Posted by: Ticktock | July 16, 2010

Suspect ADHD: Tell the Parents?

Educators have it rough. They’re responsible for the welfare of an entire class of diverse personalities and behavior profiles. If even one child is hard to manage, the rest of the class suffers.

I’ve recently encountered this problem, where one child has dominated the class with an inability to regulate self-control. I’ve had a week filled with this student shouting in my face, hitting the other kids, ignoring authority, talking during quiet time, and generally disrespecting others. And now that the week is close to over, I’m quite confident that this child may very well have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and should be seen by a qualified professional. I would be shocked if the true culprit wasn’t the regulation of dopamine.

The problem that I’m having is that I don’t know if it’s my place to mention my concerns to this young child’s parents. The class is only for a week. I know nothing about this family or whether they will accept my advice warmly. I’m concerned for the student’s future progress, and whether this kid will prosper academically without medication.

So, what would you do? I’m open to suggestions.



  1. You don’t say what the age group for this class is. This sort of behavior in a group of four-to-five year olds — especially if the child in question is on the younger end of the age-range — isn’t unusual.

    Also, there is the issue of confounding language development issues with impulse control issues.

    TickTock, I don’t know much about you other than what you have posted here, but…erm

    I’m quite confident that this child may very well have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

    I don’t know that you have the requisite training and skills to make this sort of assertion. You may have; I just don’t know.

    Something you could say is, “Mr. & Mrs. Problem Child, I observed that Problem Child seemed to have a lot of difficulty, compared with peers, in using both self-talk and peer-to-peer language to resolve the everyday conflicts in our program. Here’s the contact information for (three or four) people I know who work with kids who have difficulties in this area.”

  2. This class is ages 5 and 6. The problem child is significantly different than the peers in terms of behavior, but I think the child is on the younger end of the spectrum. I have factored age into my amateur assessment and remain unconvinced.

    I did say that I was quite confident the child “may” have ADHD, and that the child should be seen by a “qualified professional”. I’m not one of those professionals because then I wouldn’t hesitate to make a recommendation.

    I like your advice on what to say to them. It’s very neutral in tone. Still debating your overall point that I’m not qualified to comment on behavior disorders. That’s what I’ve been wrestling with.

    • Ticktock, you can’t be “quite confident” that something “may” be the case. What you have is a suspicion. Stop worrying about what is best for you and just tell the parents. They may take it badly and yell at you, but so what?

      • Note: by “tell the parents” I mean “Tell the parents about the observed behavior”, not “Tell the parents that you think this kid has ADHD”.

  3. I know I’m not allowed to tell a parent I suspect ADHD, because they can then force the school district to pay for medical care under Texas law.

    We are allowed to suggest that a full check up might be in order. Don’t ask me how that is different, I don’t get it either.

  4. I’m a special education teacher, and I specialize in emotional and behavioral disorders. Before I said anything to the parents, I would ask your school’s counselor, psychological examiner, or a special education teacher to come in and observe the student. They are all well-trained in what to look for, and will have lots of experience bringing up these kinds of issues with parents.

    The kinds of behaviors you describe don’t necessarily sound like ADHD to me, but it’s clear the student is having trouble adjusting to the boundaries and expectations of school.

  5. I ended up telling the child’s guardian that “some kids have a harder time calming down after being active”, and that the behavior problems are “not necessarily the child’s fault.”

    I recommended that they keep an eye on the child during kindergarten and to watch to see whether the behavior improves.

  6. As a person with ADHD, and a former grade school student :), I would recommend discussing your concerns with the parents. They may not see this kind of behavior at all at home. They might see it and not be aware that it’s not normative. It is very helpful to receive feedback from teachers that may help them provide for their child’s needs.

    But, I would do so carefully. You definitely should not discuss any specific diagnosis; that is not something you’re qualified to do, and besides that, it’s really not very helpful to hear amateur opinions prior to having a real diagnosis. You should absolutely discuss it with regard to how the child could succeed better in the classroom, rather than how disruptive he is being.

    You may consider talking with the school counselor for assistance in how to address the parents, but only if you have experience that this person has any capacity to be human (some really haven’t and ruin everything they touch).

  7. I phrased it poorly, for which I apologize. The concept I was trying to get across is that many things other than ADHD can cause a child to behave in an impulsive, disrespectful manner: poor parenting skills, previous abuse, fetal alcohol effects, language delays or dysfunction (especially in pragmatic language), traumatic brain injury (TBI), and (oh joy) combinations of the above.

  8. D’oh, still not right.

    You wrote:

    Still debating your overall point that I’m not qualified to comment on behavior disorders. That’s what I’ve been wrestling with.

    The point I was trying to make is that you may be qualified to observe and report on childrens’ behavior, but may not be qualified to provide a reason (a diagnosis) for the root cause of the behavior, or to speculate about a treatment course.

  9. I am a public school Latin teacher, and not only would I never discuss such a thing with parents, I’m not allowed to. No matter how much you may feel qualified to make an “amateur” diagnosis, you may find yourself on the wrong side of school policy or even the law. But the “amateur” tag is an insufficient defense. For so many things, as a teacher, you need to refrain from judgment or diagnosis and simply record and report facts and behaviors. You can’t suspect student A of being high, but you can send him to the nurse for sluggishness and bloodshot eyes. You can’t tell the parents that student B may have a disability, but you can describe problem behavior and areas of difficulty, and should do so to the appropriate professionals within the school system. Your “amateur” diagnosis, finally, may be wrong, costly, and embarrassing to the family. That’s why those professionals (the child study team, vel sim.) are there. Observe, report, and let them do their jobs.

  10. @Dennis

    Thanks for the advice. This was slightly different as it was not part of a public school, but part of this post is for any teachers who are debating the question themselves.

    I think I resolved the problem just as you recommended, so I feel better about the way I handled it.

  11. As a mom whose child was just diagnosed with ADHD, I would recommend that you invite the parents to observe, or have someone trusted observe with them. You can list specific behaviors that are outside the norm, and what you would expect (even from a rambunctious 5 year old).

    Our teacher let us know there was something going on, but I had _no_ idea what the specifics were until the psychologist went in to observe and told us how bad it had gotten. She did not have such trouble at home, so I was assuming that the teacher’s comments were talking about the same behaviors we were seeing at home: without specifics, and without seeing it myself, I didn’t know how to judge.

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