Time to get real about 'hidden disabilities'

19th March 2010 at 00:00

I read Mike Kent's column each week and find a lot of what he says, particularly about focusing on children instead of paperwork and targets, sensible and admirable.

But I am concerned about his comments on children with "hidden disabilities" ("Supernanny plus?", March 12). It is time to point out some facts about these "badly behaved, unruly" children and their families.

Mike claims that "every good teacher experiencing problems with a badly behaved, unruly child knows that the problem invariably emanates from the home". Your "Full of sound and fury" article in TES Magazine seemed to share many of Mike's views that parents are to blame if a child's behaviour is less than perfect and other explanations are unlikely.

I am employed as an advanced skills teacher at a secondary in the North West, which means I spend up to 20 per cent of my time working with other secondaries in the area, with a focus on developing programmes to help children behave and learn better.

I am also the mother of a statemented child with autism and ADHD, who is bright but unpredictable, sometimes violent and regularly "challenging", requiring full-time support in his mainstream school. I am well-placed to see the debate from both sides.

I accept that in some cases ADHD and autism can be misdiganosed - although every child I have known with either diagnosis has been through a rigorous and prolonged process. I also accept that some children are badly parented. And I accept that any diagnosis is not an excuse for a child behaving however they like and receiving no consequences. I agree that good teaching can lead to speedy progress, in the cases of poorly behaved children with and without neurologicalorganic explanations.

However, Mike seems to take the view that only physical disabilities are "real". He needs to research ADHD and autism in more depth; these disabilities can be as difficult as some physical difficulties.

The child in the wheelchair has an obvious, disability. They are unlikely to be shouted at or excluded for refusing to run 1,000m in a PE lesson. Classmates understand why they can't.

The child with autism or ADHD, particularly if they are high-functioning, like my son, has a less obvious disability. They know they are different, thus school can be stressful. They get things wrong and behave in a way that makes them a target for bullying. I have no idea where the line is between discrimination and high standards, but if you won't accept that hidden disabilities exist you aren't catering for them.

I wanted my son in mainstream school because he will have to live in mainstream society as an adult. As such, he needs to learn to modify his behaviour - this has taken understanding, patience and training as to his very specific and complex needs. I am lucky his school has not dismissed me as a bad parent and him as a product of bad parenting, or the progress he has made would not have been possible.

While parents blame schools and schools blame parents, the only one who suffers is the child.

Advanced skills teacher, Secondary school, North West.

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