SMU focuses discussion on attention deficit disorder

Profs share insights on condition that many struggle with

Professor Robert Ansell says community dialogue sessions offered an opportunity for Saint Mary’s faculty to discuss the misconceptions of attention deficit disorder with the public. Photo: Jonathan Bruce
Professor Robert Ansell says community dialogue sessions offered an opportunity for Saint Mary’s faculty to discuss the misconceptions of attention deficit disorder with the public. Photo: Jonathan Bruce

Does labelling someone with the term attention deficit disorder do more harm than good?

This was one of the questions Robert Ansell, a philosophy professor at Saint Mary’s University, raised in October during the third community lecture at Dartmouth’s Alderney Gate Library. Attention deficit disorder is not in his field of study, but he developed an interest in the subject after observing how students with the condition were misunderstood.

Ansell’s lecture is the second in a new series of community discussions launched by the continuing education division of Saint Mary’s to create an open forum with the public on contemporary issues. The discussion consists of a faculty member and an expert introducing the subject and the audience members are encouraged to provide questions and comments.

Ansell hosted the event with David Leitch, the director of the Atlantic Centre for Disabled Students and the head of counselling at Saint Mary’s. The discussion, “Attention Deficit Disorder in a Philosophical Perspective,” focused on how the condition is wrongly perceived.

Ansell has taught philosophy for 43 years, and he says many students struggled with attention deficit disorder. He offered to speak at the discussion and was approved by the continued education department.

“I discuss ADD in some of my classes, and I think it is a topic that should be possible to discuss profitably with the general public,” he said in an interview.

Gordon Michael, director of continued education, says the discussions are supposed to examine certain subjects with the local residents.

“These community dialogues are one way for Saint Mary’s to give back to the community,” says Michael.

Janice Stevens, the secretary for continuing education, said the community dialogues are designed to create a rapport between the university and the Halifax Regional Municipality.

Ansell’s discussion is not the first of its kind, because the Saint Mary’s campus hosted an open discussion about public participation in organized research in September.

“It was a small turnout, but there was lively discussion between the faculty and community,” Stevens said in an interview.

Fifteen people attended Ansell’s lecture and contributed to the discussion. One woman said she taught special education for 30 years and noticed how several students were heavily medicated. Another woman talked about her older brother never receiving treatment for attention deficit disorder as a child. An older man spoke about how the school system failed to provide guidance to students with the disorder.

Ansell examined the role of language in shaping misconceptions of the condition, and Leitch discussed counselling students who lacked support.

Ansell said he enjoyed the community dialogue, because all of the participants shared their experiences with attention deficit disorder.

“Everyone at the discussion knows or has known someone with attention deficit disorder, and I was surprised to hear their thoughts on how they were treated.”

There are community dialogues scheduled for November on globalization, revolutions in the Middle East and the importance of language.

Ansell hopes more people will attend these discussions in the future.

“I see them as an opportunity to extend teaching beyond the classroom.”