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Impulse Control and ADHD

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Children with ADHD are often labeled as problem children. That can affect how well they perform in school, and also how welcome they feel in the school environment. Often kids with ADHD hate school because they get yelled at there and have a hard time understanding what their teachers are talking about. As special education teachers, it’s not our job to help parents decide to medicate or not medicate. However there are things we can do to make school life better for students with ADHD, and that’s working on their impulse control. Finding a way to pair ADHD and impulse control can take time, but it is worth it. 

Have you ever seen a kid run wild through the classroom? Get up for no reason? Or make a decision that just makes you go, why?

Chances are that the student probably had ADHD. 

ADHD or Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder is often caused by a combination of a lack of impulse control and poor executive functioning skills. 

Students with ADHD will often not understand what you’re talking about, get bored easily, and act impulsively. 

According to the latest findings children with ADHD eventually grow up and find a way to either cope with their ADHD or outgrow it. However, they still need to learn ways to cope with it in the here and now. There are things we as special education teachers can do to help ADHD and Impulse Control.

To learn more about ADHD take a look at this book, A New Understanding of ADHD in Children and Adults by Thomas E. Brown. (That’s an affiliate link.)

Funny story, once I was at a party with a student who had no impulse control. We had to stand next to the cake during a speech. The child’s hands went out, fingers tense. Visions flashed through my head. 

Cake falling to the ground. 

Icing on the dance floor. 

Then the tears. So many tears. 

If my student had impulse control I wouldn’t have had to worry. Impulse control is what keeps you from doing everything that pops into your head. Impulse control is what makes you hesitate before you do something, so you can consider if it’s a good idea. 

Signs students with ADHD don’t have good impulse control are wild crazed movements and not thinking through the consequences of their actions. 

It’s what keeps you from grabbing the cake during the speech and smashing it into your face. Since I couldn’t teach impulse control in the two seconds between the fingers going out and the smushing of the cake, I grabbed the student’s hands and held them down so tight. 

The photos looked hysterical. 

While I might have stopped the cake from hitting the floor, just grabbing my student’s hands was not a great long-term solution.

Teaching impulse control matters because then you don’t wind up having to hold a child back with a bear hug to keep them from destroying an expensive dessert. 

Having poor impulse control makes it difficult for your students to sit still and learn. Long term, they’ll fall behind academically, making it harder to stay on grade level and master new skills.

Also if they just do the first thing that pops into their heads, there are no chances for them to work on their executive functioning skills, which is another area of weakness for kids with ADHD that greatly impacts their academic performance and level of independence. 

Also, kids with ADHD and poor impulse control get punished and yelled at more often. Which in turn makes them hate school even more. Then they’re less inclined to do their work, and you can see where this is going. 

You have to teach impulse control because it impacts your students’ academic performance and school environment.

Teaching impulse control to students with ADHD is different than teaching it to kids with autism

For students with ADHD, you have to practice seeing stimuli and not responding to it right away. You want them to pause before taking an action. It’s in that pause they can think through what they’re about to do. 

Work with your student on slowing down. Prompt them to focus on doing things more slowly, and when they start to get more frustrated ask them to do the following.

  1. Pause.
  2. Think about what is happening.
  3. Consider your options.
  4. What are the consequences or potential outcomes of each one?
  5. Make a decision based on that. 

I know it sounds like a lot, but you don’t have to teach it all at once. It all starts with the pause. 

Practice going through the steps with your student in a controlled environment. In an uncontrolled environment just remind them to pause. 

Once they can do that consistently you can move on to the next step.

It takes time to teach impulse control, and it’s important to monitor your students’ progress as you teach it.

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