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Promoting Academic Resilience for Students with ADHD

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Emotions tend to be contagious. The emotion portrayed by an individual has the ability to influence the mood of another, regardless of whether that emotion is positive or negative. In an article discussing the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on the temperament of children, Dr. Alphonso Nichols, a clinician with a professional history of treating youth with ADHD, made the statement that anxiety is contagious, and it’s imperative for authority figures in a young person’s life to teach resilience.

Resilience is the ability to recover quickly and fully from setbacks, challenges, and difficulties. Students with ADHD can face frequent challenges and difficulties in academic settings, which can be countered by resilience. Congruent with the philosophy of Dr. Nichols, it’s important—as educators and parents—to create an environment where a student with ADHD is able and encouraged to build up their resilience while growing, learning, and making mistakes. Below are some ways to create this space for a student:

1.  Practice self-compassion and remind the student to do the same. 

In an article by the University of California, Berkeley on how to build resistance, self-compassion is defined as “confronting our own suffering with an attitude of warmth and kindness, without judgment.”2 For students with ADHD, frustration can build with increased work volume, difficulty of learning material, overwhelming extracurricular activities, and time pressures imposed by authority figures. Modeling self-compassion and allowing the student to do the same can prevent them from becoming critical of their perceived struggles and instead confront them constructively. This practice can be helpful to build resilience, as it may be easier to acknowledge the frustration and move forward when difficult situations arise. 

2.  Set realistic goals.

Many students feel they are asked to do more and more as their educational level, aptitude for a subject, and abilities progress. It can be intimidating, or even paralyzing, for a student to add more onto what already seems like a substantial workload. Therefore, it’s important to help the student verbalize and establish realistic goals for themselves so they can gain a sense of accomplishment for what they achieve, rather than self-criticism for what they haven’t (yet).

3.  Viewing mistakes as an opportunity for growth.

It’s easy to view mistakes (a missing homework assignment, an unsatisfactory test result, a letter sent home from a teacher, etc.) as a major setback or an attack on a student’s progress. Unfortunately, this can stymie motivation and future advancementThus, it’s paramount to create an environment at school and home where a student has the ability to learn from their mistakes and improve upon them. Learning from mistakes doesn’t necessarily have to yield extrinsic rewards (e.g. a better grade on a test, or points back on an assignment, ), but can rather encourage the gain of intrinsic rewards. A big part of succeeding in life is learning from mistakes, and it’s important to create an environment where the opportunity to practice this is provided.

4.  Practice mindfulness.

Mindfulness allows a student the opportunity to slow down and think through some of their struggles. It also prevents the formation of intrusive thoughts, and confronts those that already exist. These are benefits that may be especially helpful for students with ADHD, as it may allow them to work through their struggles with a different perspective and maintain a positive attitude while doing so. In a classroom setting, the act of allotting a few minutes at the beginning or end of a laborious lecture, intensive class period, or challenging test to relax and meditate may help students process what they’ve learned and develop a positive outlook if they haven’t one already. At home, encouraging meditation sessions could allow for mental breaks in between activities or difficult homework assignments.

5. Remain positive and find hope.

In his article, Dr. Nichols reminds us of the importance of maintaining hope through difficult periods.1 It can be challenging at times to remain hopeful and positive, though it’s incredibly important in order to build resilience and allow a student to continue onwards. Throughout challenging class periods, it can be helpful to remind students that “if you don’t understand this yet, that’s okay,” and during review of challenging homework assignments or tests, to remind students that “if you got this answer wrong, that doesn’t mean you’re not smart.” While to some students this is implied, getting questions wrong or being confused during a lesson that everyone else seems to understand can be incredibly disheartening for a student. Creating this reminder may embolden their self-confidence, encouraging them to correct their mistakes or dive deeper to better understand the source of their confusion. 

It’s important to promote resilience in an academic setting as it’s unlikely that anyone will progress through their academic career without facing setbacks. An old adage says that life is 10% what happens to a person, and 90% how they respond to it. Applying this philosophy to academia, both educators and parents may find it helpful to allow their students to build resilience through the difficulties they may face so that they can move past them and exceed their goals and expectations.

Recap:

Everyone processes setbacks differently, but one thing we have in common is that most of our lives are full of them. For students facing setbacks in the classroom, it’s important to provide space for them to build resilience. Here are a few ways that parents and educators can do this regularly:

1.  Practice self-compassion and remind the student to do the same.

2.  Set realistic goals. 

3.  Viewing mistakes as an opportunity for growth.

4.  Practice mindfulness.

5. Remain positive and find hope.

Sources:

  1. https://nextstep4adhd.com/anxiety-is-contagious-but-so-is-resiliency/
  2. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/five_science_backed_strategies_to_build_resilience