Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Definition of ADHD

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  1. 0:05 Understanding ADHD
  2. 0:36 Common Characteristics of ADHD
  3. 2:17 Teaching Strategies
  4. 3:38 Lesson Summary
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Taught by

Valerie Houghton, Ph.D.

Valerie holds a Ph.D. in Health Psychology.

This lesson explores common characteristics of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as well as the best practices for teaching learners with this disorder.

Understanding ADHD

What does Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian in history, have in common with President Bill Clinton and the actor Justin Timberlake? That's right; they all were diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, also known as the DSM, ADHD is both a psychiatric and neurobehavioral disorder. This disorder is characterized by significant difficulties with inattention, hyperactivity, and/or impulsiveness.

Common Characteristics of ADHD

Both boys and girls can have ADHD, although it is three times more common in boys. The characteristics of ADHD vary from child to child, but the three most consistent characteristics are inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity .

Not all children with ADHD display each of these three aspects nor do they have the same degree of each.

Varying degrees of ADHD characteristics
ADHD Characteristics Spectrum Illustration

For example, an ADHD student could show signs of inattention and impulsivity while not being hyperactive. Let's take a look at the specifics of each of these three characteristics.


You see a student in your class who is sitting quietly at his or her desk - seems like a dream student. However, upon closer examination, this student hasn't even started his or her assignment. The student doesn't seem to be aware that he or she is supposed to be working on something. This student has not been paying attention - that is, this student is displaying the characteristic of inattention. That is because ADHD causes the student to be easily distracted. Students with ADHD will find it extremely difficult to stay on task and may find it nearly impossible to complete their work if the work is boring to them.


Students with hyperactivity are easy to spot because they are always moving. For example, these students are often unable to sit still for any length of time. When they are sitting in their desks, they are often wiggling and fidgeting incessantly. They would prefer to run as opposed to walking and prefer to play loudly rather than quietly.


If a student with ADHD has a tendency towards impulsivity, he or she may seem very impatient. Impulsive students find it difficult to wait their turn and often interrupt others.

Teaching: Academic Instruction

Teaching students with ADHD has been proven to be successful by using a three-pronged strategy. The first strategy is academic instruction. Academic instruction means using all methods of assessment available to determine the best way to reach a particular student. For example, a learning style assessment can be used to determine that a student's strengths are in the kinesthetic realm.

Assessing student strengths is an academic instruction strategy.
ADHD Teaching Academic Instruction

This means that you could tailor this student's educational plan to emphasize his or her physical and athletic abilities.

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