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Strong Faith in Diagnoses as a Way to Make Classrooms Calmer


Research from the University of Gothenburg shows that it has become common to use neuropsychiatric diagnoses to explain unruly behaviour in schoolchildren.

The study is based on interviews with student support staff at nine primary and lower-secondary schools. More specifically, the study focuses on how school staff talk about and use various neuropsychiatric diagnoses, such as ADHD and Asperger’s syndrome, to explain situations where schoolchildren engage in fights, bullying and harassment.

‘One finding is that the criticism against diagnoses of this type seems to be completely absent among the school staff in some cases. Today, most people view diagnoses as a way to support certain children,’ says Ylva Odenbring, associate professor of education, who carried out the study together with her colleagues Thomas Johansson and Kristina Hunehäll Berndtsson.

A Culture of Diagnosing

The increased diagnosing of neuropsychiatric conditions among young people in Sweden since the early 1990s can partly be attributed to the lack of financial resources and some students’ need for support. In this context, diagnoses are considered an effective way to express a need for support and gain more funding to the respective school.

The researchers behind the study argue that over-diagnosing of children and adolescents may in fact occur in Swedish society, that we live in a culture of diagnosing and that this is noticeable not least in the school system.

‘The risk with the over-diagnosing of kids is that teachers and other school staff end up neglecting social factors and the role of the school environment when behavioural problems arise. Instead they choose to focus only on the individual and his or her psychological state,’ says Professor Johansson.

Psychiatric Interventions

Instead of trying to change the school environment, the staff arrange neuropsychiatric evaluations and psychiatric interventions.

‘The results indicate that the professional culture at a school influences whether and how diagnoses are included in explanatory models,’ says Odenbring.

An article about the study has been published in the scholarly journal Power & Education. It was written within the framework of a project funded by the Swedish Research Council.