Mind and matter

9th November 2007 at 00:00

Handling children with Asperger's syndrome and ADHD is made easier with first-hand advice from these books. Talking Teenagers. Ann Boushey. Jessica Kingsley Publishers pound;13.99

Ann Boushey writes from a parent's perspective about how to cope with the difficulties one may expect as a parent of a child with autism or Asperger's syndrome. The book includes many of the questions parents - and others who come into contact with teenagers with Asperger's - will have asked themselves.

As a disclaimer, she writes she should be viewed "only as an expert in my own son's case", and this, I feel, is extremely relevant to any reader. She also emphasises that "every youth is an individual on the spectrum; every school and situation is different."

The main issue when approaching the advice from this book is that Ann lives in America, and there are certain cultural differences that need to be considered. Some of the advice is not relevant to the education system and help available in the UK.

I found her approach to her son's "disability" slightly irritating at times. Her philosophy, she states, is one where "if it works for him, it works for us". She comes across as an extremely pushy parent, and while I agree it is necessary to push for your child's rights, this needs to be done with some diplomacy.

I would be wary of advising parents to antagonise their child's teachers, or other adults with whom they come into contact, in the way Ann Boushey seems to. I am sure, however, that a lot of the advice can be followed by adjusting it slightly to suit each individual.

However, I have to add that the book contains some useful advice for parents in how to deal with various situations. Throughout the book, the author shares her experiences and how she has tried to deal with difficult topics. There are many references to her son Jon's lovable nature, which must surely encourage parents who are in the same position.

Ann Boushey's book should interest and inform parents, as she shares her experiences and adds to our collective knowledge.

Terry Holmes is a teacher in Liverpool. Understanding and Supporting Children with ADHD. Lesley A Hughes and Paul Cooper. Paul Chapman Publishing pound;17.99

The book begins with a comprehensive overview of the current theoretical understanding of ADHD, building a sandwich of detailed summaries of research findings and case studies, with seasoning being added by the brief reflections on the implications for classroom and whole-school approaches.

The case studies at the end of the chapter are powerful and revealing, highlighting the discrepancies between the models of ADHD held by the clinician, parent, teacher and child. Also, some helpful insights are provided into how medication can be misunderstood as a cause of good behaviour, rather than as a tool that allows a child to exert more influence over the choices he or she makes.

The middle section of the book sees a change in tone to an expansive, discursive exploration of issues surrounding school settings and collaborative working. It highlights some important areas for development, in particular the need to listen to and empathise with the child first and foremost when introducing classroom reward systems, or making medical and educational decisions.

It seems to skirt around other important issues almost apologetically, such as the trend in recent research findings towards truly inclusive teaching strategies that are applied uniformly to the whole class and not to "special", labelled individuals.

The models for collaborative working offer a narrow but useful range of resources, but I was left wondering how many of the target readership would feel about managing such wide ranging changes.

Another concern is the focus throughout the discussion of models that look at problem behaviour and how to manage it. While a brief note at the end of the chapter highlights the dangers of seeing the child solely in terms of difficulties, there is still an explicit focus on the problem behaviour throughout the chapter and only a faint and implicit recognition that the child is part of a system that might be exacerbating the presenting behaviour.

This is an intelligently argued book but it is in danger of raising more questions than it answers and leaving the reader well-informed but even later to bed than usual and even more frustrated the next morning in the classroom.

One of the primary achievements of this book is to get inside the experience of ADHD for the child as well as for the parent, teacher and other professionals. It leaves you wanting to understand the experience of ADHD, to talk to the children in your care more about their experience of their world and challenges the projection of our own understanding on to others.

If you see a copy in your staffroom, flick through the case studies for a few minutes one break time and it will challenge your assumptions about some of the more challenging children in your care

Andrew Eaton is studying educational psychology at Exeter University, having taught in Devon schools for 17 years.

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