Many countries are in a second lockdown right now. Even if most schools remain open and students may attend classes, experiences of the homeschooling phase are still present to many. We want to discuss the potential opportunities and risks of digital learning and teaching formats for children with AD(H)D.
In school, children are not only taught knowledge and skills such as reading and writing, but they also experience socialisation with peers, form social and communicative skills and develop personality traits outside the family environment. However, Covid-19 pandemic changes the everyday lives of many students. Homeschooling, digital learning and other concepts had to be implemented since March 2020 and are currently being reconsidered due to increasing infections and new lockdowns. Many parents, who, in addition to working in home office, also had to take over the teaching duties at home, would again be faced with a double burden. And teachers, for whom daily contact with children is important in assessing their development, lose important information modalities through digital formats. It is not easy for many children to arrange themselves with the new forms of learning. Experts warn in particular that children who do not find optimal learning conditions at home or are affected by diseases such as AD(H)D may lose connection in a digital setting.
AD(H)D refers to a disease mainly occurring in childhood with symptoms of inattention, impulsivity and possibly hyperactivity, which manifest across situations and cause suffering and emotional stress. AD(H)D is also associated with functional impairments, especially in school and education. International surveys estimate that about 5.3 % of children are affected by AD(H)D. Thus AD(H)D is one of the most common diseases in childhood and adolescence.
We talked to Stephan Kolbe, graduate psychologist and expert for AD(H)D about the risks and opportunities digital teaching and learning formats may offer for children with AD(H)D.
How do you rate digital learning formats specifically in relation to children with AD(H)D?
This is not easy to say at all and extremely depends on the severity of the symptoms in the individual. For children with a mild form of AD(H)D, a digital learning format is quite possible and can be meaningful and positive– under the conditions that applies to all children, namely that they are accompanied and supported at home. In this way, learning can also take place in a digital environment. Due to the lack of distraction in the classroom and the perception of one-to-one teaching situations, learning can even develop positively in this group.
However, if the AD(H)D is severe and possibly also a parent is affected by the disease – which is not uncommon as AD(H)D is known to have a high genetic prevalence (editor’s note) – then learning improvement will not be possible. This is often not because of learning itself, but in the organisation of the learning environment and in things such as punctuality in chats, organizing necessary materials, structuring the situation et cetera. This group is severely disadvantaged by the learning environment, which could be shaped differently in classroom teaching by pedagogical specialists. Here, stagnation or even a step backwards can be expected, as the fixed setting, the same sequence and necessary (learning) rituals cannot be maintained.
What is particularly challenging for children with AD(H)D at home schooling?
Children with AD(H)D lack support in homeschooling. They are confronted with a highly complex situation, which they often have to handle with little or even without help. Setting up the digital learning environment with the necessary materials already is a challenge for children with AD(H)D. On the one hand, many parents themselves are affected by AD(H)D or subclinical symptoms. I observe this in about 40-50% of the families I work with. In those, the necessary assistance in homeschooling cannot be provided.
What can parents do to support children with AD(H)D in homeschooling?
First of all the same steps are recommended as with healthy children.. Keep the daily structure and stay to a time schedule. Adopt and maintain rituals and processes. Encourage and support the child again and again. Accompany the child’s work and pay attention to regular breaks – especially for children with AD(H)D it is recommended from my experience to take 5 minute off every 20-35 minutes. If one as a parent is affected by AD(H)D, then one could possibly pass on this task to someone else within the family. I also recommend parents to talk to other families who also have children with AD(H)D: It is not only learning, which must be encouraged through family members in lockdown times, but also social development, playing and leisure activities must be organised within the home context.
Which other therapeutic options are recommended with AD(H)D from your experience and can also be implemented in times of pandemic?
From my experience parental training - a structured psycho-educative training - is the strongest and most sustainable element in therapy, precisely because AD(H)D is often inherited and therefore many parents – also unknowingly - have problems with lack of structuring, inattention or impulsive behavior, even if it is expressed differently than in the child’s behavior. Here self-knowledge is an important step in the therapy of the family and often very effective for the affected child.
In addition, neurofeedback is a highly recommended method. I and many colleagues were able to continue neurofeedback therapie even in times of pandemic, as necessary distances and hygiene can be well adhered to. With neurofeedback, children learn to better control and regulate their attention, concentration and impulsivity. Self-control can be increased and hyperactivity can significantly be reduced through this method. Because neurofeedback uses computer games as feedback, it is also fun and entertaining for children – when learning and therapy take place digitally, it is an advantage if they differ at least in their design. Neurofeedback is also a useful method for affected parents to gain better control of their own regulation and to provide the child with more structure.
Also, if possible for the child and in the situation, I can recommend structured concentration training and exercises to strengthen body feeling and perception. For optimal holistic therapeutic options, an extensive allergy test – as 50% of children with AD(H)D have strong allergies – can also be useful, accompanied by review of media use and nutrition.
Stephan Kolbe is a graduate psychologist and offers diagnostics and therapy in his “fit4school” practices in children with AD(H)S, LRS, high talent and dyscalculia and has been working with neurofeedback for many years. More about Stephan Kolbe can be found on his lecturer profile.
The interview was conducted by Jennifer Riederle, psychologist at BEE Medic.