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Diagnosing ADHD Is Hard. Here’s What Teachers Need to Know

0 2 years ago

Evelyn Polk Green

Evelyn Polk Green is a past president of both Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA) and Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD). Diagnosed with ADHD, she is the mother of two adult sons with ADHD. She is an administrator with the Chicago public schools, where she plans professional development programs for early-childhood special education professionals and families.

The chances are high that at some point in your teaching career, you’ll be asked to fill out an assessment (or many) for students suspected of having attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.

Most diagnoses require observational data of a student’s behaviors in different settings, such as at school and at home. But these observations are subjective and vulnerable to biases. An increasing number of studies show that certain groups of students are either over- or underdiagnosed with ADHD due to misconceptions about the disorder and differences by gender and race.

An estimated 6.1 million children in the United States have been diagnosed with ADHD. Millions more children with the disorder are surely left undiagnosed. Early intervention is so crucial for success down the road, at home and at school.


We’re Getting ADHD Wrong (Especially in Boys)


It is important that teachers—who play a key observational role in ADHD assessments in a school setting—understand that many factors can play into a diagnosis and how racial, gender, and age biases can affect those factors. It is equally important that school systems provide educators additional support through more objective testing measures, many of which already exist.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) defines ADHD as a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by persistent patterns of inattention or hyperactivity to the point where they interfere with development and daily functioning. Common symptoms are a lack of impulse control, restlessness, daydreaming, disorganization, forgetfulness, and poor attention to detail. While many of these behaviors can be attributed to typical child development, a key difference in a child with ADHD is they struggle with the same problems repeatedly, regardless of consequence or incentive.

Of course, many of these same symptoms are common with other disabilities, including anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and autism. External factors like a lack of sleep, an unstable home life, stress, and trauma can also produce these symptoms.

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