(I began writing this blog on Thursday, but my day got out of control before I could finish it. I have since finished and revised it. I’m still working on meeting my weekly goals. Maybe someday I’ll accomplish them…when the kitchen remodel is finished, painting the rest of the house is done, and the kids are a few years older. )
Thursday morning I had a rare moment of watching the news. If our television is on, it is generally tuned to whatever station is broadcasting the cartoon of choice. I was pretty tired, and the girls went to the playroom to play. I was zoned out watching Dora when it occurred to me that I could watch the news if I wanted…and no one would complain. I switched over to the Today Show (my favorite of the morning news shows). Just as I turned it on, the hosts were giving plugs for upcoming stories and announced they would be doing a segment on a new study from Notre Dame regarding the over-diagnosis of ADHD. I was hooked. I then started praying that the plumber wouldn’t show up or the kids wouldn’t need me until the segment came on. I am always interested in any new research on young children, particularly when it relates to educational matters.
Well, my prayers were answered. I was able to watch the segment undisturbed. This new study affirms something I have always suspected: people (more specifically doctors, often at the insistence of parents) are diagnosing normal, healthy, active young children with ADHD incorrectly. Here is my diagnosis of the problem. Adults have inappropriately adjusted their expectations of children. Young children are active. Period. How many times have you said, “Imagine what I could do if only I had half of my kids’ energy.” Why do we expect really young children to be able to sit in a classroom and pay attention for long periods of time without taking breaks to move around some? As I said in my blog about finding a preschool, young children learn best through play.
I think most adults have skewed memories of their early childhood experiences. Kindergarten was originally the year before formal schooling began, where young children learned social skills. Formal schooling now begins in Kindergarten, and socialization is not emphasized as much because there is no time for it. Adults now expect young children to instinctively know how to adjust and behave in a school setting, and they have greater academic expectations of these children. How is a five-year-old who has never been in a school environment and has no books in her home supposed to learn to interact appropriately with other children at school AND learn to read in a nine month period of time?
Adding insult to injury, many schools have now taken away recess to make more time for academics. In this day and age, many children do not have the opportunity to run, play, and explore outdoors at home like children did when I was growing up. This phenomenon has many causes, including safety, busy schedules (sports and extra-curricular activities that eat up most of your free time), lack of outdoor space, the lure of television and technology, and, sadly, parental laziness (something I am guilty of at times). Even adults have trouble focusing when they have too much energy pent up inside. Try to imagine what this is like for young children who have infinitely more energy than we do.
This study points out that boys are more likely than girls to receive a diagnosis of ADHD. I taught five girls and TEN boys in my first year teaching Kindergarten. I had a great time, but I had to adjust my tactics to keep their attention. If you are the parent of both boys and girls, you may have noticed that young boys are often engaged in more active play than girls. I am not saying that girls are not active or don’t chose to get involved in more rowdy types of play. (Believe me, I have two older brothers. I loved playing and rough-housing with my brothers, and I could usually hold my own with them.) What I am saying is that after a few years of teaching, watching my friends and their children, and having my own children, I have observed that boys tend to chose more lively activities (such as wrestling or jumping off of the roof of the house.)
Finally, one of the main discoveries of this study was that the younger children in a classroom are a lot more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. This seems sadly obvious to me. If you have people wrongly diagnosing children with this disorder, it is probably because they are failing to recognize normal activity levels and attention spans in young children. Here is something to keep in mind, children develop in different areas (cognitive, social-emotional, large motor, small motor, etc.) at different rates. Developmentally speaking, children tend to level out by age eight (or around third grade). Here’s my advice. If you are truly concerned that something is wrong with your child, talk to your doctor (while keeping in mind that really young children are very active). If your child is doing well academically speaking in school, it may be that they are causing trouble due to boredom. If they are struggling in school, be sure to research all of the possible causes. Treatment generally goes better when you get an early diagnosis of many disorders and learning disabilities. I have a few friends who were diagnosed with ADD (or ADHD in one case) while in high school and college. They have told me that getting treated made a huge difference in their ability to focus while at school. However, ADD and ADHD in young children are really tricky to diagnose, so you may want to give your child time to mature a little before choosing to medicate your child.
Here is the link to the article from the TODAY Show.
NOTE: I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV. The above statements are expressly my opinion. Please talk to your doctor, or even several doctors, before you make any decisions about treating or not treating your child for ADD, ADHD, or any disease or disorder.