I’ve been thinking a lot about ADHD lately. In fact I’ve been working on this particular blog post for over a month. Two of my girls have been “diagnosed” ADHD. The diagnosis (if that’s what you want to call it) is based on evaluations by school psychologists, teachers, myself and by talking directly to my girls. Not some definitive test. Definitive tests for psychological disorders are rare, intensive and expensive – if a test exists at all. I’ve struggled with decisions about medication. There are side effects – loss of appetite, sleeplessness, listlessness. Even on low doses. Yes. Grades, school performance and sometimes even behavior and home life improved. And in the beginning it seemed like a godsend. But a few months ago we decided that medication no longer felt right for this family.
Let me say this: parenting is not easy. There isn’t always a right or wrong, cut and dry, black and white answer. Just like everything else in life, there’s no handbook. Differences of opinions and experiences from one parent to the next can be drastically different or nearly identical. I enjoy reading and hearing other parents perspectives on these issues. So, I’m just going to tell my story.
I was wrong. I was wrong to jump on ADHD as a cause for why my kids struggled at school. I was wrong to try and medicate them. There, I said it. It’s out there. I have only myself to blame, because I pulled the trigger on this. It didn’t help that the school and the girls pediatrician were equally concerned and their suspicions and confirmation was all it took. But I suggested it and I perpetuated it. I remember always asking myself, “How do I know this isn’t normal? I have nothing to compare them to. I only have these kids.” But the schools and doctors, they see lots of kids – and they agreed with me. The symptoms fit. But to be honest you could replace “Symptoms of ADHD” with “Characteristics of Children” and no one would bat an eye. Here, let me show you.
SYMPTOMS OF ADHD
CHARACTERISTICS OF CHILDREN:
Children who have symptoms of inattention may:
- Be easily distracted, miss details, forget things, and frequently switch from one activity to another
- Have difficulty focusing on one thing
- Become bored with a task after only a few minutes, unless they are doing something enjoyable
- Have difficulty focusing attention on organizing and completing a task or learning something new
- Have trouble completing or turning in homework assignments, often losing things (e.g., pencils, toys, assignments) needed to complete tasks or activities
- Not seem to listen when spoken to
- Daydream, become easily confused, and move slowly
- Have difficulty processing information as quickly and accurately as others
- Struggle to follow instructions.
Children who have symptoms of hyperactivity may:
- Fidget and squirm in their seats
- Talk nonstop
- Dash around, touching or playing with anything and everything in sight
- Have trouble sitting still during dinner, school, and story time
- Be constantly in motion
- Have difficulty doing quiet tasks or activities.
Children who have symptoms of impulsivity may:
- Be very impatient
- Blurt out inappropriate comments, show their emotions without restraint, and act without regard for consequences
- Have difficulty waiting for things they want or waiting their turns in games
- Often interrupt conversations or others’ activities.
(These ADHD symptoms were copied from the National Institute of Mental Health)
Seriously? Even as I’m reading over them again, I realize how absurd it is. What kid isn’t ADHD? It’s no wonder it’s so over diagnosed in children! To be honest, I experience several of these symptoms myself from time to time. I know some other adults that might have adult ADHD based on this list. And nearly every kid I’ve ever met. Honestly I feel a bit ashamed that I didn’t recognize the absurdity sooner.
Another thing I feel is important enough to share is that somewhere along the way I heard (or told myself) that if the medication improves performance, then it must be ADHD and they must need the medication. What I didn’t know is that most anyone that takes ADHD medication will find that their concentration and performance improves. It’s why many college students take it illegally while studying for and taking important exams. It’s also why there’s a growing number of adults taking ADHD medication. They are the equivalent of steroids for the mind.
While medication may be a viable option in severe cases, my kids’ cases are not severe. But school really brings out the “ADHD” in them. It’s frustrating and sometimes downright mind boggling for sure, but still not severe. This morning in fact, I was particularly flabbergasted. One of them is really struggling at the moment.
