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The Best Ways to Teach Students with Disabilities is the Best Way to Teach All Students

Copyright © Adam Waxler

Whenever reading about attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) I am always startled by the extraordinary number of children relying on drug therapy to control their behavior.  Even more disturbing is the drastic increase of drug reliance during the last ten years (Woolfolk, 1998).  What kind of message is this sending to our children?  We teach children not to abuse drugs, but that is exactly what is being done today to control behavioral problems associated with ADHD.  That is not to say that the use of drugs is wrong in every case, but the drastic increase in use leads me to believe that it is being prescribed more often than not, as if it were the answer to all ADHD problems.

Using any drug to avoid any problem is cause for concern.  Thomas Armstrong (1996), author of the article, “A Holistic Approach to Attention Deficit Disorder”, emphasizes this point claiming that children may attribute their improved behavior to taking drugs and they may come to expect the medication to do all the work.  I agree with Armstrong that relying on drug therapy for ADHD children is a dangerous approach.  I have always felt that treating behavioral problems with drugs neglects the underlying problem that may be causing the unwanted behavior.  However, I had always thought that behavior modification was a viable alternative.  It was not until reading Armstrong’s article that I began to realize that behavior modification may be no better than drug therapy.  Behavior modification may change a child’s behavior, but may have detrimental effects in that it is basically making a child into something that he or she is not.

I agree with Armstrong that we need a whole new approach to treating children with ADHD.  After reading his article the answer seems simple, accentuate the positive.  Focusing on the positive, however, must go beyond simply praising students who are behaving properly and ignoring those who are not.  Focusing on the positive means changing the whole way in which we perceive students with ADHD.  We must no longer be fixated on their deficits, but rather focused on their strengths (Armstrong, 1996).

Unfortunately, ADHD by definition claims that these students have a deficit and by doing so many people see the deficit as the main characteristic defining that person.  I believe that all students have strengths and through better teaching methods and strategies teachers can utilize these strengths to enhance learning.  Interesting enough, these better teaching methods could benefit all students.  Just because a student is doing well doesn’t mean he or she cannot do better.  In educating children, teachers have a tendency to think that learning stops with an “A” grade.  However, by focusing on the strengths of ADHD students, through hands-on learning and other creative teaching strategies, we will also be enhancing the learning for those students who already receive good grades.

The more I research the best ways to teach students with disabilities the more I discover that what is best for students with disabilities is actually best for all students.  Thomas Armstrong does an excellent job of explaining why behavior modification actually discourages creativity and motivation.  Designing teaching strategies that bring out these qualities will certainly benefit students of all abilities.  I strongly believe that all students can learn and that it is the job of the teacher to find out how.


Armstrong, T. (1996, February). A holistic approach to attention deficit disorder. Education Leadership, 34-36.

Woolfolk, A.E. (1998) Educational Psychology (7th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Adam Waxler is a middle school social studies teacher, teacher mentor, and the author of eTeach: A Teacher Resource for Learning the Strategies of Master Teachers. Adam is also the editor and publisher of The Teaching Teacher’s Newsletter. For more information about his ebook or to sign up for your free monthly newsletter log onto: