Concerned about your child’s behavior at school? Think he might have ADHD? Looking for help from the school’s special education program? A new study reveals that when two groups of primary school children are matched in terms of identical behavioral issues, but one group is diagnosed with ADHD and the other is not, the kids with the ADHD diagnosis received lower behavioral ratings from teachers in fifth grade compared with similar children who were undiagnosed. An earlier study found the diagnosed children had worse reading scores in eighth grade than the undiagnosed. Both medicated and unmedicated children with mild forms of diagnosed ADHD had lower teacher ratings and reading scores than similar undiagnosed children.
I’ve warned teachers and parents for decades that adding an ADHD diagnosis to your child’s identity does little to help them, and may in fact make things worse (as these studies suggest). These studies don’t go as far as I do (I believe that we should stop using the ADHD diagnosis entirely), but they point out the real problems with having an ADHD diagnosis: kids feel like there’s something wrong with them, they lose ”cred’ with their peers, and they’re looked at as less able by their teachers and parents.
Jayanti Owens, who conducted the first study cited above, commented: ”Oftentimes educated parents from high social class backgrounds assume that more services for their kids are better than fewer services. And in those subset of instances, where it’s not a clear-cut diagnosis, this research is showing that the stigma of being labeled as ADHD can outweigh the benefits of the services.”
Even in instances where the ADHD symptoms are more severe, I believe that a concerted use of appropriate medications closely supervised by a responsible physician, coupled with the kinds of non-drug alternatives that I describe in my book The Myth of the ADHD Child, Revised Edition: 101 Ways to Improve Your Child’s Behavior and Attention Span Without Drugs, Labels, or Coercion, can do as much good as a similarly medicated child who undergoes the typical interventions used in schools (e.g. assignments are written out, student sits closer to the teacher’s desk, clear classroom rules and schedules, frequent feedback etc.). So if your child presents with ADHD symptoms, try other things first (including close home-school communication), because an ADHD diagnosis may be just another obstacle in your child’s/student’s pathway to success in school.
For more information on instructional strategies for ADHD-diagnosed students in school settings, see my book ADD/ADHD Alternatives in the Classroom
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