An article that recently caught my eye, on ADHD and motivation, was written by a guest blogger, Sherry Cramer, an Educational Therapist, and posted on Anne-Marie Morey’s ‘Bay Tree Blog’. Anne-Marie is also a North American educational specialist. She has a great blog and often posts interesting and useful articles and resources. I strongly recommend educators and parents to take a look at her ‘Bay Tree Blog’, http://www.baytreelearning.com/blog/
Difficulties regarding motivation and children and young people are common but there are some specific ways of thinking about this issue and tips and strategies for children with ADHD that can be helpful. Here is the link to the blog to read for yourself http://www.baytreelearning.com/blog/2016/09/06/motivation/
I am going to outline some of the main points and a few other things that I think are important on this topic below. All of the research references can be found in Sherry’s blog post.
Sherry begins by explaining that researchers have found two major circuits of connections in the brain that are implicated in motivational behaviour: the reward and executive circuit. Both, or at least one of these circuits, function differently in the brains of children and young people with ADHD. The reward circuit doesn’t receive enough dopamine to keep children with ADHD focused on their goals and thus they become distracted by their own desires and things around them. A smaller, and less active and mature executive circuit in children with ADHD means that they struggle with ‘executive-function’ based tasks that enable us to plan, organise, pay attention and manage our time. Sherry goes on to describe a variety of tools that help to set up the right environment, details some of the benefits and controversies surrounding medications, and suggests reading for behaviour modification strategies, self-management and building executive functioning skills.
With these difficulties in mind, it makes it easier to see why children with ADHD often find it harder to complete the tasks required of them. In addition to these underlying brain-based skill deficits, other factors such as level of interest (we all like certain things over others), complicated ‘hidden’ social rules, the consequences or rewards of doing something, and the fact that repeated failure of a task can raise anxiety and/or lower self-esteem, commonly influence motivation. Taking these and other factors into account can help to shift the perspective of ‘laziness’ to think about why the child or young person is avoiding the demands of the task. Take for example Jack (a fictional character with realistic difficulties). Jack is an 11-year-old boy living with his parents and sister at home in Shanghai. He has a diagnosis of ADHD and takes medication when he goes to school. Jack’s parents are concerned because he has always loved soccer and plays in a team with his friends at weekends. Lately though, Jack has been playing videogames more and says he ‘can’t be bothered’ to play soccer. When his parents do manage to get him out the door and on the way to soccer practice he moans about going and doesn’t put much effort into the game. Jack’s parents have been sensitive to his needs as a young person with ADHD but are unsure whether this behaviour is laziness or more related to the issues described above. What factors might be contributing to Jacks ‘demand-avoidance’? How do you think Jack’s parents could approach this situation? Is there anything Jack can do to help himself?
The last section of Sherry’s blog posts focuses on how parents and educators can plant the seeds for personal motivation to thrive, and the skills that they might need for nurturing this growth. I echo Sherry’s advice and encourage those that are interested to read the books that she has recommended: they are often books that I recommend in my clinical practice.