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Health in Education for Development: A Study of the Role of Complementary and Alternative Medicines in the Treatment of ASD and ADHD in a Special Education School in Northern Ireland

This thesis has arisen out of a personal interest in complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) and a query whether or not they can contribute to development. Having had experience both in teaching school children and working with people with disabilities, it became obvious to me that there is a gap in rights for young people with disabilities. With a current shift in the old paternalistic structures that historically segregated those with disabilities, I was curious to see if CAM can bridge that gap in helping this group integrate more fully and deliver them improved health and better economic and social outcomes. I was presented with the opportunity to work with the pupils of Duncastle school (a pseudonym) in Northern Ireland (NI) to research their experience of the effects of CAM.


As this was a health related topic in a special needs educational structure, health, education and disability (special needs) became the core concepts of this research. Health and education are both fundamental necessities in any society and the development of that society is hindered if either is missing or lacking. Duncastle pupils live with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) and autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) along with associated comorbid conditions. Their health is already compromised upon entering the school and their education has been affected as over 81% have been expelled from a previous school.


As our youth are not always given sufficient voice, it became of central importance that they had the opportunity to relate their experiences in this research. For this reason, methodologies were chosen that would facilitate this. I also chose to interview staff to give weight to what the pupils had shared in interviews. I had made an assumption that I would need the staff’s experience to add value to the pupils’ story. While this was achieved, the pupils had, in any case, delivered strong clear stories themselves clearly showing their understandings.


My findings clearly demonstrate that CAM has a very significant role to play in Duncastle school. Respondents report feelings of greater relaxation associated with feeling calm and happy. They assert that their concentration and focus improves, that their attendance at school has improved. There is discussion of how CAM has helped in the development of emotional boundaries where pupils start to recognise their feelings and the consequences of their actions. The findings demonstrate how mental health has improved, leading to a better educational experience. What is particularly interesting for this research is that these pupils come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, a social bracket that has not been researched with CAM as it has generally been exclusive to higher income groups. This may contribute some understanding of the impact of CAM that has not been previously understood, as these at-risk pupils are already compromised in every area of their lives.


Michelle McQuaid 2012


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