ADHD and Stimulation-Seeking Behavior

ADHD and Stimulation-Seeking Behavior
Cross Country Education
August 22, 2022 05:20 AM (GMT-04:00)
Educator Resources

Why ADHD Brains Thrive on Stimulation and How Educators Can Help

Jumping from heights, climbing on furniture, rough-housing with others, running from adults, driving recklessly, gaming all night, spending countless hours on social media, overeating…

These are just some of the many risky behaviors children and teens with ADHD may find hard to resist, and thus, can lead to potentially dangerous behaviors as adults.

And there’s a biological reason individuals with ADHD favor risky behaviors: “ADHD brains crave stimulation,” writes Ellen Littman, Ph.D. In “Never Enough? Why ADHD Brains Crave Stimulation,” Littman outlines the neurochemical processes that explain tendencies toward taking risky behaviors and difficulties completing mundane or routine responsibilities (ADDitude Magazine).

Learning about these processes can help educational professionals understand behaviors, foster compassion and develop strategies to help children and teens with ADHD. Here, we’ll briefly look at some statistics on ADHD and risk, dive a bit deeper into Littman’s findings on the ADHD brain, and explore how educators can help kids with ADHD be safer, healthier and more successful.

ADHD and Risk: Sobering Statistics

Here’s why understanding ADHD-associated risk-taking is critical:

  • Individuals with ADHD show a propensity to engage in widespread risky behaviors (Journal of Attention Disorders)

  • Adolescents with ADHD have higher rates of moving violations, automobile crashes, alcohol- and drug-related crashes and suspensions (Pediatrics)

  • Children, teens and adults with ADHD are two times more likely to be injured (Journal of Injury and Violence Research)

  • ADHD is associated with higher mortality rates from unnatural causes, particularly accidents (Lancet)

Why Individuals with ADHD Take More Risks

In her article on why ADHD brains crave stimulation, Littman explains how the ADHD brain differs from the non-ADHD brain. For in-depth information, refer to the piece. In the meantime, here is a summary of the main points:

  • Non-ADHD brains can self-regulate, sustain focus and adapt to the internal and external stimuli of daily life. On the other hand, ADHD brains cannot adapt as easily, are motivated by optimal stimulation, and seek pleasurable reinforcement.
  • Individuals with ADHD are not consciously choosing to ignore external demands; internal motivators are simply more meaningful and release more dopamine.
  • Behaviors that increase dopamine levels are even more rewarding to ADHD brains.
  • ADHD brains do not produce as much dopamine as non-ADHD brains with ordinary activities; therefore, it is challenging to feel reward for completing routine activities.
  • Activities need more personal relevance (greater, repeated or more immediate rewards) to be meaningful for individuals with ADHD.
  • Individuals with ADHD tend to seek out intense experiences and find boredom very uncomfortable. They may create stimulation such as fidgeting, laughter, conflict or noise if none is available.
  • People with ADHD may pursue pleasurable rewards as a form of self-medication.
  • At times, individuals with ADHD may suddenly become overwhelmed by stimuli, over-aroused and hypersensitive. They may need to isolate, tune out and avoid group activities.

How to Help Children and Teens with ADHD

Strategies for Children and Teens with ADHD

To help students with ADHD who tend toward risk-taking and have trouble completing routine tasks:

  • Help students create personal, meaningful rewards for completing mundane tasks
  • Have students use a timer to complete tasks, creating a sense of urgency
  • Help students break up tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks
  • Help students break up tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks
  • Encourage students to take breaks if they feel overstimulated
  • Teach students about the specific hazards and possible outcomes of risky behaviors

Reducing Risk for Children and Teens with ADHD

The CDC publication on Protecting the Health of Children with ADHD features extensive resources to help prevent dangers, including:

  • Falls, burns, concussions, brain injuries, drowning and poisoning
  • Automobile accidents due to risky driving
  • Youth violence and delinquent behavior
  • Mood and mental disorders, including depression, anxiety and suicide
  • Bullying and being a victim of bullying
  • Use of tobacco and other high-risk substances
  • Obesity and being overweight
  • Cavities and tooth decay
  • Excessive screentime
  • Loss of sleep
  • ADHD medication side effects

Understanding how the ADHD brain works can help students with ADHD thrive – in school and beyond.

To learn where your specialized skills are needed most, see our exciting career opportunities for school psychologists, counselors, therapists and more across the nation!

Bookmark and Share