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Intricacies of Adolescent Motivation is Complicated by ADHD

Intricacies of Adolescent Motivation is Complicated by ADHD

By Nancy Rowland as seen in Piedmont Post

Rewarding tasks motivate us; however, in school students are faced everyday with tasks that are not intrinsically rewarding but still need to be done. To do this requires effort — and effort requires motivation. Research shows that effort requires the activation of executive functions (e.g. initiating, planning, and sustaining attention).

Attention-deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is associated with dysfunction in the areas of the brain that control executive functions, which results in those with ADHD having a stronger gravitational pull towards a type of cognitive resting state that increases daydreaming or for the mind to be engaged in another task. As a result, for a student to escape from this resting state requires more effort than is typical to shift attention to the task at hand. In other words, a student with ADHD requires more motivation to accomplish tasks that are not intrinsically rewarding such as homework.

Many ADHD-related behaviors such as procrastination, inattention, poor planning, and unfinished work are the result of this need for increased motivation being unfulfilled. By recognizing this brain function, the student can be supported Intricacies of adolescent motivation is complicated by ADHD by being given stronger incentives, immediate rewards,  and frequent reinforcement to learn optimally. In addition, children with ADHD who are struggling with their ability to accomplish tasks that lack inherent rewards will benefit from prompts and cues redirecting their attention, being asked to repeat back multi-step instructions before starting a task, and having a safe environment to ask for directions to be repeated. They also benefit from interventions such as hands-on and arts-integrated lessons that naturally boost the reward (dopamine) systems in the brain.

Excitingly, due to the developmental elasticity of the brain, these types of appropriate support and strategies taught by understanding teachers can actually serve to rewire the brain to develop more efficient networks and lead to positive outcomes for those with ADHD.

Nancy Rowland is the Head of School at Orinda Academy, an intentionally small independent high school that supports students who think and learn differently. She can be reached at