You’ve probably heard of ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
What it is
Contrary to what it may look like, ADHD is actually under-stimulation in the brain. Children with ADHD look for other sources of stimulation because their brain is not doing that for them like it is supposed to. Medication for ADHD involves artificial stimulation of the brain, thereby reducing the need for outside stimulation. This results in a calmer, more focused child.
Symptoms of ADHD include:
- Short attention span
- Trouble making and sticking to a plan
- Mood swings
- Low stress threshold
The American Psychological Association and the CDC estimate that the number of children diagnosed with ADHD in 2011 (the most recent available data) was 11%. The rates have been climbing steadily for the last two decades, suggesting that those statistics could be even higher now.
If those seem excessive to you, they seemed excessive to me too.
Here are some facts about ADHD and the school system that may shed some light on the issue:
That’s right. Children who are seen as being more immature (because they are, biologically) are far more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. This is probably a result of their teacher comparing them across the classroom and noticing that they may be having a more difficult time sitting still and paying attention than the older children. Does this actually have anything to do with a medical condition? Probably not. But unfortunately, there are few hard and fast guidelines regarding the diagnosis of ADHD. It’s basically left up to the whims of the doctors and the feelings of the parents.
There are two ways this affects children with ADHD.
- A formal diagnosis can provide a hyperactive child with medication and therapy to help them focus. A more focused child provides higher test scores. Additionally, children with a diagnosis of ADHD may be given more school amenities such as small group study time and extra tutoring. All of this will serve to improve test scores, thereby increasing funding to the school.
- Some states allow schools to omit testing data from children diagnosed with ADHD. Assuming that these children also receive lower scores on tests, excluding their results may increase the overall testing average from that school.
Do I believe that there are a lot of children out there receiving a diagnosis they don’t need? You bet.
And I’m not the only one. Dr. Richard Saul, a neurologist, wrote an interesting article for Time Magazine arguing that ADHD does not actually exist. He believes that there are two categories that people diagnosed with ADHD fall into:
- People who have about the normal amount of distraction in their life, but believe that it is unusual
- People who have one of 20 other psychological, biological, or neurological issues that manifest some similar symptoms to ADHD
His concern is that with so many people relying on stimulants, their body is actually impeded from producing its own stimulation. This results in addiction and dependency – not something we want to inflict on 11% of our child population.
UCLA’s Department of Psychology found that 85% of doctors were quick to diagnose ADHD without doing a complete assessment, and they were often biased by gender and cultural differences.
ADHD and Labeling Theory
Labeling Theory suggests that if someone is given a label (such as a diagnosis), they begin to take that on as their identification. This leads to taking on further attributes of the label and filtering everything they encounter through the lens of the label.
For example, if a child is diagnosed with and told they have ADHD, Labeling Theory proposes that the child may then begin acting in accordance with their diagnosis. They have now been given an excuse to act in a certain manner and blame it on their diagnosis, rather than accepting responsibility for their character.
Labeling can be empowering too, though. For some parents, having a name to put to their child’s symptoms can be a relief. Additionally, a formal diagnosis opens doors for their child to get help that wasn’t available before.
These should all be things to consider before you allow a formal diagnosis of ADHD to be attached to your child.
Dr. Richard Saul writes about several things that can be done to minimize hyperactivity and distractibility.
Sleep is incredibly important for learning and memory. Sleep deprivation results in lack of attention and focus. The brain solidifies learning into memory during sleep, transitioning information into long term memory. As many children diagnosed with ADHD have problems with attention and memory, sleep can be a significant factor in managing their symptoms.
Make sure your child is getting plenty of quality sleep in a dark, peaceful environment. Limit screen time for at least an hour before bed. Maintain a bedtime routine that signals to your child’s brain that it is time to wind down and rest.
Of course a good diet is important for everyone. However, there are certain foods that have been specifically linked with hyperactivity.
Artificial colours and flavours: Most of these aren’t really good for anyone anyways. Try reducing the amount of soda, artificially enhanced fruit juices, and other brightly coloured snacks that are not all natural.
Omega-3 fatty acids: These are found in fish, seeds, and oils. Because omega-3 fatty acids assist with the transmission of important neurotransmitters in the brain, there have been suggestions that a deficit may have to do with the lack of neural stimulation found in children with ADHD. Make sure your child is eating plenty of omega-3 rich foods.
Exercise is good way to get rid of excess energy and help children sleep better at night. It also stimulates the brain and improves focus, memory, and mental acuity.
Make sure your child has ample opportunity to run around outside, or participate in physical activities that provide regular exercise. Children with ADHD also thrive on routine, so make exercise part of a schedule.
Anyone can find themselves irritable or hyper when they’re bored. Directing that energy in a meaningful direction can reduce those symptoms. Make sure your child has plenty of access to enjoyable activities, or get them enrolled in a fun sports or activity program. This will keep their brain engaged and stimulated in a healthy way.
Parents, I hope you found this helpful! Let me know in the comments about your experiences with ADHD and what helped.