Student Perspective: Non-Professionals, Please Don’t Diagnose

Children walk along nature path

This student-authored post is part of a series that highlights student perspectives around learning and executive function in the classroom.

This summer, I was an instructor at a summer camp teaching children how to sail. This camp has instructors such as myself who are only hired for the summer, most of us being high school or college students. It also has instructors who are full-time employees, teaching sailing year-round. One of the more troubling aspects of this camp is how they treat misbehaving students and students with learning differences.

For instance, one instructor had a habit of giving students a diagnosis. If a student was not acting in the manner most instructors at the camp preferred (and by that, I mean quiet and attentive), this instructor would take it upon herself to find a reason for the student’s behavior, often coming to the conclusion that the student had ADHD.

One week we had a student who would get distracted easily and was picking up sailing slower than most. So the instructor turned to me and said, “It seems like she had ADHD.” Although she prefaced the statement by telling me this wasn’t a diagnosis, it’s still an inappropriate comment or assumption.

Like most teachers, this instructor was not qualified to diagnose a learning disability. Diagnosing a student can be harmful because it changes how you perceive them. This behavior is especially troubling because part-time instructors are often encouraged to mimic the behavior of full-time instructors. By diagnosing students in front of me, she’s normalizing this behavior.

As a teacher, your insight into how a student acts in the classroom is important. But the bottom line is if you’re not qualified and using the proper protocols to diagnose a student, you should not be diagnosing them. Instead, talk to someone to discuss what’s happening in the classroom or propose that a student may benefit from a neuro-psych evaluation. If you have a student with a learning difference diagnosis, please educate yourself on how to best support them.

  • C. Solomon, Student Contributor

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum:

Research Institute for Learning and Development: