7th May 2010 at 01:00

The problem

I have a pupil who has just been diagnosed with ADHD. We treat his behaviour issues as we would any other child's, but his parents don't think he is responsible for his actions. They have talked about the Disability Discrimination Act - could we be accused of treating him unfairly?


"You only have to prove the pupil has not been treated less favourably than someone else who did not have the disability but behaved in the same way. If the parents feel that a mainstream school cannot meet their child's needs they need to petition the local authority about alternative provision."


"ADHD is a disability and you are at risk of being sued if you do not make 'reasonable adjustments' for the child. That means if, for example, you said that because of his poor behaviour he couldn't go on a trip and that behaviour was caused by ADHD then you are in the wrong."



I agree with the parents. Yes, he may not be able to take responsibility for his actions at the moment. Yes, you will need to tailor strategies to manage and improve his behaviour together with his parents. Yes, his condition would be covered by the Disability Discrimination Act.

You cannot afford to have an adversarial relationship with the boy's parents even if you find yourself at odds with their views. The diagnosis is recent and their approach may soften: in time you may be able to shift the focus from the child taking responsibility to the child developing more control. Allowing the child to blame his behaviour on ADHDhis parentsthe weather is not going to help anyone to manage or improve it. If you are to have a chance of managing the condition, you are going to have to do it together.

In many ways you will treat him as you would any child: build a relationship, set clear boundaries, encourage appropriate behaviour, model emotional patience and have the flexibility to respond to individual needs. If you are persistently using high-level sanctions and nothing improves then you should look for ways in which you can refine what you do.

Where it may be different from the way you treat other children is in the time that you take to plan ways to manage and improve his behaviour, to share strategies that work and to devise an intervention plan for when his behaviour is most challenging. You will have to spend time listening, learning and negotiating with the child about how he can be helped to manage his condition. You will also have to explain to colleagues why he is different, why it matters that you are consistent and why he cannot "just go somewhere else".

Paul Dix, managing director of behaviour consultancy Pivotal Education. See



- Work with the parents to try to improve his behaviour.

- Treat him the same as any other child in terms of sanctions and rewards, but be prepared for the time it may take for his behaviour to improve.

- Help the boy learn to manage his condition.


- Dispute the diagnosis - you could end up with an adversarial relationship with the parents.

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