• Dr Max Davie


Updated: Jul 22, 2020

Most of our posts are either for parents, or teachers. This one is for both groups, as it is about one of the puzzles that underlie a lot of misunderstanding between families, on the one hand, and schools on the other.

If a child has ADHD, then are they responsible for their behaviour? ADHD reduces their ability to suppress impulses, to keep still, and concentrate. So given that these tasks are more difficult for these children, it seems unfair to apply the same standards of behaviour to them as to other children. As well as being more prone to calling out, and fidgeting, these children get overwhelmed by emotion, and find it hard to hide negative emotions, or act on these in an acceptable manner.

On the other hand, it is not true that children with ADHD have NO control of their behaviour. There are also some behaviors that are much harder to suppress than others- good management can help children to reduce physical lashing out, but often fidgeting needs to be accepted. To give the child a ‘free pass’ for their behaviour will only encourage their curiosity about what they can get away with. So how do we strike the balance?

Say, for example, there was a child in the class with physical disability. They would naturally be helped to cope with tasks that they find difficult, and expectations of their performance in PE would be adjusted to their difficulty. Everyone accepts that this is sensible, and yet some teachers are very wary of making any allowances for ADHD kids, believing in the mantra of ‘high behavioral expectations for all’. But just as any expectations should start from where the person is now, so what should be aimed for is behavioral progress, not behaviour that matches that of others.

Thinking about the child’s behavioral abilities as a part of their profile, which is not their fault, but which can be developed and changed with patience and encouragement, seems to me the best way forward. This way, unhelpful notions of blame are kept away, the child can be rewarded for effort on their own terms, and parents don’t feel blamed for failing to ‘bring them up right’.

So, in practical terms 1) agree an understanding between home and school about where the child is now with their behaviour 2) put in place preventative strategies. At school this might be encouraging engagement with timetables, exercise and positioning, while at home, structure and planning might be the key priority. 2) agree to priorities for improvement and agree strategies 3) make allowance for behaviour that is not currently a focus of change (e.g. Fidgeting). Some of this may need to be ‘left’ for now. 4) stay in touch and meet regularly to discuss


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