Beware of finding ADHD everywhere
19 August 2008
A group of leading education academics has warned the number of schoolchildren labelled with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder will increase exponentially if new guidelines are accepted.
Dr Linda Graham, a senior researcher in the Faculty of Education and Social Work at Sydney University, has warned that proposals to train teachers to watch out for ADHD will lead to excessive diagnosis and draw funding away from students with more serious disabilities.
Dr Graham is the lead signatory on letters sent to the federal health and education ministers and signed by sixteen leading researchers, including Professor Derrick Armstrong, Professor Tony Vinson and Professor Trevor Parmenter (all from the University of Sydney), Professor Suzanne Carrington from Queensland University of Technology, Professor Dennis Moore from Monash University and others.
The letters warn against draft guidelines from The Royal Australian College of Physicians (RACP) which recommend training teachers to look for evidence of ADHD in students.
Dr Graham and her colleague say that such an approach would encourage teachers "to act as proxy-diagnosticians by looking for evidence of particular deficits, perhaps missing vital signs which may indicate other difficulties at home or with learning."
They add: "children with learning difficulties and poor social skills will be diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder that may remain with them for the rest of their lives."
They also criticise the RACP's recommendation to link ADHD diagnosis to extra funding, arguing that this will only encourage over-diagnosis of ADHD by schools in a bid to gain additional money.
They cite schools in the US where diagnosis of health impairments grew by 600 per cent in one decade after schools were able to receive funding for ADHD-diagnosed students.
"If Australia were to follow the RACP's recommendation to include ADHD as a disability category eligible for additional support funding, special education budgets for all Australian educational jurisdictions would skyrocket.
"Schools and educational systems will not be able to cope with the demand and as such, each additional 'supported' child will receive less…
"In the end, children with significant disabilities (cerebral palsy, autism, intellectual impairment) will not receive the support they require and the segregation of students with high-support needs will continue to increase."
Dr Graham and her colleagues argue that a "more educationally and fiscally responsible approach would be to provide targeted funding for which individual schools and teachers could apply to support their access to professional development in the area of inclusive educational practice."
They also argue that equipping teachers to "teach in increasingly diverse classrooms is sustainable - training them in an ad hoc manner on what to do in response to an individual diagnosis is not."
Contact: Kath Kenny
Phone: 02 9351 2261 or 0434 606 100