The prevalence of attention deficit disorder with or without hyperactivity (ADHD) is particularly high in Québec compared to Europe. Since school is the main gateway to this diagnosis, could part of the explanation lie in teachers’ beliefs about the disorder? To find out, Marie-Christine Brault, associate professor in the Department of Sociology at Université Laval, compared the Québec school system with that of Flanders. In collaboration with two researchers from Ghent University in Belgium, she surveyed some 100 teachers on the subject.

What emerged was that the majority of Québec teachers view ADHD from a biomedical perspective. They consider the disorder to originate with the child themself, and to ensure the child’s well-being and academic success, they tend to look for an external solution, such as a diagnosis or medication, without necessarily changing their pedagogical practices. However, this view is not shared by their Flemish counterparts, who are more likely to associate ADHD with external factors linked to the child’s sociocultural context. In considering the causes of the student’s difficulties, they are less likely to seek a diagnosis, and instead implement adaptation strategies in their classrooms.  

Québec schools, on the other hand, act as a catalyst in the medicalization of ADHD, treating non-medical behavior with a medical solution. The school system is not the only entity involved in this process: parents and health professionals also play a part. One of the consequences of this practice is to mask certain social inequalities by placing the child’s problems on their own shoulders, without seeking to understand their social environment. Marie-Christine Brault invites teachers and school staff to consider non-medical solutions to promote concentration and limit disruptive behavior – for example, making sensory activities available or allowing students to work in different positions.