ADHD: Curing the Symptoms of Childhood?
As a teacher (in my life before kids), I was aware of the tendency to over diagnose students with ADD, ADHD and other mental health illnesses. At the beginning of every school year I was given a stack of red folders that outlined the IEP (Indivualized Education Program) for each of my students with a diagnosis of a physical or learning disability or behavioral disorder. I taught close to 150 students each year. The stack of folders I received (and after a quick glance through each, tossed into the bottom drawer of a filing cabinet) was disturbingly tall.
While doing some research for my previous post, I came across the ADHD diagnosis chart from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. I was shocked to read what medical officials were listing as symptoms of the all too common disorder. It was my first time really confronting this issue as a parent, which offers a completely different perspective. With boys being diagnosed with ADHD at more than twice the rate as girls, in the back of my mind I'd known that my kiddos would be easy targets in the public school system, but to be reminded of it was a little more than unsettling. During 2012–2013, an estimated annual average of 6.1 million physician office visits were made by children aged 4–17 years with a primary diagnosis of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and of those visits central nervous system stimulant medications were provided, prescribed, or continued at about 80% of ADHD visits among children aged 4–17 years. (CDC.gov)
Why are the rates so high, you ask?
The expectations society is now placing on our children are becoming more and more demanding and more and more parents, teachers and medical professionals are turning towards medication as a means for children to cope with the increasingly unrealistic demands of the education system. Dr. Lawrence H. Diller writes in his book, The Last Normal Child:
"[So] by the early 1990's, five-year-olds were expected to decode letters and sounds, write and spell simple words, and perform simple addition and subtraction. These are skills that for decades had been taught to six-year-olds who were entering first grade but were now expected a year earlier at the kindergarten level. Please keep in mind that although twelve months may not seem like a long period of time, it represents 20 percent of a five-year-old's life."
And because of these heightened expectations (they've only gotten more demanding since Diller released his book), "normal" childhood behavior such as the symptoms listed below are now causing "problems" for more and more children in the classroom.
Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (loses focus, gets sidetracked). Am I the only one that walks into a room, forgets why, finds something else that needs to be done and then completely abandons whatever project I was previously working on?
Often avoids, dislikes, or doesn't want to do things that take a lot of mental effort for a long period of time (such as schoolwork or homework). Schoolwork and homework are usually quite boring. So is paying bills and filing taxes. We do these things because we have to, not because they are particularly engaging or exciting. Who wants to do something that takes a lot of mental effort for a long period of time if it's not interesting?
Often loses things needed for tasks and activities (e.g. toys, school assignments, pencils, books, or tools). By this definition, every man that asks his wife a few times a week if she's seen his keys has ADHD.
Often talks excessively. And by this definition, every woman on Earth has ADHD.
Often interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g., butts into conversations or games). Have you ever spent more than five minutes with an excited child? Even in the most well-manered children, this is standard MO.
It's not just the fact that kids are being diagnosed with conditions such as ADHD but that so many adults are choosing medication as a "cure" that is cause for concern. We are medicating four-year-olds for this stuff. Yes, the form states that you should "check each item if the child showed the symptom for at least 6 months to an extent that is inappropriate for the child’s developmental level" but what does that mean? Who decides what is appropriate? Teachers? The same teachers that are forced to teach lessons based on the "knowledge" needed to pass a standardized test written by "experts" that know nothing personally about any of the children that take said tests? Are we really so concerned with test results that we need to cure the symptoms of childhood? Diller also writes:
"Ours is the only country in the world where the "symptoms" of forgetfulness, dreaminess, and intelligence-in short the characteristics of an absent minded professor or child-would be considered the signs of a mental disorder to be treated with a psychiatric drug."
.Parents, teachers, counselors, caregivers, we cannot continue to allow our four and five-year-olds to be labeled because they won't sit still. They aren't made to sit still. Even our tweens and teens need time and space to move their bodies, to be actively engaged. Adults do too, for that matter. Before you allow your child to be labeled with a diagnosis that will potentially follow him or her throughout an entire grade school career, take a moment to question the reasons these behaviors are considered disruptive. Kids behaving like kids will wreak havoc on an institution that needs structure and control in order to run efficiently but as schools in Finland, Texas and Japan are proving, an environment that is conducive to a child's childhood and a child's education can be one in the same. I am not a doctor and I know that there are cases where mental disorders and learning disabilities truly are interfering with a child's ability to learn. As a parent and a teacher, I also understand that kids just need to be kids and that all too often we are choosing to limit the time our youngsters have to be creative, to explore and discover in a way that allows them to be successful and thrive.
“We spend the first year of a child's life teaching it to walk and talk and the rest of its life to shut up and sit down.
There's something wrong there.”
— Neil deGrasse Tyson
Below, you will find the CDC's symptom checklist for ADHD. If you are a parent, teacher or caregiver that is in anyway concerned about the health and well-being of a child, please consult with the child's healthcare provider.