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Making Sense of Behavior

Meredith Polsky

When we run Matan Institute inclusion training sessions for educators and synagogue professionals, we are frequently asked to provide specific ways to help classroom teachers recognize the difference between developmental behavior and behavior that is directly related to a disability. What they are really asking for is guidance around discipline and knowing the difference between “typical” behavior and behavior that may be outside of a child’s control.

I am reminded of this image (ADHD Checklist of Possible Symptoms for Girls), shared by The Inclusive Class on Facebook:


But this has me thinking more about stereotypes than disabilities.

Haven’t you done it? Referred to girls as “chatty”, categorized their behavior as “drama” or blamed the way a girl is acting on “hormones”? I know I have. And there may well be truth to each of those descriptions. But we do our children a disservice when use stereotypes to explain away their behavior.

That’s why this list really gave me pause. In looking at it closely, many are the sort of behaviors one might explain away as “girl stuff”. And while there are genuine differences in the way that boys and girls may demonstrate attention deficits, far more concerning to me is the way that adults tolerate (or don’t!) these behaviors. According to this article from, “Teachers tend to have a different tolerance level for the behavior girls with ADHD exhibit than they do for the behavior of boys with ADHD.”

This brings us right back to the dilemma posed above – how do we ever really know the difference? And taking this a step further, is this potentially leading us to misdiagnosing and/or over-diagnosing children based on our own set of expectations or a lack of ability to manage behavior?

A famous quote: “If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.”

Shouldn’t the same be true of the way we manage behavior?

So while we should not assume that all of our girls have ADHD just because they like to chat with friends, we must also not discount the real effect that changing hormones can have on both girls and boys. Let’s become increasingly mindful about our expectations of behavior and the way in which we both categorize and tolerate those behaviors we consider problematic. Maybe it’s just our expectations that are the problem.

Another version of this post originally ran on Removing the Stumbling Block.

Lisa FriedLisa Friedman; Matanman is Matan’s Blog Manager and a Matan Institute Mentor. She is also an Education Director at a Reform congregation in Central New Jersey where she oversees the synagogue’s and religious school’s inclusive practice.

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