A Case Study Exploring the Daily Learning Environment Experiences of a High School Student with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Presented by: Julie Emminger

Schools today are educating approximately eight million students that have Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Twenty-five percent of these students will grown up and continue to struggle in higher education or in the workforce. As a result, twenty-two days of productivity will be lost each year due employees with ADHD affecting co-workers and employers. Early interventions in high school can positively influence these outcomes. However, only one study has empirically examined the effect of classrooms environments on students with ADHD. While, the study considered the perspectives of teachers, aides, and professionals—voices of the students were not included. Therefore, this single case study follows the daily life of a high school student with ADHD exploring the question: What physical attributes in the environment are perceived as having a negative or positive influence over the student’s learning experiences? At the center of this study is Ben. As early as first grade, his teachers frequently reported him having high energy levels and being easily distracted. While in middle school he was diagnosed with ADHD. Ben takes medication to help control the disorder and has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) to accommodate additional needs. His plan includes extra testing time and permission to do classwork in the school’s library. Yet, as found in the study his Research and clinical studies don’t live in the real world but Ben does. Furthermore, those with ADHD commonly experience temporal myopia where they exist only within the present situation. In other words, every moment can be significantly different where even the most trivial change can have a significant effect on future mindset and actions. To delve into these moment-to-moments, a web-based smartphone app, the Mobile Learning Environment Tool(MLET), was developed to enable Ben to quantitatively report his perceptions of his learning environments in his world in real time. Moreover, the app data was enriched through interviews, photographs, onsite observations, and cognitive maps. Ben’s perspectives was paired with views from his parent and a licensed school psychologist. Findings suggest that certain design elements such as furniture, noise, technology, and peripheral views impact the student’s daily school life. The presence of technology and noise in the classroom was found to be a significant distraction thus supporting current research. Two design patterns emerged; Boundary and Brain-space, which further elucidate subtle differences of environment perception and experience not fully examined in the literature. Boundary is pattern set designed to remove distractions from within the visual and audio fields without a complete separation from the classroom. The primary design principle is seating location and incorporates fixed or temporary screen and noise-cancelling headphones to diffuse distractions yet is still accessible by Furthermore, establishing Boundary affords the second design pattern set, Brain-space. Current research of ADHD behaviors indicates free movement can be beneficial. However, not only is physical movement needed but the environment should serve as a physical extension of their brain’s working memory. In other words, a student with ADHD needs much more physical workspace than typical students. The Brain-space pattern set includes using whiteboards, various seating, multiple desk spaces, and storage. Both pattern sets can be established with use of temporary or permanent equipment, providing feasible and scalable options for implementation in schools. These recommendations can additional provisions that enhance current individual educational plans. Use of the pattern sets may empower students, educators, and administrators with more choice and action ability. Most importantly, future research may show that implementing such elements may help foster self-advocacy among these students, as the environment is adaptable to their needs wi

References:

  • Barkley, R.A. (1997). Behavioral inhibition, sustained attention, and executive functions: constructing a unifying theory of ADHD. Psychological bulletin, 121(1), 65.
  • De Graaf, R et al., (2008). The prevalence and effects of adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) on the performance of workers: results from the WHO World Mental Health Survey Initiative. Occupational and environmental medicine, 65(12), 835-842.
  • American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. Washington, D.C: American Psychiatric Association.
  • DuPaul, G. J., & Stoner, G. (2014). ADHD in the schools: Assessment and intervention strategies. Guilford Publications.
  • Tufvesson, C. (2007). Concentration Difficulties in the School Environment-with focus on children with ADHD, Autism and Down's syndrome.
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