (or only) way you know how.
But Jensen also made another provocative comment: this hyper-vigilance due to chronic stress can look like distractibility, impulsivity, and hyper-activity. In other words, it looks just like ADHD. How many of our poverty students are being diagnosed with ADHD (or being blamed for having untreated ADHD) when in reality they may be under chronic stress? Are we treating the wrong problem?
Eric has several recommendations for addressing student stress in schools:
1. Relationship building
2. Giving students more choice and control
3. Teach stronger coping skills
4. Learn to manage your own stress (as teachers)
Would we have fewer students with ADHD in high-poverty schools if we followed these recommendations? What are your thoughts? Add your comments below.