The ADHD and Gifted Learner in EMS Education

By Dan Limmer

I’m taking an online class in educational psychology. I’m a lifelong learner and I have always been fascinated with the topic. It is also beneficial for someone who teaches online frequently to see how another educator handles the online space.

My assignment this week was to compare two special needs learners and discuss the needs of these students as well as how these students co-exist in the same class. I chose two types of students I frequently see in the EMS setting: the student with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and the gifted learner.

Many people with ADHD are drawn to EMS. Moving from call to call with minimal assignments to prioritize in between is ideal for someone with ADHD. Excitement is good. I want to be clear that I mean no disrespect for the learner with ADHD. I share some of these conclusions from personal experience.

The gifted students in an EMS class are taking organic chemistry and calculus as part of their 19 credit semester and decide to add a 5 – 6 credit EMT course because it is fun and will look good on their med school application.

As assignments are designed to do, this made me think and come to some interesting conclusions. For example, combining both of these groups seems to be a recipe for creating emergency physicians and trauma surgeons.

Our student with ADHD may have learning challenges and potential behavior issues. They may also display creativity and passion far above other students. Our gifted students frequently sit in class bored because the PowerPoint lecture they are sitting through provides little more than they already read twice (and highlighted) in their textbook.

Could the strategies that help focus the ADHD student also help engage the gifted student? I think so. Here are some thoughts from my assignment:

  • Use learning methods which are more effective and beneficial to both groups. These include: Provide alternating patterns between lecture and more dynamic activities.
  • Include short, relevant video segments to break up long stretches of lecture.
  • Provide relevant and dynamic out-of-class learning opportunities such as short, insightful audios and videos. The length of the segments will benefit the ADHD student and this fits well into the flipped classroom model.
  • Use group activities. For example, a group may be given an assignment to create a video that recreates an EMS interaction with a cardiac patient. This would allow the student with ADHD to learn creatively and experientially while the gifted student will be able to learn in greater depth as he or she explores cardiac conditions in preparation for the video. This exercise not only engages both students but creates learning at higher cognitive levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. The exercise uses technology as a means to focus the ADHD student and creativity to play to the strengths of the ADHD student.

These strategies (often referred to as a “flipped” classroom) would create a classroom environment that would benefit all learners.

The ADHD student may benefit from strategies the gifted student wouldn’t or didn’t need, including:

  • If the EMT course were offered in a day and a night class, it might be beneficial to encourage the ADHD student to enroll in the day class when it may be easier for the student to focus.
  • The ADHD student may benefit from brief one-on-one sessions with an educator (or even the gifted student) for discussion and tutoring, which is personal and done in a less distracting environment. This will also give the gifted student an opportunity to use their knowledge in tutoring.

Finally, I am reminded of a basic principle that says we shouldn’t label students and make assumptions. We should play to the strengths of each student instead of focusing on the perceived weaknesses.

Learning is a good thing.