ADHD labelling of kids can mask other problems: study

January 5, 2009

( -- Labelling children with learning and behavioural difficulties can be detrimental to the children in question as well as their teachers, research by a QUT graduate has found.

Dr Linda Graham, who recently received the AARE Award for Doctoral Research in Education, found that children who were labelled as having "ADHD-like" symptoms, for example, were at a disadvantage when it came to people's perceptions of them.

"I have been looking at the things we say and how that affects what we do, and I have looked at the files of students who were referred to special-schools for behaviour," she said.

She said her interest was in the pervasive nature of the discourses around ADHD.

"ADHD went from something which was relatively obscure in the early 1990s, which most people didn't know about unless they had a child with it, to all of a sudden becoming something everyone knows about," she said.

"It is especially problematic when children can end up with an "informal" diagnosis which becomes a kind of pop-culture explanation for why children behave in certain ways.

"I am not saying these behaviours are not real, but I am saying it is not good to use ADHD as a label to describe them, as it doesn't offer teachers and schools an adequate road map with how to proceed in helping a child through school - when a child walks in with a diagnosis of ADHD what does that really tell the teacher? Not much."

She cited the example of one boy who had speech problems and learning difficulties from the age of six and had been described numerous times by schools as having "ADHD-like behaviours".

"This phrase was used to describe everything about him with the use of words like impulsiveness and inattention and hyperactivity, which turned out to be a big problem because his first school, as well as subsequent schools, became fixated on this label informally diagnosing the boy.

"As it turned out, he did not have ADHD, but was speech and language-impaired, which would also give a good explanation to why he was explosive: if he was verbally challenged by another child he would be more likely to hit out.

"However, because of the red-herring effect of ADHD, this was misinterpreted as impulsivity with terrible, long-lasting consequences for the boy concerned."

She said she thought the labels were deceiving, but that people tended to think all the children with a particular diagnosis would be the same.

"An informal diagnosis is like a signpost, saying this child is likely to do certain things, and the more dominant these diagnoses become, the less inclined a teacher might be to work out individually what will work with these kids."

She said schools were becoming disempowered, and that the individualised and instinctive intuition which was used by teachers for years is being eroded, often to the detriment of children and the teachers themselves.

Provided by QUT

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2 / 5 (4) Jan 05, 2009
The fixation on diagnosing children's behaviors as a medical condition is foolish and harmful, just like many of the other behaviors this generation of parents inflict on their little ones. Don't cram pills into your son because he's spirited and energetic. Don't give into the temptation to chemically pacify your child so you don't have to put an effort into disciplining and punishing a child when he needs to be corrected. Don't allow the state to become the parent - you are the parent. If we allow federal health care into the USA, we will see an entire generation of chemically lobotomised children and the criminalization of independent parenting. The freedom to live, grow, and raise children without state interference is one of the most basic human rights, how sad that most people don't understand the danger state health care poses to this right.
2 / 5 (4) Jan 05, 2009
Three things.... one is that for most ADHD is actually TBS.... Typical Boy Syndrome... Characterized by the child having male anatomy.

Two... a lot of TBS can be mitigated (but not eliminated) by proper use of disciplinary techniques, some of which may not be PC (politically correct)

Third... and I wish I could find the article again... was that if teachers were informed that a child with ADHD was on medication for the disorder, even if the child was on NO medication, the teachers perception was that the child was now acting better in class.

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