When I look at over 22 year of special education experience, I can see a massive inflation in the misdiagnosis of ADHD. Well, it did start as ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and soon became ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder).
The special education profession is still split on the existence of ADHD. Some say it is a brain malfunction, some say it is only children’s need to move a lot beyond the “normal” range. I think that no matter which approach you take, our society is sick with the labeling disease!
Here are some of the symptoms of inattention used to classify ADHD children (they need more than 6 to qualify):
- Often does not give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, work, or other activities.
- Often has trouble keeping attention on tasks or play activities.
- Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly.
- Often does not follow instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (not due to oppositional behavior or failure to understand instructions).
- Often has trouble organizing activities.
- 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).
- Often loses things needed for tasks and activities (e.g. toys, school assignments, pencils, books, or tools).
- Is often easily distracted.
- Is often forgetful in daily activities.
Well, look at that list and realise why we have an inflation of children with ADHD.
According to US Centre of Disease Control and Prevention, the ADHD is:
ADHD is one of the most common neurobehavioral disorders of childhood and can persist through adolescence and into adulthood. Currently the causes are unknown.
A person with ADHD has a chronic level of inattention, impulsive hyperactivity, or both such that daily functioning is compromised. The symptoms of the disorder must be present at levels that are higher than expected for a person’s developmental stage and must interfere with the person’s ability to function in different settings (e.g., in school and at home). A person with ADHD may struggle in important areas of life, such as peer and family relationships, and school or work performance.
If you read this definition and the list of the symptoms, you can see that with such definition most kids do not stand a chance to be treated properly. I look at this list and say that in many of my schooling years, I had not only 6 of the symptoms but all 9 of them. Most of my school friends could fit nicely into this formula too. Did we all have ADHD?
Motivation Cures ADHD
I felt worse about what I now call “the ADHD myth” after working with many “ADHD”. By working with these kids’ motivation, I changed their behavior and performance dramatically within a short time. So much so that none of their “symptoms” remained.
Now you tell me, if ADHD is “a chronic level of inattention” and “a neurobehavioral disorder”, how can it be changed in three months?
Children do not give close attention to details because they have many better things to do and throughout most of their school years, they do not really know what they are doing at school anyway.
Usually, the same kids pay 100% attention to their sports or some other activity, which they find interesting.
Children pay attention to tasks and play activities they love. When a parent comes to me and says, “My kid cannot sit for a second”, I ask them, “What does he like to do? Can he sit 15 minutes to do that?”
The answer is very often, “Well, yes, 100% of the time, yes!”
“Low Motivation” is a different label from “Attention Deficit Disorder”.
So what is the problem? Is it that children do not listen or that we have a problem to force them to do what we want them to do?
An old man goes to the doctor, worried his wife is getting deaf. The doctor says to him, “Stand 5 meters away from her and ask her a question, then keep getting closer until she finally hears you”. The man goes home, stands 5 meter away from his wife and asks, “Darling, what do we have for dinner?” There is no answer. He moves a step closer and asks again “Darling, what do we have for dinner?” Still no answer. He moves to 3 meters, still not answer, then 2 meter, 1 meter and finally, he stands in front of her upset face and she looks up at him and says, “How many times do I have to tell you? Chicken!”
Responsibility is needed here, not labels!
To get kids to follow instructions, we must provide them with some motivation – what’s in it for THEM? What will they benefit from finishing schoolwork or chores?
Do you know how many adults procrastinate? This is an emotional block that has a connection to internal motivation. School is all about external motivation – getting good grades and making mum and dad happy. These are bad reasons to finish any school work. Fun, on the other hand…
We do not learn many helpful organizing skills at school. Some disorganized people find their things in a mess better than in an organised place. If you look at each kid’s family, you can find that families with good time management skills produce organised children. Organisation is on a scale.
One of my clients, a mother with a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old, went back to work and was very upset because her husband, who took care of the kids on one of these days, was very disorganized with showers, meals and playtime. I asked her, “How long did it take you to reach this level of organizing your afternoons?”
“4 years”, she said, “4 years, every day”.
“How long has he been doing this?”
“3 weeks, only on Thursdays!”
“Well”, I said, “Please compare 365 days times 4 years of experience with 3 Thursday afternoons!”
Organizing skills can be learnt. Teach them to your kids.
Most of the homework is boring, boring, boring. My kids, who generally breeze through school, dislike and do not want to do things that take lot of (mental) effort, even for a short time. Not having a well-developed concept of time, children cannot tell how long things will take them to do and treat every new task as if it may take forever. They are born with zero knowledge, so everything is new and everything requires effort to master. They learn so much at the beginning of their life that it is funny to think that if they do not want to do things it is because they have ADHD.
Mental effort for a long period of time is hard, so children need a lot of feedback and encouragement.
Losing things selectively is a very interesting symptom. I can find something in common between forgetting school assignments, pencils, books and tools. Can’t you? Why do they never forget what is really important to them, like the exact time of their favorite TV show or the exact amount of money they need to buy a chocolate bar?
Distraction has a connection more to their physical emotional state than to having ADHD. Insufficient sleep, unhealthy eating and problems at home have major effects on any person’s ability to focus, especially children.
Finding the real reason they cannot focus can help us change the behavior of a child who is easily distracted.
Being forgetful in activities is another good one. Adults think they have a monopoly on knowing what is important. If the kids do not remember what we think is important, let’s label them as having some disease like ADHD and pump them full of Ritalin. That will fix them…
One of the things kids forget is … to drink. Unfortunately, dehydration is a major cause of short-term memory loss.
If a kid can remember other things during the day, there is nothing wrong with their memory. If you are worried, pump them full of water.
If you look at the whole list of symptoms, you can find many different explanations for “inattentive behavior”. Some explanations will help to change the attitude towards kids, stop the overuse of the ADHD label and support taking responsibility for our part in our kids’ education.
One of my greatest teachers taught me the greatest attitude to education: “If a kid cannot understand something, it is only because we have not found a good enough way of explaining it yet!”
Find a way!