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Homeschooling and ADHD: An Interview with Dr. Steven Duvall

August 12–16, 2013   |   Vol. 116, Programs 56–60

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is a challenge for any student, whether he is homeschooled or attends a traditional school. But a new study shows that homeschooling can boost an ADHD child’s academic success. Dr. Steven Duvall, director of the School Psychology Training Program at Fort Hays State University in Kansas, shares the results of his study with host Mike Smith on this week’s Home School Heartbeat.

“Homeschools have some very important advantages that really help to develop the academic skills of students with ADHD.” — Dr. Steven Duvall

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ADHD is an increasingly common problem among our nation’s children. But what is ADHD, and what causes this condition? Mike Smith seeks an answer on today’s Home School Heartbeat .

Mike Smith: With us this week is Steven Duvall, director of the School Psychology Training Program at Fort Hays State University and author of a new study on ADHD comparing homeschool students with public school students. Thanks for joining us, Steve.

Dr. Steven Duvall: Thank you, Mike. It’s good to be here.

Mike: Steve, what is ADHD and what causes it?

Dr. Duvall: Well, Mike, ADHD, which is short for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, makes a person’s thoughts race from one thing to another. And this makes it difficult for a person to plan ahead, finish tasks, sit still, maintain focus, avoid distractions, and resist acting impulsively.

Concerning the causes, scientists don’t know for sure what the causes are, but they have found that the brain areas that control attention use less glucose, indicating that those parts of the brain are less active in a person who’s ADHD.

Mike: Steve, why study homeschoolers?

Dr. Duvall: Well, Mike, because the children have so much difficulty focusing on academic tasks and are so easily distracted, they’re difficult to teach. And because we estimate that there are at least 60,000 of them being educated at home, it was important to determine whether parents could teach them as effectively—or more effectively—than the public schools could teach them.

Mike: Well, thank you, Steve, for joining us. We look forward to hearing more about this study next time. And, I’m Mike Smith.

Mike Smith: My guest this week is Dr. Steven Duvall. Steven, what are the similarities and differences between homeschool and public schools?

Dr. Steven Duvall: Well, Mike, one important aspect that we looked at was each child’s instructional environment. And this included things like the types of tasks students were involved in and the ways students were grouped both physically and instructionally.

Concerning tasks, the public school students spent a lot more time listening to lecture. And that may sound impressive, but unfortunately, lecture makes students act as passive learners. Regarding physical arrangements, we found that both homeschool and public school students spent a lot of time studying in groups. But homeschoolers spent much more time working independently of others, so not only do homeschoolers have opportunities to develop skills involved in teamwork, for example, but home education may teach them to be less reliant on others to become problem solvers.

Mike: Well, what about the instructional group of homeschoolers?

Dr. Duvall: Well, Mike, there our most important finding was that the homeschool students with ADHD received more than six times as much one-on-one instruction as similarly-affected public school students.

Mike: This is great news, Steve. Listeners, join us next time as we continue our discussion of homeschooling and ADHD. And I’m Mike Smith.

Mike Smith: Steve, what did you discover about the methods used by homeschool parents when they taught their ADHD children?

Dr. Steven Duvall: Well, Mike, because the homeschool parents were not certified teachers, we wanted to find the differences and similarities in the way they taught students with ADHD compared to public school teachers who taught this same type of student. And the most notable differences involved teacher focus and teacher position. For example, the homeschool teachers were able to focus a lot more attention on the target students than were the public school teachers. The homeschool teachers also spent a lot more time located right beside the target students—and this enabled them to monitor the students’ work more closely, give more corrective feedback, and ensure the students’ inappropriate behaviors were kept under control.

Mike: Steve, were there similarities, though?

Dr. Duvall: Well, Mike, we monitored over a dozen teaching behaviors, such as the asking of academic questions, giving approval for correct responses, disapproval for inappropriate behavior—nonverbal prompts, for example—and even though these parents lacked teacher training, the parents and the public school teachers engaged in these teaching behaviors at very similar rates.

Mike: Well, that’s very encouraging, Steve. And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Mike Smith: Steve, how did you determine whether homeschool instruction was effective for ADHD children?

Dr. Steven Duvall: Well, first of all, Mike, we closely monitored the behaviors of homeschool students during instructional periods. And to provide a standard for comparison, we also observed the behavior of public school students with ADHD after matching them by race, family income, grades, sex, IQ, and academic functioning level. Most importantly, we measured the amount of time that each student was actively engaged in the curriculum. And by that we mean the amount of time that students spent reading, writing, and talking about the subject matter. Now this was important because the more a student is academically engaged, the more they’ll learn. But another thing we monitored closely was student-teacher ratios because typically, the lower the student-teacher ratio, the higher the academic engagement.

And Mike, we found that homeschool students with ADHD were academically engaged at least twice as often as a public school student, and this occurred at least in part because the student-teacher ratios were 10 times lower in homeschools.

Mike: Steve, that’s great news for homeschoolers. Listeners, join us next time as we continue our discussion of homeschooling and ADHD. I’m Mike Smith.

Mike Smith: We’ve been talking this week with Dr. Steven Duvall about whether homeschoolers with ADHD have an advantage over their public school counterparts. Steve, did your study find any other advantages for homeschooling?

Dr. Steven Duvall: Well, Mike, so far we’ve seen how homeschool and public school environments were shaped to provide instruction for students with ADHD. For example, we’ve seen how homeschools had advantages in much lower student-teacher ratios, a lot more one-on-one instruction, and parents who exhibited the same basic teaching behaviors as public school teachers. All these things led to higher levels of active academic engagement for homeschoolers, but most importantly, the higher levels of academic engagement allowed the homeschool students to achieve more in basic skill areas like, for example, reading and math. So overall it appears that homeschools have some very important advantages that really help to develop the academic skills of students with ADHD.

In conclusion, Mike, I’d say that we’ve found that homeschooling is an effective, powerful option for educating these students.

Mike: Steve, thank you for being with us this week—and especially, thank you for doing this study. And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Dr. Steven Duvall

Steven F. Duvall received his Ph.D. from the University of Kansas in developmental and child psychology. He is currently an assistant professor and director of the school psychology training program at Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas. Prior to his present position, Dr. Duvall served as a public school psychologist for 21 years. His research interests include homeschooling, reading achievement, and special education service delivery models.

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