Look out for 'lookalike' conditions

22nd November 2013 at 00:00

The article "ADHD net cast too wide, report warns" (8 November) was a concerning, if one-sided, read. One of the interesting things about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which is often overlooked, is that it is a "lookalike" condition, meaning that it manifests in similar ways to other disorders.

Although not currently listed in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as a discrete condition, sensory processing disorder (SPD) is becoming widely recognised as a main contender for an ADHD lookalike condition. When sensory signals get lost in translation they can be under- or overstimulating, with children's responses ranging from seeming unawareness of a sound or smell to extreme reactions to sensory input. Walking into a noisy, cluttered, hot classroom can be overwhelming, and yet we often put poor behaviour in these environments down to "no apparent reason" - or perhaps ADHD.

An audit at my current (mainstream secondary) school showed that 9 per cent of students had conditions linked to SPD. In my former (special) school this figure was 52 per cent. With research showing links between SPD and lower academic performance, getting the environment right is essential. And focusing on environment may also help to reduce the numbers of students misdiagnosed as having ADHD.

Anita Bradshaw, Special educational needs advisory teacher.

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