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Black Youth, Behavior & the Hyper-Diagnosis of ADHD

I work at the Chicago House and Social Service Agency as an intern for my masters. At this placement I teach students that have been impacted by poverty, HIV/AIDS, an educational crisis and other systemic issues. I have been notified that in this environment many of the students have been diagnosed with learning, behavioral, and emotional disorders. And the majority of them have particularly been diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder). Many questions surface when working in this agency. Questions like: Are there any other solutions to the symptoms of ADHD that can be enacted without the use of medication?  What is the balance between biology and environment when locating the cause attention deficient and hyperactivity? And finally, are attention deficient and hyperactivity ever confused for what is natural in cognitive and psychological development? These questions will be examined throughout this paper and an evidenced based practice will be offered as a possible method to decrease the high rates in ADHD diagnosis among young black impoverished males.

Over the past decade there has been a steady increase of youth diagnosed with ADHD. Five years ago there were a total of 4.5 million children between the ages of five and seventeen that were diagnosed. There are racial, class and gender implications that are related to these increases. It has been that boys in general are diagnosed with ADHD almost twice as often as girls, regardless of race. However, black males are diagnosed more often than any other race or gender. With the frequency of ADHD occurring, a distinctive vulnerability has been found among the population of black adolescent males who are living in poverty. This vulnerability has implications for behaviors that occur in schools and in communities that more often have family systems that are under an exorbitant amount of stress. ADHD in my particular case has realistic implications of two things: disruptive mannerism and the inability to complete task in a timely manner.

Behavioral interventions have been used to reduce negative behaviors, increase positive behaviors and facilitate moderation concerning the social interactions among youth. The particular behavior intervention that will be highlighted in this paper is the behavior chart. At my placement I was instructed to implement a behavior chart to a six-year-old boy that has displayed many ADHD symptoms. The chart, which was created specifically for him, has three daily goals.

The goals are geared towards various difficulties he was having while in school and outside of school, when he gets tutored for his homework. The first goal is for him to always “listen to the tutor” who is assisting him with his homework. The second goal is for him “not to give up.” This is particularly important because in the past when the student was not able to grasp an academic concept he would become angry, disruptive and often throw the homework on the floor. The final goal on the behavior chart is for him to stay seated while doing homework. The young boy is now in first grade and growing up he was been rarely expected to stay seated before entering a school environment.

Over the past few months the chart has proved to act as a positive reinforcement for this young boy. His behaviors have drastically changed and he now consistently gets prizes and snacks for completing his daily goals. In the Wright and Gurman article titled Positive Intervention for Serious Behavior Problems, they argue that a system can be created that involves the values of “consistency, predictability, structure, appropriate expectations and positive reinforcement.”  They contend that these five principles can be used as a mechanism for behavior management. There are also collateral benefits to this behavioral intervention that go beyond helping youth to counteract ADHD symptoms (things like lack of concentration and excessive disruptions). Other benefits that come from this particular behavioral intervention is the student gaining a sense of security “when environments are consistent, predictable, and expectations are clearly defined.”

All of these principles can be illustrated and reinforced through the use of a behavior chart. These charts have several utilities and can be adapted. They are generally used to remind the child what the rules and expected behaviors are. They also provide a simplified behavioral logging benefit for parents and teachers. Finally, Behavioral Charts are successful because they provide “concrete feedback and reinforcement to students.” This is especially important when taking into consideration developmental issues that young black males might encounter both psychologically and environmentally.


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