5 Common Misinterpretations of ADHD Behavior

April 5, 2013

by Sandra Rief

Even when we are fully aware that a child/teen has ADHD – a neurobiological (brain-based) disorder, it is easy to misinterpret the behaviors we observe.  Here are 5 common behaviors of students with ADHD, the incorrect assumptions often made by teachers, and the reality of what is most likely the underlying cause(s) of these behaviors in students with ADHD:

    1. 1.Difficulty working independently. When teachers give an assignment for students to work on after instruction, and the child just sits there not doing the work, it is often interpreted as the student being lazy or apathetic.  This issue is more likely due to:

  1. 2.Doesn’t follow directions.  When teachers give a direction and a student with ADHD appears to ignore or disregard what is being asked, that may easily be viewed by the teacher as deliberate noncompliance.  Instead, this is often an issue related to:


  1. 3.Repeatedly making the same mistakes.  When a student continues to demonstrate the same problematic behaviors (e.g., classroom disruptions) over and over – even though those behaviors have resulted in the past with negative consequences, it is easy to assume the child is doing so deliberately.  Teachers often assume the child’s behaviors are willful, and not realize that these kids are “repeat offenders” in spite of the consequences because of:

  1. 4.Poor work production – accomplishing tasks.  Teachers can easily view this issue as laziness, goofing off,  lack of effort or caring about work.  Instead, this common problem (which is a hallmark characteristic of ADHD) is a result of a number of executive function weaknesses:


  1. 5.Being chronically late – missing deadlines/due dates.  Teachers often view students with these issues as being lazy and apathetic.  Instead, these issues for students with ADHD are direct results of:


Note:  I have a lot more information about this topic and a wide range of practical, effective strategies for helping with these behaviors in my books and other resources.

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