“We have had some wonderful teachers, but we have also had a few who seem to minimize or misunderstand ADHD. They resist putting informal accommodations in place to help our child. Why are they so dismissive of ADHD?”
ADHD symptoms are often misunderstood. Sometimes the problematic behaviors are viewed as willful and intentional. If your child's teachers don’t have accurate information about ADHD, they may not recognize that these behaviors result from an impairment. In these situations they may feel that the child is choosing to purposefully misbehave.
Terry Illes, PhD, is a school psychologist and national ADHD expert who specializes in the treatment of children with ADHD. He has written two manuals on the home management and school management of ADHD and describes two sets of assumptions that teachers (and other adults) may use to understand kids with academic or behavioral problems – The Behavioral and the Academic Models of Disability.
The Behavioral Model
In the Behavioral Model the adult observes the problem and attributes it to a voluntary, deliberate action. As a result the response from the adult will be frustration, disappointment or anger. The strategy will be to eliminate the child’s “bad” behavior. This model assumes that the child is the one who must do all the changing from the get-go. The idea of restructuring or modifying a child’s environment does not come into play.
Dr. Illes explains further; “The focus will be on stopping a behavior rather than on teaching new skills, the change will be rapid and negative consequences – or punishment – will be used to encourage this change. Thus, there is no need to make special accommodations for the child with ADHD.”
The Academic Model
In contrast, in the Academic Model there is an understanding that the child’s difficulties are related to a learning issue that has an underlying neurological cause. The child’s problems are viewed more clearly as struggles and impairments that are not under the total control of the child. When these impairments are recognized, teachers (and other adults) are more likely to react with proactive strategies and accommodations to help the child develop coping techniques to minimize deficits. Also, with the Academic Model there tends to be more empathy rather than frustration or anger associated with the behavioral problems. And there is more deliberate effort to teach the child new skills to replace the inappropriate ones.
“The teacher intuitively understands that the student would prefer to be as academically successful as other students. And this insight directs the teacher to remediate or fix the student’s learning problem,” explains Dr. Illes. “The focus of change will be on skill building. The change will be gradual and positive consequences will be used to reinforce this progress.”
An Invisible Disability
ADHD is often referred to as an “invisible disability.” On the surface, symptoms may simply not be very obvious, yet they can significantly impair daily functioning. And sometimes teachers may have an understanding about the obvious behaviors associated with ADHD – the hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention – but may not be aware of the additional challenges that ADHD brings. Chris A. Zeigler Dendy, MS, a leading ADHD expert and author, a former teacher with more than 35 years experience, and mother of two grown sons and a daughter with ADHD, compares ADHD with an iceberg. “Like icebergs, many problems related to ADHD are not visible,” explains Dendy. Often it is only the ‘tip of the iceberg’ - or of the ADHD - that is visible and obvious. Hidden beneath the surface, however, are often many more “not so obvious” behaviors.
Dendy has created an ADD/ADHD Iceberg poster that helps illustrate this point. She lists these “not so obvious” areas of concern including weak executive functioning, sleep disturbance, impaired sense of time, two to four year developmental delay, not learning easily from rewards and punishment, possible coexisting conditions, learning problems, low frustration for tolerance, and difficulty controlling emotions. Recognizing these less “visible” impairments helps teachers understand more about the challenges students with ADHD often face.
So to answer your question, the resistance you have felt may be related to misunderstandings and misperceptions around your child’s behavior. Teachers are a vital part of our children’s lives and it is so important to work with them in a positive and collaborative manner. Connect and partner with the teacher. Be a resource for her (or him) in helping to provide educational information about ADHD. Talk with the principal and check to see if your school has a CHADD Educator’s Manual on ADHD. This book provides an in-depth look at ADHD from an educational perspective and is a wonderful resource, offering practical, concrete strategies teachers can use to help students with ADHD succeed. As with anything, the more you know about something the more insight you will have and the better you will be at utilizing effective strategies.
Chris A. Zeigler Dendy, MS. Teaching Teens with ADD and ADHD: A Quick Reference Guide for Teachers and Parents. Woodbine House. 2000.
Terry Illes, PhD. “Why Teachers Resist – Understanding Teacher Attitudes About ADHD” The New CHADD Information and Resource Guide to AD/HD. 2006-07 Edition.