Unsettled behaviours


PARENTING THE ADD CHILD - Can't Do? Won't Do?. By David Pentecost. Jessica Kingsley. pound;13.95

CHILDREN BEHAVING BADLY: Could my Child have a Disorder? By Alan Train.

Human Horizon series. Souvenir Press. pound;9.99.

ATTENTION-DEFICITHYPERACTIVITY DISORDER: What Every Parent Wants to Know 2nd Edition. By David L Wodrich. Jessica Kingsley . pound;15.95.

Think of a task that you really do not enjoy (writing end-of-year reports?). Maybe you find yourself trying to avoid this activity, or reluctant to start it and, when you cannot put it off any longer, perhaps you often have "difficulty sustaining attention"? Careful - you have already got some ticks on the attention deficithyperactivity disorder "symptom" checklist.

I confess I remain unsure about the validity of ADHD, partly because it pays so little attention to the contextual factors that contribute to children's behaviour, and also because the term seems merely descriptive and not explanatory. Try this for tiresome circularity: Q: Why do some children behave in an unsettled manner?

A: Because they have ADHD.

Q: How do we know they have ADHD?

A: Because they behave in an unsettled manner.

Putting these reservations to one side, however, are these three books practical and could they be recommended to parents?

Parenting the ADD Child (as the initials imply, ADD refers to children who have an "attention deficit disorder", without the "hyperactivity" bit) addresses parents directly. An intervention framework termed ADDapt is outlined (ADD Alternative Parenting Techniques). This framework is behavioural (targets are set, rewards used, strategies for ignoring unwanted behaviours are discussed).

Like the author, I have found the Time Out technique daunting and difficult. It involves moving a child from a situation and physically making him or her sit on a chair for a few moments until quiet. I have some worries about parents trying this without guidance from someone experienced. Also, I would have liked to have read more about preventive approaches and the important ways that context can influence behaviour. At times I found the style rather repetitive - the main ideas in this book could probably have been communicated in a text half th length, particularly if some of the rather off-beat illustrations had been omitted. However, it is an accessible, practical text with plenty of charts and activities for both children and parents. And although the strategies are not new (they will be very familiar to anyone involved in the management of difficult behaviour), this, in a way, is a strength: at least they are tried and tested. A useful addition to your resource base, especially for lending to parents.

Children Behaving Badly is by an ex-headteacher of a special school for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties. It is written mainly for parents, with teachers as a secondary audience. The book includes reflective commentary on the use of labels, and on the multitude of factors that can contribute to unsettled behaviour.

At times the scope of this book is rather ambitious (the "disorders" include ADHD; problems with alcohol, tobacco, solvents and drugs; autism; dyslexia; tics; anxiety disorders). Although it does not set out to be a practical manual on behaviour management, it might be useful for parents who are worried about their child and are wondering whether to seek professional help - which indeed is the author's stated aim.

Attention-DeficitHyperactivity Disorder is by an American psychologist. It focuses directly on ADHD and is written for parents and, to a lesser extent, teachers. This book is not a practical manual; indeed, I struggled a little when trying to decide on the key point of this text. It might be useful for parents wanting to learn about the minutiae of ADHD "diagnosis", and the way that some professionals (particularly those who are wholly wedded to categorising children in this way) view ADHD, and make professional decisions and recommendations (including the use of drugs). But the American flavour of thisbook results in a publication that is probably less useful in the UK.

Even after reading these three books, the label ADHD gets me fidgety with irritation, impulsively blurting out exclamations in an uncontrolled, "hyperactive" manner. Time for some medication - I wonder whether the supermarket does a line in Ritalin teabags?

Anthony Feiler is senior lecturer, special needs, Bath Spa University College

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