Griffith University education lecturers Drs Lorelei Carpenter and Helena Austin, are two of 14 academics from seven universities who have written a joint letter to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Education, Julia Gillard.
The letter follows the release of draft guidelines on ADHD by The Royal Australian College of Physicians (RACP).
While the signatories to the letter applauded the Rudd Government for committing to a much-needed revision of the guidelines for ADHD, they drew the government’s attention to “some alarming policy setting and funding implications”.
Dr Carpenter said proposals to train teachers to watch out for ADHD would lead to excessive diagnosis and draw funding away from students with more serious disabilities.
She said such an approach would encourage teachers to act as proxy-diagnosticians by looking for evidence of particular deficits, perhaps missing vital signs which may indicate other difficulties at home or with learning.
“Society always likes to put a label on everything. Whereas 30 years ago we may have said a child was ‘naughty’, nowadays they’re often immediately labelled as having ADHD.”
The letter also said “Children with learning difficulties and poor social skills will be diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder that may remain with them for the rest of their lives.”
They criticised the RACP’s recommendation to link ADHD diagnosis to extra funding, arguing it would encourage over-diagnosis of ADHD in a bid by schools to gain additional money.
The jointly-signed letter warns: “If Australia were to follow the RACP’s recommendation to include ADHD as a disability category eligible for additional support funding, special education budgets for all Australian educational jurisdictions would skyrocket.
“In the end, children with significant disabilities (cerebral palsy, autism, intellectual impairment) will not receive the support they require and the segregation of students with high-support needs will continue to increase.”
Drs Carpenter and Austin are writing a book on the experiences of mothers of children with ADHD and ASD. The book Motherhood in the Margins will be published later this year.
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