Essentials: What Really Drives ADHD Behaviour? Exploring The Science With Jeff Copper

Essentials: What Really Drives ADHD Behaviour? Exploring The Science With Jeff Copper

Listen now:


Have you ever felt puzzled by the challenges that students with ADHD face in the classroom or wondered why children with ADHD seem to struggle with tasks that others find simple?

In this week's episode of School Behaviour Secrets, we dive deep into the topic of ADHD with expert guest speaker - Jeff Copper. Discover the neuroscience behind ADHD behaviors, explore practical strategies for supporting ADHD learners and gain valuable insights to create a more inclusive learning environment.

Important links:

Click here to hear all of episode 60

Click here for episode 61

Visit Jeff's website here: Dig Coaching

Get our FREE SEND Behaviour Handbook:

Download other FREE behaviour resources for use in school:

Share this podcast with your friends:

Show notes / transcription

Simon Currigan

Have you ever wondered why children with ADHD seem to struggle with tasks that other kids find simple? Well, it's because their brains are wired for immediate rewards, making certain activities feel physically uncomfortable for them. In today's podcast, we shed light on the unique challenges faced by kids with ADHD and share valuable strategies for supporting them in the school environment. If you're interested in understanding how to support a child with ADHD in your class, then keep listening. Welcome to the School Behaviour Secrets podcast.

I'm your host, Simon Currigan. My co host is Emma Shackleton, and we're obsessed with helping teachers, school leaders, parents, and, of course, students when class room behaviour gets in the way of success. We're gonna share the tried and tested secrets to classroom management, behavioural special needs, whole school strategy, and more, all with the aim of helping your students reach their true potential. Plus, we'll be letting you eavesdrop on our conversations with thought leaders from around the world. So you'll get to hear the latest evidence based strategies before anyone else. This is the School Behaviour Secrets podcast. Hi there.

Simon Currigan here, and welcome to another essentials episode of School Behaviour Secrets where I share with you one important strategy or insight from an earlier episode that can have an impact for the students that you work with in your school or your classroom. In this essentials episode, I'm gonna share a section of an interview I had with Jeff Copper. Jeff is an ADHD coach, expert on attention issues, and founder of the DIG coaching practice. We join Jeff midway through our interview where he explains how ADHD affects a child's executive functioning skills. And if you find this episode interesting, please don't forget to subscribe and tell your friends and colleagues about the School Behaviour Secrets podcast. And now, here's my interview with Jeff.

Jeff Copper

People with ADHD have a very reward driven brain. It's really dopamine related. They want to feel good, and they want to feel good now. Not later, right now. To the point in time, if they are in an activity that is somewhat boring, it's physically uncomfortable for them. They'll do anything to escape it. Even if it's not something that they should do, it's it's good for them.

I like to talk about emotions as a reflexive reaction. When you're threatened with your life, you go to fight, flight, or freeze, and you don't think. And I'm emphasizing this because if you don't really acknowledge this, it's like going into the doctor's office when they hit your knee or when you're gonna fall, you instinctively reach for something to brace your fall. That's a reflexive instinct. And for our audience, you gotta understand this because it happens so fast. It's very difficult to control. So this ADHD crowd has a real difficulty.

They don't really have a lot of self awareness, which I'll come back to in a second. And emotionally, they have this reflexive action to feel really good right now, and they have a hard time restraining themselves. So I like to lump those 3 executive functions in one quadrant because that's the more primitive brain. That's the one that advertisers prey on. Right? It's all about giving you pleasure, escaping pain. The next 3 I like to lump together, that's the visual imagery, the self talk, and play with information towards a goal.

Loosely, when I gave you those 6 words, that's what you were doing. You were playing with information in your mind towards a goal. That is impaired for people with working memory. Let's simplify it. Thinking inside your head is more difficult for people with ADHD than neurotypicals. We know it's more difficult. If you take a look at all the tip tricks and strategies, it's all about externalizing thinking. Right? But I really wanna emphasize that thinking inside your head is a challenge for people with ADHD.

Now they are as smart as anybody else, but they need to think outside their head, not inside their head. So let me pause here for a second.

Just give you opportunity. Any questions so far? Is this making sense?

Simon Currigan

This is making perfect sense. And in my head, I'm imagining if you have difficulties with any of these areas, if you're a child in class and you're being asked to work in silence, say, I'm already thinking, if that child needs to work outside the head where they need to write something down or talk something through, they're already gonna have difficulties. So then the other part of their brain that's gonna light up is gonna say, I need to escape this pain.

Jeff Copper

Absolutely. Absolutely. Human beings, we make observations with our senses. And so we have a tendency to watch visible behaviour. Understand that visible behaviour is a symptom of cognitive behaviour.

Simon Currigan

Could you explain that a little bit, please?

Jeff Copper

In the world, everything that we do, we make observations with our senses. If it stimulates our senses, it's an observation. That's a tangible thing. If it doesn't stimulate our senses, it's an intangible. K? Okay. So light colour, if you will, is tangible.

It's intangible to a person blind at birth. They have no concept of what it is because they have no way of doing it. So everything we make observations are with our senses.

Simon Currigan


Jeff Copper

So when you are looking at some kid that is not doing what you want them to do, you see that they're not doing that and you're quick to emotionally say that person has a focus problem. Okay? Understand you're watching visible behaviour and you're making an observation on that behaviour. What's driving this cognitive behaviour? That's intangible. Can't see it, which is one of the things that I do. I gave you an opportunity to repeat 6 words back to me so I could put you in an experience.

