Beyond Behaviour: Exploring the social consequences for pupils (not) diagnosed with neurodevelopmental and behavioural disorders

This project works with Scottish secondary pupils, their families and school staff to explore what it is like to have a diagnosis for a neurodevelopmental disorder such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and behavioural disorders such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). The study also looks at what it is like for pupils who do not have a diagnosis of a behavioural disorder but who at times and for various reasons can need some additional support to help them manage their behaviour in school. The study explores the reasons why some pupils are referred for diagnosis, and others are not.

Beyond Behaviour Logo

A note on language

We understand that it is important to be sensitive in the language we use to describe the young people in this study. We acknowledge that describing a young person as having a neurodevelopmental or behavioural disorder or as needing additional support for behaviour is problematic. It potentially focuses on negative aspects of a young person rather than their strengths and says little about the complexity of the potential drivers of those behaviours.

We want to ensure that the language we use does not compound stigma that may be associated with the diagnosis of a behavioural disorder, or by being known to the school for needing behavioural support. Nevertheless, we use this language in some of the project literature to be clear about the types of diagnoses we are interested in (e.g. ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Conduct Disorder). These are all officially categorised under these terms. Adopting this terminology allows us to be precise about what it is we are studying. The use of these terms does not imply our approval of their use. Our study is concerned with the impact (if any) on young people of being given (and of not being given) such labels.

Reasons for behavioural diagnosis

Some young people who at times and for various reasons can need some additional support to help them manage their behaviour in schooreceive a diagnosis of a psychological (often behavioural) disorder (e.g. ADHD) that is thought to, at least in part, explain their behaviour. Yet other young people who display similar behaviours are not referred for specialist assessment.

This study aims to identify what factors, in addition to behaviour, influence whether children are referred from education to health for specialist assessment.

Social consequences (e.g. stigma)

In addition, some claim that being labelled as having a psychological disorder can be stigmatising and that it might lead young people to avoid responsibility for their behaviour: “I’m not able to behave, I have something wrong with me”. Others argue diagnoses are useful because they help young people access the support they need to manage their behaviour.

But what about young people who experience difficulties at school but don’t receive a diagnosis? In the education system, these children may benefit from the opportunities for support afforded to those with a diagnosis and can be labelled in other informal, inaccurate and potentially stigmatising ways (e.g. as being deliberately disruptive or a ‘naughty child’). These informal labels may have implications for the young person’s educational progress and social wellbeing.

This study will compare the social consequences for pupils who have a diagnosis for a neurodevelopmental or behavioural disorder to those who display similar behaviour but do not. This is important because how young people are identified and described affects how they see and value themselves. This in turn has implications for how they behave and how they view themselves as a learner.


Salvesen Mindroom Research Centre (SMRC)

Start date June 2019 (paused in 2020 - 2021 due to Covid restrictions)
End date January 2025

Research team

More information

If you would like to find out more about the study or to discuss your potential involvement, please e-mail the research team at: