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ADHD diagnosis: helpful or hurtful?

Posted Aug 26 2008 1:03pm
I had an interesting discussion about ADHD in my online work with some teachers and parents about whether or not a diagnosis is helpful or a hindrance to the learner.

The gist was, I had suggested that the diagnosis could be helpful because it explains some of the difficulties encountered by the learner, and relieves some of the guilt and shame they had been carrying. Because the problem is not a visible one, it is easy (and usual) to assume negative things about these individuals that aren't true. (They are troublemakers, they don't respect the teacher, they don't care about the work, they're stupid, they are not trying, they are lazy etc.) The person who believes these negative ideas with the most conviction, is the learner. When a person loses their homework, house key, wallet or important information frequently, it would be natural for them to wonder, "What's wrong with me?" And in the absence of an obvious answer, they fill in the blanks themselves with very harsh assumptions. The diagnosis also allows a sound treatment program to be undertaken under the guidance of a doctor. Despite many parents' reluctance to try medication, it remains one of the best treatment options available. In thinking about the ramifications of giving pharmaceuticals to children, we need to also examine the ramifications of not treating the problem; Plummeting self esteem, drug and alcohol abuse, failure in school and work, and trouble with the law. These are all well documented possible outcomes for sufferers of ADHD.

One of my correspondents proposed that if allowed to develop these organization skills in their own time and in a home-learning environment that was supportive, that perhaps this negative self image could be avoided. She felt that the label would not be necessary either. She believes that it is the school system that causes the need for a label- because the learner has to perform on someone else's schedule. This is an interesting idea, but my feeling is that it only postpones the inevitable.

Even a supportive home-learning environment can't delay the person needing or wanting a part-time job, or needing to keep commitments with friends, or professional appointments.

While children with ADHD mature later and definitely need more support than there peers in managing their time, their schedules, their relationships- we do them a disservice, in my opinion, in not being honest and accurate about what the learner is dealing with. Facing the truth is better than ignoring it.
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