The stigmatizing value associated with psychiatric diagnoses in school (such as ADHD, ASD and Specific Learning Disorders) is still widespread and often teachers don’t know how to act in regards to a child with a diagnosis.
Combining research and action we analysed the factors causing difficulties for teachers and supporting staff and we identified tools that generate practical change that enables the education professionals to manage their classes.
It all started with a research project on ADHD in collaboration with the school Hjulsbroskolan in the Swedish city of Linköping. Through a participatory approach, we were able to identify a series of contextual specificities that unveiled an unexpected phenomenon for the school: despite all the explicit commitments, the education professionals did not feel that they possessed all the necessary tools to handle the diagnoses in the classroom and were trapped in the dilemma between considering them “diseases” or a declaration of diversity in the abilities of the children.
The next phase comprised the participation of the schools Tunaskolan and Klostergårdsskolan, located in the centre of the university city of Lund, in the south of Sweden. Together with the school management we decide to involve teachers of various grades/classes, school counsellors, specialized pedagogues, leisure-time pedagogues and parents in an intervention aiming to explore, through the GENERATIVE methodology, the critical junctions connected to the daily management of the psychiatric diagnoses in school.
Our system analysis offered a “photography” of the school practices connected to the psychiatric diagnoses and we traced the processes that were leading to a series of dysfunctional situations. As the photography developed, we realized that its form where similar in all schools.
The next step consisted in defining a process map, an extremely efficient tool of the GENERATIVE method suitable for interventions in small or large groups, which is used performatively and shared with the school staff. The map shed light on a dangerous stigmatizing potential toward the identity of the students.
The use of the psychiatric diagnosis stands in fact on a contradiction: on one hand, it is thought to protect the unique characteristics of the children, on the other hand this should not constitute a differential factor and the aim is to treat the students as if they were all equal.
For many, the ideal scenery for teachers and students is one in which there is no shame and no taboo in talking about the psychiatric diagnoses. In reality however, stereotypes and negative representations makes it so that neither teachers nor parents know how to move in regard to the diagnoses, afraid of provoking emotional damage and harmful discrimination against the children. Paradoxically, the extreme delicacy embraced toward the matter does nothing but reinforce the taboo and further discriminate the children.
The efficiency of the intervention is founded on bringing in to the light of the eyes of teachers and parents the stigmatizing process in which they involuntary take part. This in itself transformative action is accompanied by the collection and sharing of alternative discursive and relational practices, in order to provide the teachers with different models that foster new narratives.
The map provides an advantageous starting point for agreeing on the routes to be taken to break the status quo and for re-inventing innovative routines able to untie the knots that block interpersonal and pedagogical processes.