ADHD, The False Epidemic
It is troubling to me when I think of the willingness of the medical and educational systems to give a child drugs because he wiggles in his chair.
I was born in 1955. I remember so well as a child hearing of my many friends who had their tonsils removed. It was so frequent that I wondered why mine was never removed. If you coughed at the wrong time in the wrong place they hauled you off to the doctor for the tonsillectomy. It was very common.
Yet, if you were to survey teens today you would find that most of them still have their tonsils and their adenoids, with the exception of critical cases. But when I was young it was routine. It turned out to be a false epidemic, an overreaction that spread to an entire generation. That was then.
What this generation suffers from is a new form of false plague called “Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder” (ADHD or AD/HD or ADD) which is a developmental disorder. It is primarily characterized by "lack of interest andhyperactivity”. Research shows us that ADHD is the most commonly diagnosed behavioral disorder for kids in the United States, with millions among children under age 18, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, there are no neurological markers for ADHD (such as a blood test), and experts disagree on its prevalence.
I am not saying that there is no such thing as ADHD. It is a genuine condition. Doctors agree on that, just as “some people” needed their tonsils taken out. What I don’t agree with is that there is an epidemic. Think about it. "A child is thought to have ADHD if he is behaving poorly, if he's inattentive, if he can't sit still”. That describes almost every child that I ever attend school with, including myself. Researchers tell us that of the millions of children currently identified as having ADHD have been misdiagnosed. Although teachers cannot diagnose ADHD, their opinions are instrumental in decisions to send a child to be evaluated by a mental health professional,
One study said, "Many ADHD diagnoses may be driven by teachers' perceptions of poor behavior among the youngest children in a kindergarten classroom." "But these 'symptoms' may merely reflect emotional or intellectual immaturity among the youngest students."They are not as mature and developed as some of the others.
In the early 80’s only about a half a million kids were thought to have ADHD. But in this explosion of overreaction the current estimate is over eight million. Such inappropriate evaluation and treatment is particularly worrisome because of the unknown impacts of long-term stimulant use on children's health. There is another wrinkle in this story. It also wastes an estimated $320 million-$500 million a year on unnecessary medication -- some $80 million-$90 million of it is paid by Medicaid. This is serious cash for drug companies. Unfortunately there are too many inappropriate prescriptions being written and children who do not need the medication for behavioral issues continue to be medicated.
Why would there be this misconception? What is happening among our kids that would lead so many educators and even some doctors to medicate these millions of children? I think the answer is twofold. Neither of these are the fault of the children.
For one, kids are living in the most intense stimulating environment in the history of the earth; they deal with more information in a day than we dealt with in a year at their age. Their minds are moving a thousand miles an hour. This is going to have a physical effect. We attempt to pigeon hole our children in a lifeless environment, and then we penalize them for getting distracted from things that are boring. Our kids are not sick, they are bored. Rather than medicating them we need to make the educational program more interesting. But as a teacher it is easier to label the child as ADHD than it is to admit that you have no teaching skills and that it is more fun to watch paint dry than it is to listen to some educators regurgitate meaningless numbers or information that they themselves are bored with. The truth is that a student is launched by what his teacher is willing to see in him and the true educator is a miner of precious gems. He teaches according to the individual rather than just meaningless crunching of numbers.
Do you want to see children come alive? Get them in the right environments. Find their creativity gene and plug them in. Not all kids are scientist or mathematicians. Some are called to be artists or social workers. And math and science is a snoozer for them. They will never be good at it. How can they not be a bit bored? Again, I am not saying that there are not children today who suffer from ADHD. I am just saying that we cannot get a cookie cutter and label every child that is bored with this terrible disease.
Most of us take Einstein's name as synonymous with genius, but he didn't always show such promise. Einstein did not speak until he was four and did not read until he was seven, causing his teachers and parents to think he was mentally handicapped, slow and anti-social. Eventually, he was expelled from school and was refused admittance to the Zurich Polytechnic School. It might have taken him a bit longer, but most people would agree that he caught on pretty well in the end, changing the face of modern physics. If he had lived in this day and time he would have probably been diagnosed as having ADHD and they would have quickly put him on medication.
Another problem that our kids are facing is a lack of activity. They sit in front of a television and computers for hour upon hour with no outlet for energy. Their bodies should be as active as their minds. This requires something from parents, however it is easier to let the television baby sit your children than it is to get involved in their life.