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Teachers Confused About "ADHD"

By Dana Barnes, special to AMH News

Despite the fact that teachers often initiate ADHD referrals leading to diagnosis, a new study shows that they are frequently unaware of current research on ADHD symptoms and the side effects of treatment.

The study, authored by Vicki Snider, Ph.D., of the Program in Learning Disabilities at the University of Wisconsin Eau-Claire and her colleagues, appeared in the January/February 2003 issue of Remedial and Special Education. Out of 400 surveyed, 145 Wisconsin general and special education teachers responded to the study, including elementary, middle school, and high school teachers.

Two-thirds of survey respondents indicated that teachers most frequently made the initial referral for a child to be evaluated for ADHD. These referral frequency rates are echoed in earlier studies, which found that teachers initiated 40 to 60 percent of children's ADHD referrals. The teacher referral is so important, as the study's author suggests, because "referred students are frequently diagnosed as having ADHD by the physician based on reports from the teachers and parents."

In this study, many teachers missed the answers to basic questions about the benefits and side effects of the drugs used to treat ADHD. Ninety-four percent of teachers surveyed wrongly thought drugs improve academic performance in the long run. Seventy-three percent of teachers surveyed did not know that even while on drugs, kids diagnosed with ADHD do not manifest normal childhood behavior, that they don't have the same level of problem behavior as their "normally developing peers." In addition, 62 percent were unaware that stimulant medication may affect a child's growth potential.

According to the authors of the study, "teachers' lack of knowledge about ADHD in light of their central role in referral and diagnosis and the increasing numbers of students diagnosed with ADHD suggests that... teachers could increase their reliance on research knowledge to inform and guide their professional decisions."

The list below shows how the teachers scored on a number of questions:

Format of List:

Item (Whether or not the question is true or false.)
Frequency of correct answers

Studies show that stimulant medication has a positive effect on academic achievement in the long run. (False)

There are data to indicate that ADHD is caused by a brain malfunction. (False)

While on stimulant medication, students exhibit similar amounts of problem behaviors as their normally developing peers. (False)

Diagnosis of ADHD can be confirmed if stimulant medication improves the child's attention. (False)

Stimulant medication use may decrease the physical growth rate (i.e., height) of students. (True)

Stimulant medication use may produce tics in students. (True)

Adderall, Ritalin, and Dexedrine have abuse potential similar to Demerol, cocaine, and morphine. (True)

Over time, stimulant medication loses its effectiveness. (True)

ADHD is the most commonly diagnosed psychiatric disorder of childhood. (True)

ADHD symptoms (e.g., fidgets, does not follow through on instruction, easily distracted) may be caused by academic deficits. (True)

The long-term side effects of stimulant medications are well understood. (True)

Stress and conflict in the student's home life can cause ADHD symptoms. (True)

Note: Statements were rated using a 5-point Likert-type scale (I = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree). Percentage correct indicates percentage of respondents who answered 4 or 5 to an item that was true and I or 2 to an item that was false.

The study was reported at