I’ve seen the research and written about how food might be a factor. I firmly believe that poor diet plays a huge role. Garbage in, garbage out. We need food (exercise and rest) to be healthy, mind and body. However avoiding Blues 1 and 2, Citrus Red 2, Green 3, Red 40 and Yellows 5 and 6, isn’t going to cure ADHD. Do keep in mind though, that there’s no nutritive value in food dye and it has been linked to a host of health conditions which includes ADHD. (Even if there weren’t any risks, is it really necessary? I mean most of the foods that contain dyes and additives are probably things we shouldn’t be eating anyway, right? And what exactly are these food manufacturers trying to hide or disguise?)
Opinions as to why ADHD is so much more prevalent than it was a generation ago run the gamut – from more awareness and better diagnosing to food additives and chemicals. And then there are those (including myself now) that believe that most cases of ADHD aren’t really ADHD at all. Do we really expect children, even older children to be capable of sitting quietly and staying focused for hours on end while listening to one boring lesson after another? Lessons they probably have little or no interest in to begin with? Could the increase in ADHD diagnoses (in both children and a growing number of adults) be due to decreased societal acceptance of impulsive behavior and inattention in general? These are just some of the questions I’ve been struggling with lately.
Schools today seem too rigid, broad and fast paced and overly standardized. Quality, mastery and understanding don’t seem to be as important as exposing kids to a wide range of topics in hopes that enough sticks to pass some yearly standardized test. Overworked, underpaid teachers, assistants and staff have little time or energy left to deal with the kids that don’t fall in line. And with a shrinking window for what is considered acceptable behavior and performance, more and more kids – probably even more than they have time to notice – will not hit that window.
Most kids diagnosed with ADHD do not have attention problems in all situations. It’s selective. My kids have no problem completing and focusing on tasks that interests them. They can read, play with Legos and focus on T.V. for hours on end – as long as they get to choose what to read, play with or watch. Is this a surprise? Aren’t they really just like… everyone else? But they will have to learn to keep focused, even when they are bored. People often say that the majority of kids usually “outgrow” ADHD, or that they learn to overcome or compensate for their inattentiveness, but isn’t that just… growing up?
All kids must go school. Some of them do very well and like it. Some of them learn to drudge through it, even though they’re bored. Some of them don’t do well at all. They can’t sit still. Don’t pay attention. Aren’t getting their lessons or maybe just aren’t able to retain them for long. They are frequently “off task”. Behave impulsively (interrupting others, bothering other peoples things, talking too much, etc.) . And some even disrupt the class. These are all signs of ADHD. You know what else they are signs of? Bored children.
Here’s something else that relieves some of my mommy worries. Many people who exhibit signs of ADHD also seem to be highly creative, imaginative and innovative? Many actors, artists, inventors and visionaries were, or showed characteristics of ADHD. Some are well known (google it) and some are just everyday people. And where would our world be without those people? Why are we trying to squash these traits?
Check out this link to a good article that I found on the internet: The “ADHD Personality”: Its Cognitive, Biological, and Evolutionary Foundations
Here’s a link to the book that I have on hold at the library that I can’t wait to read: A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future
This video says it all, much better than I did. In fact I should probably have just posted the video on facebook or something, but it took me a month to write this damn thing, so I posted it!
Lastly, a note to my teacher friends and family:
I hope that this post does not offend you. I’m aware that you are pretty much at the mercy of the material you are given, and can only guess that any one of these alone – the politics and red tape in the education system, lack of energy due to being over worked, resentment due to being underpaid and under appreciated as well as the lack of assistance and parental involvement – is probably enough to make you want to quit sometimes. Yet you bare it, even when you are bombarded with all of that at once, every. single. day. I imagine even the most talented, spirited and inspired young teachers get discouraged when they finally do get their own classroom and figure out just how bureaucratic it can get. I doubt I could walk in your shoes. I hope one day, that this country learns to appreciate things that are really important. Teachers are near the top of the list.