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ADHD: When Teachers Diagnose

Blog ADHD: When Teachers Diagnose

What does it mean when your child’s teacher tells you it’s ADHD?


At some point, most children will behave inappropriately in the classroom. While the majority of these incidents are a blip on their record, there are some children whose classroom behavior warrants a closer look.

“When a child is very disruptive in the classroom or regularly aggressive towards their classmates, there is cause for concern,” says Indiana University Health pediatrician Dr. Nerissa Bauer. “If a child constantly fidgets, doesn’t wait their turn, forgets homework, doesn’t pay attention, cannot complete tasks or is not learning as expected, it is also cause for concern.”

Any of these symptoms may lead a teacher to believe that the child has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  Although a teacher cannot diagnose ADHD, their training and classroom experience may lead them to recommend the parents have their child tested.

Are they making the right call? According to Dr. Bauer, yes. Even if the child does not ultimately have ADHD, the teacher has made the right decision by alerting the parents to an issue.

“Sometimes I see children because a teacher has raised concern about how the child is functioning or behaving in class, which may or may not be ADHD,” Dr. Bauer explains. “But it’s still an issue because they are disruptive to their peers, are aggressive or there is a concern about how the child is learning.”

While this initial information from a teacher can be shocking to some parents, Dr. Bauer recommends they assess the situation. “I’ll often ask parents if this is the first time they’ve heard about this behavior and if they’ve spent any time in the classroom observing their child. Did other teachers, maybe in previous years, express similar concerns? Have you spoken with your child about what is supposedly happening in the classroom? We do a bit of fact finding first to understand why the teacher has concerns.”

Whatever the initial concern may be, it is important to understand that behaviors are simply symptoms, and they can represent ADHD, a different problem or be a combination.

For example, mood disorders such as anxiety or depression could cause irritability and meltdowns during the day. The inability to handle advanced planning or a child’s disorganization can lead to impulse control issues. Learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, can also cause misbehavior or inattentiveness. Dr. Bauer advises that it is also important to carefully observe the child’s influences as anything from television shows and video games to parents or coaches could serve as a role model for aggressive behavior. Parents need to work closely with doctors, the child and the teacher to guarantee that the correct diagnosis is made.

This discovery phase can take several weeks, so while waiting for the diagnosis, parents should begin the process of working with their child and teacher to achieve future classroom success. Understanding ADHD is an important first step, and Dr. Bauer recommends asking a doctor to suggest material. This knowledge will help parents speak with the teacher intelligently and know what to ask their child at the end of each school day.

“I often help parents learn how to interface with the school,” says Dr. Bauer. “Studies show that parents who are engaged, connected and advocate for their child have children who do better in school.”

Once an official diagnosis has been given, parents should meet with the teacher to discuss the diagnosis and an appropriate treatment plan. “It's always good to involve the teacher,” Dr. Bauer advises. “You want them to be on your team as much as possible because they are with your child for most of the day. Maintain an ongoing dialogue with the teacher so that you can discuss any issues.”

-- By Gia Miller

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