Towards an ADD/ADHD Friendly Education: Introduction

(I am often asked by parents and teachers about the best techniques and methods for an ‘ADD/ADHD Friendly’ education. My articles over the next few weeks will therefore focus on this subject. If you are not a teacher it does not mean that these articles are not for you. The principles that I will be sharing will draw upon years of experience of dealing with parents and children that are coping with ADD/ADHD and will work in many different circumstances. They can therefore also be applied to homeschooling situations and to the general home environment.)
It is the moment that every teacher dreads the most… You have done everything you could to prepare for this class. You made sure that everything you are about to say is engaging, that it will challenge students at different levels of ability, that it will achieve clear pedagogical goals…the whole nine yards. Yet one disruptive student is about to make all your hard work go up in smoke! It might be that some of the thoughts that run through your mind in times like these are not exactly fit for publication but I’m sure that the gist of what you are thinking almost always comes down to one thing: If only I can get him/her to sit still, pay attention and cooperate.
Thinking along these lines is only natural! You would, in fact, be almost superhuman if you are not possessed with an almost overwhelming desire to want to make things better – both for the child that is being ‘difficult’ and also for the rest of the class who are being disadvantaged by his/her behavior. It is, also, only natural to think that some of the children in your care might be dealing with ADD/ADHD and would therefore greatly benefit from diagnosis and treatment.
I have worked with parents of children affected by ADD/ADHD for long enough to recognize a typical chain of progression from the suspicion of ADD/ADHD to eventual treatment (through medication in the vast majority of cases). My purpose in sharing these thoughts on an ‘ADD/ADHD Friendly’ education is to help you as a teacher to avoid the last link of this chain – namely the administering of powerful (and very dangerous) psycho stimulant medication. I am convinced that ‘treatments’ offered by ‘big Pharma’ are really only beneficial to one group in society namely the pharmaceutical companies themselves. I will explain next week why I believe this to be the case. Suffice it to say for the moment that any approach to ADD/ADHD in the classroom that can avoid medication will be good both for the teacher and his/her charges. My purpose with the articles that I will post here over the next few weeks is to share some pointers on how such an education could be achieved.
One important principle that should be noted before we continue is that you should work very hard to resist the temptation to make an ADD/ADHD diagnosis yourself. ADD/ADHD is a very complex condition that is not, even after years of research, fully understood. Its diagnosis should therefore be left to those who have been properly trained to ‘make the call’. Applied to the classroom this means that we should recognize that there can be many reasons why a child might be distracted, disruptive, unfocussed or ‘dreamy’. ADD/ADHD is just one possible explanation! To almost instinctively label every ‘difficult’ child as having ADD/ADHD is therefore not only unfair but also potentially very dangerous (in the sense that serious underlying conditions can be missed due to a rushed and inaccurate ADD/ADHD diagnosis). I would therefore like to make a heartfelt appeal to you to make sure that you investigate all alternatives before referring a child to be tested for ADD/ADHD.
While we are on the subject of referring students it might be good to also touch on this very sensitive subject. It is, sadly, the case that many medical professionals can be ‘relied upon’ to come up with an ADD/ADHD diagnosis almost every time that a disruptive child is brought before them. This can be seen in the fact that some pediatricians maintain prescription rates (for ADD/ADHD drugs) that are, in some cases, several times the national average. I am sure that you will agree with me that sending a child to a professional where he/she is almost guaranteed to be diagnosed with ADD/ADHD does not serve his/her best interests and that it could possibly lead to serious problems down the line as this child is needlessly medicated with dangerous drugs. Bottom line: Resist, as far as possible, the temptation to refer a child straight away and, if you do decide to refer, please refer to a professional who can be trusted to take a holistic approach and who will pursue other avenues of investigation besides ADD/ADHD.
Why is all of this important? Simply because I believe that the dangerous medication of an entire generation (a result of sky-high diagnosis rates), is dangerous and actively harmful to the education system (and therefore by extension to you). I will explain next week why I am making this very bold claim. See you then!