Teachers aren’t doctors, so should they be involved in diagnosing ADHD?
Yes, because they’ve got the data! Teachers have the frame of reference necessary to contribute to a diagnosis.
Currently, ADHD can be measured and assessed only in behavioral terms. Doctors and psychologists determine if children and adults might have ADHD by examining their behavior. There is no blood test, and brain imaging techniques are in their infancy.
One office visit, typically in a one-on-one setting, won’t give the clinician enough information to determine whether ADHD is a probable diagnosis. So what do clinicians do? They ask the parents, the children, and the teachers for their input.
ADHD experts have developed structured rating forms to gather information about children’s ability to focus and regulate their attention and behavior. They ask the people who observe the children on a daily basis to rate the children on how they do behaviorally. The teachers supply data for the clinician to consider.
The teacher’s perspective is critical. Teachers have a controlled, structured setting in which to observe a child’s attention to learning objectives. These objectives might not be the first priority of the child, so there is a natural laboratory setting for assessing how well a child can regulate his or her attention, according to outside demands. In fact, research shows that teachers develop very accurate “radar” for all sorts of learning difficulties. They may not know what the cause is, but they are excellent at determining when there are barriers to learning. Clinicians depend on teachers because they are such reliable reporters of behavior and attention.
Parents are also excellent observers, but their settings are not as controlled. Parents are more likely to adapt and cope with behavior and attention differences. In fact, studies show that many parents place a high priority on maintaining harmony in the family system and sometimes lose a frame of reference about how much they are doing to maintain a child’s focus and attention. We also know that ADHD can be genetic. Parents may see their child’s behavior as remarkably similar to their own, and miss how challenging these patterns can be in another setting.
Thus teachers have an important role in diagnosis. But be sure that you don’t over-depend on any one source. Some teachers’ structure is so rigid that any child would bust loose! Check several sources, and use all available data to move forward to help your child.