Why do Learners with ADD and ADHD Refuse to Go to School?

Image courtesy of stockphotos/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of stockphotos/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Learners with ADD and ADHD fight an uphill battle every day of his or her life. He or she is asked to go to a place that creates a difficult scenario five days a week and then expected to continue the work even after they come home. It may not be that the student doesn’t enjoy learning, it just becomes an overwhelming process. So instead of going back to the place that creates issues, he or she would rather avoid it.

Let’s think of this another way; imagine school is a large piece of food (let’s say a steak). You cannot just pick it up and eat it. You need to have a knife and fork to cut the food into smaller pieces. Many learners with ADD/ADHD will look at school like a big piece of food without any silverware and have no idea what to do. So instead of finding a way to eat, the learner would rather go hungry. He or she lacks the tools to manage the situation.

There’s a second layer to this whole thing. We then grade the individual’s performance based on letters. So when the letters aren’t up to a high-level, we immediately start to throw another twist in the lives of young learners. He or she will hear things like work harder, do better, stop wasting time, etc. It becomes a never-ending process of stress.

In my work with clients, I try to avoid using the word grades. That doesn’t mean these aren’t important, but it becomes another stressor in the learner with ADD/ADHD’s life. So instead, we discuss performance. Is a learner performing at his or her peak? Is there anything that he or she can do to better facilitate learning performance? Can we support learning performance away from school?

Now the last one becomes tricky. Because as we all know, people with ADD/ADHD can be manipulative (and I raise my hand). So there’s a difference between facilitating and enabling. We want to help learners perform better, but we don’t want to enable his or her efforts. That’s why grades become dangerous. Because we obviously want to see learners do well, but when grades become the benchmark of success, we want to help improve grades and ignore performance.

There’s a lot to digest here; but the most important thing to keep in mind is that when grades become the benchmark of success, learners will become overwhelmed to the whole process. Just working on improving performance and not making it about grades will ease the pressure and help a learner more comfortable with school.

For more information on my ADD, ADHD and Executive Functioning coaching, please visit www.adhdcoachchicago.com. To learn more information about some of the other services I provide, please visit www.carrolleducationalgroup.com and www.iepexperts.com. I can be found on Twitter at ADHDEFCoach. You can also find me on Facebook and Tumblr. My good friend and fellow ADD/ADHD Coach Tara McGillicuddy invites me as a regular guest on ADD/ADHD Support Talk Radio. Tara does many wonderful things and you should check out her website here. Feel free to email me at jonathan@adhdefcoach.com or call 773.888.ADHD (2343) with any additional questions.


  1. Thanks for another useful snippet. It’s a battle to get people to realize this. Why do we put so much emphasis on grades! I’m with you. It’s about ” having a go” doing YOUR best!

  2. Reblogged this on Carroll Educational Group.

  3. Gwen Haggis says:

    I love your plate of food analogy. I can relate to this feeling of overwhelm and not knowing how exactly to approach it some days. What a great way to visually describe this feeling to someone.

    I’m not sure about the comment that all of us with ADHD are manipulative. Sometimes it’s s lack of self awareness, executive functioning skills and coping skills that cause the avoidance. We also have to look at how the teachers are dealing with some of the ADHD behavior at school. It’s not always the ADHD child that is the issue.

    Write more! This was very helpful.

  4. Denise 1 says:

    One more question. Your article suggests not putting as much of a focus on grades, but on performance. I agree. I want my kids to have a love of learning. It’s hard to get excited about learning when things can be so hard and challenging.

    What do you suggest for a kid whose twice exceptional? In other words, if the kid doesn’t struggle academically because they’re gifted, but struggles with performance or executive function deficit and keeps getting negative feedback based on performance and not grades, what do you do then? Additionally, how do you keep a gifted child with ADHD motivated when all he or she sees and feels is their performance deficit?

    We’re there any particular tools or strategies you found helpful when you were in middle school? This seems to be the time when most kids with ADHD really start to struggle with organization and executive function. The demands and amount of work goes up and without appropriate strategies and supports, the kid becomes frustrated and his or her attitude goes down.


    • It goes back to the whole notion of grades not being the full indicator of academic success. Just because a student is getting good grades doesn’t mean he or she is performing well; or a student getting poor grades isn’t working to his or her ability levels. So let’s take grades completely out of this conversation.

      As far as motivation goes, it is not something you can coach, teach or make someone do. But you can certainly explain to this type of learner that he or she has a gift, and the more he or she doesn’t embrace it, the more it becomes underutilized. Now most kids with ADHD are three-to-four years less mature than his or her peers, so some of these performance concerns can be equated back to that issue. But when you keep being told “you’re not working up to your potential”, you eventually begin to believe it. That is why I never use that term with any of my clients. Everyone has potential, but very few of us have the ability. I’d love to play Major League Baseball. Potentially, I could do that. Ability wise, not a chance. Creating realistic expectations is the real key to helping a student better understand his or her abilities.

      Hope that helps!

      • Hi,This is very interesting. I am a pesorn sorrounded by family of taking all the food supplements, nutrients, natural nutrients, etc. I was in search of all the possible meds that can at least probably improve once mood and attitude. Mainly because of my sisters monthly problem of pms. She also has a very high temper, looking for at least something that could alleviate it, on top of that she has a problem with her posture.She purchased an ab mat and did situps to help out with her posture.Yoga was also very helpful, really helps long term effect.Some of my friends needed to hear it from the expert and they really got great advise.Anyway, love the article great eye opener for things you don’t really think about.Regards

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