Screen time doesn’t cause ADHD – teachers need to reframe their understanding

Screen-time and ADHD

By: Dr Karl Sebire – Advisory ADHD Australia Board Member, Director of Research & Practice at Mentone Girls’ Grammar, sessional lecturer at University of Melbourne, Faculty of Education.

In exploring my PhD research ‘Learning in the Age of Distraction’ that focuses on adolescent attention spans and in my work as an educator, I regularly come across misconceptions about ADHD.

In today’s ‘attention economy’, there are so many devices, apps and notifications that are competing for and pulling away our focus. This can impact the ability for adults, adolescents and children alike to get back on track and return to the task at hand.

But we must not conflate this experience or create a correlation of screen time with ADHD, a neurodevelopmental disorder that impacts executive functioning.

The challenges of ADHD go far beyond the pinging of messages or the endless scrolling that can tie a person to their device for an inordinate amount of time.

ADHD students are trying their hardest while fighting an internal battle to stay focused in the classroom, complete their homework and keep up with their peers.

Pervasive myths dismiss the real challenges facing students, such as labeling ADHD as ‘an excuse for bad behaviour’. This creates a barrier for ADHD students to access the right supports and structures they need to learn and achieve.

In 2010, psychiatrist Michael S. Jellinek estimated that ADHD children receive 20,000 more negative messages about their behaviour than a neurotypical child by age 12. This regular criticism can have a profound effect on their learning and development.

To support your ADHD learners, teachers can start by reframing how they see students’ behaviour to better understand them:

  • interpret forgetfulness as them being deeply engrossed in their personal thoughts
  • view distractibility as heightened sensitivity and perceptiveness
  • consider the tendency to veer off-topic as an expression of creativity and autonomy
  • see interruptions as demonstrating their eagerness to participate
  • perceive a student’s seeming self-centeredness as dedication to achieving their goals
  • see a student’s restlessness as a sign of energy and enthusiasm
  • if they submit untidy or late homework, you can appreciate the effort they made despite their challenges.

Teachers can foster positive behaviours by celebrating their ADHD students’ achievements and contributions, while looking past their ‘less desirable’ behaviours.

I understand that teaching is an increasingly challenging profession. Teachers need to keep the focus of a room full of learners with diverse needs. It is no mean feat.

That is why professional development training is essential to equip teachers with a toolkit of strategies, interventions, and skills to meet the needs of their ADHD students.

For example, OnLineTraining Australia provide evidence-based training courses for schools and individual education professionals to improve learning outcomes for students with ADHD, Autism, Dyslexia and other disability needs.

By upskilling our teachers who are charged with educating the next generation, we can ensure classrooms are dynamic and safe space that address the needs of all students.