«Once that happened, he deserved the suspension. Our challenge was to stop the incidents from happening.»
His experience in several schools has varied depending on principals’ and teachers’ willingness to understand his disability. Ms Daly said there were suspensions when they refused, but when they tried to help, learning became a different, much more accepting experience.
His psychologist now meets his high school teachers every term to remind them about his triggers. «They are setting him up to succeed,» Ms Daly said.
Australian researchers described ADHD as one of the most prevalent but unsupported developmental disabilities affecting school-aged children, and one which often leads them being unfairly labelled naughty, lazy or slow.
«These kids commonly get in trouble for not following instruction; they have low or poor working memory,» said lead author, Professor Linda Graham, from the Queensland University of Technology.
«That’s how they get caught in a vice.
«Teachers know about it, but they don’t know what to do about it.»
The children — mostly boys — who were suspended also were more likely to be excluded from school-run activities such as band, excursions and camp. They often suffered anxiety, autism or depression as well as ADHD.
«We believe the children are exhibiting behaviours associated with their disability, and they are being disciplined for that,» said Louise Kuchel, a spokeswoman for Parents for ADHD Advocacy Australia.
Ms Kuchel said suspensions failed because they were designed to let students reflect on changing their behaviour, which was impossible when the issue was neurological.
«Parents, suspended child and siblings suffer greatly due to suspensions and exclusions,» she said. «Eighty five per cent of parents felt suspensions were ineffective and 48 per cent of parents felt they had a severely negative impact.»
Many of the parents of suspended children said their school had urged them to get an extra diagnosis so they could gain support funding (there is none for ADHD alone) or felt pushed to give or increase medication.
Professor Graham said it was widely known that students with a disability were over-represented in suspensions.
«For some reason these kids [with ADHD] seem to come last in a lot of people’s thoughts,» Professor Graham said. «There’s a lot of problems in how they are perceived.»
Ms Kuchel is calling for education departments, including the NSW Department of Education, to teach staff how to help students with ADHD, including strategies to intervene before the child does something that triggers a suspension.
A NSW Department of Education spokesman said significant support was provided to students t students with disability and additional learning and support needs, including attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), in public schools across NSW. The type and level of support provided for the diverse range of student needs is based on the specific needs of a student and is determined in consultation with their parents or carers, and specialist staff where needed. He said students do not need a formal disability diagnosis to access this support.
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Jordan Baker is Education Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald