Monday, December 17, 2007

ADHD diagnosis: helpful or hurtful?

I had an interesting discussion about ADHD in my online work with some teachers and parents about whether or not a diagnosis is helpful or a hindrance to the learner.
The gist was, I had suggested that the diagnosis could be helpful because it explains some of the difficulties encountered by the learner, and relieves some of the guilt and shame they had been carrying. Because the problem is not a visible one, it is easy (and usual) to assume negative things about these individuals that aren't true. (They are troublemakers, they don't respect the teacher, they don't care about the work, they're stupid, they are not trying, they are lazy etc.) The person who believes these negative ideas with the most conviction, is the learner. When a person loses their homework, house key, wallet or important information frequently, it would be natural for them to wonder, "What's wrong with me?" And in the absence of an obvious answer, they fill in the blanks themselves with very harsh assumptions. The diagnosis also allows a sound treatment program to be undertaken under the guidance of a doctor. Despite many parents' reluctance to try medication, it remains one of the best treatment options available. In thinking about the ramifications of giving pharmaceuticals to children, we need to also examine the ramifications of not treating the problem; Plummeting self esteem, drug and alcohol abuse, failure in school and work, and trouble with the law. These are all well documented possible outcomes for sufferers of ADHD.

One of my correspondents proposed that if allowed to develop these organization skills in their own time and in a home-learning environment that was supportive, that perhaps this negative self image could be avoided. She felt that the label would not be necessary either. She believes that it is the school system that causes the need for a label- because the learner has to perform on someone else's schedule. This is an interesting idea, but my feeling is that it only postpones the inevitable.

Even a supportive home-learning environment can't delay the person needing or wanting a part-time job, or needing to keep commitments with friends, or professional appointments.

While children with ADHD mature later and definitely need more support than there peers in managing their time, their schedules, their relationships- we do them a disservice, in my opinion, in not being honest and accurate about what the learner is dealing with. Facing the truth is better than ignoring it.


elona said...

I have found that some kids who are diagnosed as having ADHD do not come from supportive homes and do not learn organization skills in their own time. Some kids learn to cope by asking others for help when their organization skills are weak.

As a classroom teacher, I have learned to be organized for my students by having paper, pencils, pens, etc available for kids who need them. I gave up fighting this battle and moved on. I found too much of my time and energy was being wasted on getting upset because some kids arrived unprepared. I don't want to set a negative tone at the beginning of my class- what's the point of that!

Kathy said...

I like your willingness to be organized for the students until they can do for themselves. (which may not be until adulthood and beyond!)
At the Calgary Academy, the whole school is organized to assist learners with poor organization as it is a private school for children with learning disabilities.
Each class in every grade uses red binders for language arts or English, Blue for math, Black for Science and Green for Social Studies, for example. The binders are not kept in their desks, but on a labeled shelf and are distributed and collected daily. Each desk has a basket at the back of the seat with full pencil kits, and every period they are monitored.
The organization extends to the teachers as well. The are not to leave at the end of the day until a detailed lesson plan for each period of the next day is sent to the principal. Marking is to be done at the end of the day, and set back on students' desks open to corrections pages for the students to attend to first thing the next morning.
I spoke with teachers there and they said it was both the toughest teaching assignment they had every had, but also the best and most rewarding.
You may want to visit their website, or their teacher development wing,

I actually work in partnership with the Calgary Academy- they supported me when I started Planet Literacy. The school is an amazing place. If you are ever in Calgary I highly recommend you go for a visit.