You still can't see it, but you have a concept of what I'm talking about. Makes sense? Yep. Yep. So if we begin to understand what cognitive behaviour is and we begin to pay attention to that, we can actually begin to look at what the root cause of a problem is and problem solve for it. Let's just talk about some examples. When I gave you those 6 words, I asked you not to write them down because that would have been easy.

I also asked you not to repeat them. The reason for that is play is very important for children. That's where they actually practice and develop executive functioning. It's about planning and building stuff. Like, imagine you got a 3 year old in a room that's building something. Okay? And you and I outside the door just kinda eavesdropping, but the kid is in there.

It doesn't always happen, but it's not uncommon for that child to be talking out loud to themselves about what they're doing. They're not talking to you and me. They're talking to themselves. And there's reason they're saying it out loud is their working memory is impaired. So by saying it is making it tangible. That's developmentally normal. Somewhere between age 35, that public conversation moves inside their head.

It's still going on. It's called self talk.

Well, people with ADHD are not everybody. They struggle with that. So they talk a lot and they and actually told they talk too much and they begin to suppress it. Well, if you don't understand it from executive functioning, they're actually talking out loud, and to tell them not to talk is basically saying not to think. You begin to understand that they're, you know, they're talking out loud, and I coach a lot of people who they're not aware of it. They talk a lot. I'm like, did you notice that you're talking out loud?

And it's funny because I've done it with CEOs before where I pointed out in the very first call, and, like, you know, 4 minutes later, they go, well, let me talk out loud for a second. They go, and so did you see what you did? Like, what? They don't even know that they act like, you say I'm talking out loud. They have that self awareness of what they're doing, and now they're starting to manage it with intent. But if we don't understand executive behaviour and somebody talks a lot, we're apt to say you're talking too much. Go off and do your wrong. And that's the worst thing that you can do because you're basically saying, I want you to go think without the ability to think. Makes sense? Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. So one of the things that I talk about a lot is somebody with ADHD has gotta think about something.

There's 2 big things that run into the way. If there's ambiguity and they don't really know what to do or if they're trying to do too much with their working memory, they got all the pieces, they can't put it all together to see it. It is physically uncomfortable for them. It is too much mental effort, and all they wanna do is escape. Now when I gave you those six words, you said I'm nervous. That was a reflexive emotional reaction. So when they have too much going on, they have an emotional reaction to escape.

They wanna feel good right now, and they'll go to video games or social media or whatever. It looks like a focus issue. To sit there and say, just try harder is absolutely crazy. The issue is you gotta make thinking easier because that's what the root cause of the problem is. And I'm harping on this particularly with your crowd, because everybody wants a tip, trick, or strategy to deal with the symptomatic problems. And if you notice, it doesn't work. Most of the times, it doesn't work because you're not dealing with the fundamental.

And that's why it's so important to understand that. And that's why I think doctor Barclay's model is the most brilliant thing that ever come along with ADHD because in anything, whether it's physics, we have Newton's laws of motion. With electricity, we have Maxwell's equations. With evolution, we have Darwin's theory. You have to have some fundamental theory that explains it with repeatable observable patterns that make some sense, and that's why I like doctor Barclay's model. And the fact that he defined it with such precision, we can determine what is and what is not an executive function. Now we can begin to sit down and look at behavior and look at it through the lens of executive functioning and begin to understand compensatory strategy to make up for their working memory challenge.

So I'm gonna pause and see if you have any questions or comment.

Simon Currigan

No. This is making absolute sense. Let's bring it back to the child again, and we're asking them the class to work in silence, say. We've taken away that crutch. What I find really interesting then, and I've seen this personally over and over and over because in our role, we go into lots of classrooms. What I find really interesting then is this idea of this is actually causing me more pain. You've taken away the thing that I need.

You've taken away this crutch. And now instead of encouraging me to work quietly, what you've done is put me under more pain. Yes. And I've got this natural propensity to move away from pain as quickly as possible.

Jeff Copper

Absolutely. Yes. That's the cause and the effect. And this is a very complicated thing. And so if you understand the impact because it's really all about problem solving. And I like this and we're talking to teachers. Right? Yeah. Yeah. You know, the way I like to describe this is, you know, I hated word problems.

I don't know about you, but I hated it. Because what you have to do is like, just give me the equation. I but if you think about it, word problems is you gotta read a bunch of information. You gotta determine what the relevant and irrelevant variables are. Then you have to take variables and you have to align them in a way that you can solve the problem. In short, you have to derive the equation. And when it comes to ADHD, everybody just wants the equation.

I'm like, well, you it doesn't work like that because there's different situational variables. And you have a hard time really deriving the equation if you don't really understand executive functioning because you don't know what the variables are.

Simon Currigan

And every child with ADHD is an individual. Yeah? They're not all the same. They don't just come off a production line looking exactly the same like a cookie cutter shape.

Jeff Copper


Simon Currigan

And that was just a very small part of the interview I had with Jeff Copper back in 2022. If you wanna hear more, head back to episodes 60 and 61. Jeff shared so much good advice around adopting the right mindset and strategies for supporting kids with ADHD that we actually ran his interview across 2 podcast episodes. I'll put direct links to both and signpost you to Jeff's online resources in the episode description. If you found today's episode helpful, please do take a moment to rate and review us. It takes just 30 seconds. And when you do, it prompts the algorithm to recommend school behavior secrets to other listeners.

So let's spread the word and help this podcast grow reaching fellow teachers, school leaders, and parents across the globe. Thanks for tuning in, and I look forward to seeing you next time on School Behaviour Secrets.

(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)