No longer such a controversial topic, Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder is the most commonly diagnosed and ‘treated’ special educational need today. With its first descriptive diagnosis as early as the 18th century, it has quite a long lineage within the Special Educational Needs world, although in England at least, it’s fallen out of favour as many of the behavioural difficulties which are associated with it are no longer in the SEMH (social, emotional, and mental heath) umbrella. Commonly they were when the term was Social, Emotional and behavioural difficulties, however as the new Code of Practice removed behaviour as an SEN, ADHD has also sat awkwardly in Inclusion.
Why might this be?
Remembering the debates at the time, a few I was lucky enough to be a part of, it was considered that ADHD can be differentiated and provided for within the classroom. In English classrooms at least, what is required to teach the student (justifying it as an educational need) would be the well-differentiated curriculum, active learning, and committed parents who have sought a medical diagnosis in severe cases, or following some vague ADHD diet if not.
Attention deficit disorder is far more complex than most people realise, and it’s history given that it is the most diagnosed additional need, is suitably complex. The diagnosis for ADHD is largely through ticking boxes to describe behaviours – which even an early student in psychology can inform you is highly subjective. These behavioural criterion do not rely on scales, a certain number of respondents, or a real sense of triangulation. Therefore they remain highly descriptive of a pattern of behaviours, which it then labels a disorder. This fundamental concept has been with ADHD for over a hundred year, back to the early work of George Still. Whether there are biological advantages to individuals with ADHD, whether there are indeed far more individuals with ADHD on the East Cost of America than the rest of the world – these are questions for which there is no answer.
So here lies the contention, that whilst there are people who have concentration difficulties, a disorder implies that it is negative and the solution is to become ordered. However it is entirely possible for individuals with concentration difficulties to focus with intent on specific interests, to multi-task, and to have an incredible output due to their high levels of energy. It’s time to move beyond a concept of disorder, and perhaps into accepting that Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Order can have benefits as well as negatives.
Through a range of therapies, including ABA and CBT, psychotherapy and diet, there are successes being had with ADHD individuals, and now that the Code of Practice supports individuals up to the age of 25, now is the time for more research on how this pattern of behaviours, how this order of drives, affects individuals beyond the school age, where the majority of research is currently focussed.