Journalist of the Year Portfolio

Labeled.

ADHD

You know who he is.

He’s more likely to look out the window than at the whiteboard.  He might blurt out in class. Fidget. Fight to stay focused.

He’ll usually finish his tests in a different period or classroom.

You know him as “the extra time kid.” The kid with ADHD. But what you don’t know is how he got this label.

How did he become “the extra time kid?”

Junior Ben Budner is one of the of the nearly 6.4 million kids who have been diagnosed with ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) in the United States, and according to Budner, there is a negative stigma that comes along with the diagnosis.

"There are kids who you just know have it and need it, because it seems like there is an 'extra time kid,'" Budner said. "I like to get away from that image, so when a teacher in the middle of class is like, 'you and you have extra time so you have to do things differently,' there is a negative feeling that comes along with that that I do not like.”

Could this stigma be preventing kids from getting diagnosed in the future?

Lower grades counselor Dr. Gabriela Reed thinks so.

“Parents can be hesitant to go down that path,”Reed said. “They worry that, ‘well if we actually get a formal diagnosis, will this diagnosis follow our child?’… It’s my job to educate them and say, ‘If this is really ADHD, that is a chemical, physical, biological, executive function issue. This is a real thing. It’s not a label that we just give people who are misbehaving or who aren’t paying attention, just because.” 

Reed tries to work with parents to encourage their children to get diagnosed.

“We try to educate parents but even though we do our best,” Reed said. “there is still that stigma that leads parents to think, ‘I don’t want my child to have that diagnosis.’ And then those students end up floundering because this place is hard, as you know. And if you have true ADHD, it can be really hard.”

This school is hard, and due to the increase in pressure that comes with high school, that’s when Director of Counseling Barbara Van Drie sees the symptoms of ADHD begin to spike up.

“As students get older,” Van Drie said, “it’s tasks like not getting a paper done in Curtis Smith’s ninth grade english class or the tenth grade family history paper or a research paper.  It’s difficulty with being able to initiate a big task like that. A student feels, ‘I can’t just sit in my chair and get started’ or ‘I have to wait until the last minute, until I have enough of a sense of urgency so I can initiate the task.’” 

Van Drie suggests that students with ADHD need a crisis to initiate to work. 

“And that’s a bit of what Inattentive ADHD is,” Van Drie said. “It’s an underaroused brain. It needs a little more ‘umph’ or sense of urgency to get started on a task.”

ADHD is not a one-size fits all type of psychiatric disorder. It comes in varying degrees of severity that designate the amount or even need for medication. Budner and Cotten are at polar opposite ends of this spectrum.

“I like having extra time,” Cotten said. “I don’t see it as a bad thing because I know I need it. I don’t feel rushed during tests and it lets me focus on the material in front of me instead of cramming in the amount of answers I need on the paper or worrying about exactly how much time I have left in the test.”

For Budner, the need for extra time varies and sometimes seems like too much.

“There were times during the ERBs where I would finish in half the time given to us for a section and would take a nap and wake up and there would still be time left in the section.” Budner said. “Kids would still be working till the very end. Part of this is probably because I was immature and didn’t take the questions as seriously as I should have, but sometimes I definitely felt that I didn’t need extra time.”

But to find the students with ADHD who have not been diagnosed yet, Reed stresses the importance of a strong counseling office at a school. 

Having two counselors on campus who have studied at the doctorate level, the diagnostic process for kids on campus is very involved.

“I think we do a really nice job here of doing things in a really systematic and scientific way,” Reed said. “which I think is important, and it helps parents feel better too that we have gotten to the right diagnosis.”

Being the counselor for grades one through seven, Reed is called to observe kids who may have ADHD several times a year. She’ll go to several of the student’s “environments” whether it be drama, recess or writing, and take detailed notes on his behavior.

“Generally pretty often I can walk in a room of 15 second graders and if there is a kid who is exhibiting some of those symptoms, it’s pretty easy to see,” Reed said. “I’ll watch to see how they interact with other kids, see if they are listening, are they able to stay in their seat, do they need instructions repeated? I’m looking for anything that stands out that would get in the way of their learning.”

For the older grades, Van Drie does not need to sit in on classes to observe students because with age comes the ability to “self-report.”

“On older students as well as younger students we gather teacher feedback, so teachers can provide input on what they observe,” Van Drie said. “This is a requirement of the assessment process. There are a lot of similarities in what we do, but in the Lower grades they would also be gathering information through direct observation in the classroom.”

On top of observation, Van Drie and Reed come to diagnoses through in-depth interviews with parents, student, and teachers. In addition, the two use a videogame-like computer screening test called the Conners Continuous Performance Test to help accurately diagnose ADHD.

By the time the two have used all of their tools, they can sit with the parents and tell them the results and make recommendations from there.

While Van Drie and Reed’s arduous screening process helps to manage all the cases of ADHD at the school, it ultimately comes down to the student. 

Students can struggle for years with ADHD without knowing it. They can dismiss it as stress, immaturity, or lack of ability, all without getting the help they really need — a diagnosis.

“I hate seeing someone present with Inattentive ADHD in 11th grade,” Van Drie said. ‘It’s too late. Because it’s not like the student is failing, it’s just that he is underachieving. He could have done better. What I tend to find in our students is their IQ is high, their achievement level is high, but their grades don’t reflect this because the process of doing school is more difficult for them. It’s the process of doing school that is hard. They have the innate ability.”