Does a Diagnosis of Your Student Affect Your Teaching?

I learn from my kids every day.

My teenager recently wanted my opinion on a TikTok he watched featuring someone advocating to get rid of the DSM-5.He finds psychology fascinating like his mom!) The question my son asked was one he has asked me about everything over his adolescent life: “What’s the point of it?”

My first response was that a diagnosis guides the treatment plan. But does it? Should it? Since "disorders" listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders exist on a spectrum, and are often so interconnected, each person’s needs present differently. Therefore doesn’t that mean treatment should be unique to that person and not whatever label they are given?

As a Special Education Teacher and Behavior Analyst, I have never been in a position of making a diagnosis. However, many students I have served over the years have met the criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder and only been able to access state or insurance funded treatment by getting this diagnosis.

Would it be better to be able to receive those same services for the behaviors of concern in the absence of a label?

On the other hand, many people state that they have felt relief after receiving a diagnosis. Having a name for what they were experiencing has helped them understand the why behind the way they think and act.

When I work with students, I focus on their behaviors and of course, am aware of their background information, to best help them. And what I do know for sure is that the secret sauce to help students progress in their learning is to get to know them.

Like, really know them. 

Being aware of what your students enjoy can fast track your ability to connect with them. Find out what your students love by asking parents, ask the kids themselves or perhaps even more importantly use your super power of keen observation. Study what they do, who they want to talk to, what they want to play with. Look for the patterns of social behavior they exhibit. Pay very close attention to their faces. The little moments often reveal so much.

Regardless of diagnosis, focusing on your students' individual personalities and designing activities around that is what is going to give you the most buy-in from them. And that coveted student buy-in is the foundational building block to getting the most learning out of your students in your social skills group.