Teaching beyond the label

Year: 2012

Author: Dillon, Anthony, Craven, Rhonda

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Background - The scientific status of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most contentious issues in child and mental health research. An area where these polarised views significantly impact, is the learning experiences of the child. The concern is raised that presenting ADHD as a medical condition (without scientific evidence to back the claim) is potentially disempowering for parents and teachers. Further, acceptance of a diagnositc label to describe a child's behaviour can change the expectations parents and educators have of the child in educational settings. Aims - This paper explores how a descriptive daignostic label like ADHD can change how educators approach children who display problematic behviours. The aim is to inform educators of potential problems if diagnositc labels are too readily applied as a means for explaining problematic behaviour. Significance - The pressure currently placed on children (and their schools) to perform and succeed at increasingly high levels means that educators are faced with new challenges and problems. While a medical problem is always a possibility for explaining a child's aberrant behaviour, other considerations (such as different learning styles, anxiety, etc.) should be considered to ensure children receive the best care and learning experiences. Method - A qualitative approach (structured interviews) was used to gather the opinions and experiences of parents, school counsellors, and paediatricians (a total of 22 interviews). For each research question, contrasting views, consistent patterns, and emerging themes were identified by two coders reading through each transcript. The transcribed data were manually coded using content categories developed utilising an emic approach (i.e., a contextualised approach to reveal the theories and perspectives of the participants) and the key dimensions identified. Results - It is clear that teaching or parenting a child with ADHD has challenges. Educators have to carefully balance up what is best for the child, what is best for the other children in the class, the parents' wishes, school policies, and their own personal beliefs and philosophy of education and learning. However, by demonstrating that the problem is not within the child's brain, but is psychosocial in nature, or at least significantly influenced by the psychosocial environment, teachers can be empowered to implement a more effective set of teaching strategies.