Do You Know a School-Aged Boy? Because Mine’s Making me Question Whether ADHD Really is a Fictitious Epidemic.

I took Joseph to the eye doctor a few months ago.  As we were sitting in the darkened room after waiting over 20 minutes for the doctor to finish up with another patient, Joseph got fidgety.  Clearly done looking at the pictures on my phone, playing rock, paper, scissors and the color game with me, he started to move.  I was surprised he lasted that long.

He touched the instruments.  He stood up in the chair.  He pushed the buttons for the light.  He jumped out of the chair.  And when the doctor came in and immediately gave Joseph directions, while he mostly followed them, he also kept touching things and wiggling.

At the end of the exam the doctor said “You must have a hard time with him in school.”   Then he pointedly started talking about ADHD, explaining that there are treatments now for kids who cannot stay focused.  I was pissed.

Could my 5-year-old, who can’t sit still for 40 minutes, possibly have ADHD?  Yes.  Was it annoying to a medical professional who had a lot of patients to see that my son took extra time because he wouldn’t listen to every direction the first time it was given?  Sure.  It annoyed me!   But expecting him to stay still and focused for 40 minutes is also unrealistic and unfair.  I don’t really know many adults who can do that.

Nearly one in five high school-aged boys has been given a diagnosis of ADHD, about twice the rate of girls in the same age group, according to an analysis of 2011-12 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

20% seems like a really high number to me.

Diagnoses are rising.

Is it because the disorder is better understood and we have better access to care?  Parents are better informed?  Doctors better informed?  Maybe.

ADHD is a genuine neurobehavioral disorder, no doubt.  And many children who would have previously fallen through the cracks have been helped with proper diagnosis and medication.

There is no test for ADHD.  Rather, it is a diagnosis of exclusion.  So, for proper diagnosis, a doctor has to rule out all other co-existing and/or mimicking conditions and potential causes.  Here’s a list of just a few other conditions it resembles.  That is a hard thing to do because so much of the evaluation is based on subjective opinions of parents, teachers, the kids themselves as well as the doctor.  Because it is so difficult, and because stakes are so high for the kid diagnosed, ADHD is pretty controversial.

The controversy isn’t whether ADHD is real, but rather, because of dozens of other diagnoses that it echoes, whether the symptoms a kid demonstrates actually are ADHD and if so, what causes it and how it should be treated.

Why are so many kids being diagnosed with a disorder that will put them on medication for years?  And why are most diagnoses coming at school-age?

I cannot help but wonder whether diagnoses are rising because of unrealistic expectations of our children and our school system, especially when it comes to boys.

Is it that our educational system overlooks the physical needs of kids?

Could it be something as simple as the fact that so many of our school-age kids aren’t getting enough sleep?  The symptoms of sleep disorders mimic ADHD.

Or is it that kids in school aren’t getting enough exercise?  Lack of exercise looks a heck of a lot like the symptoms of ADHD.

Could it really be that drug companies, ever hungry for profits, have manipulated doctors and parents into a $7 billion dollar ADD market?  Or is the number over $147 billion?  The competing interests in our capitalist society certainly complicate the issue.

Maybe it’s just that boys are BAD!  Bad! Bad!  Bad!

I’m with Sir Ken Robinson (and Vatsal G. Thakkar, who opines on the sleep issue here) on this one.  Unless all doctors West of Oklahoma are idiots.  Or maybe it is most of all doctors North and West of Arkansas?

One thing I hear more often than not when talking to other parents and educators is that our current public education model is not working for boys.  I’d argue the same for girls, but it definitely seems to be failing a segment of our male population.

As the mom of at least one pretty active boy, this greatly concerns me.  He is smart and creative and focused when he is interested in something, but he definitely cannot sit still like my daughter, especially when he is tired or has been inactive for a bit.  Yes, he’s younger.  But he also has a much different (read: more physical) learning style.  I don’t think that makes him lesser of a student.  Rather, it just makes him different.  And so why shouldn’t we educators try to adapt learning to each learner if we can instead of stuffing each student in the same box?

What can I say?  The kid is a delight -  - as long as he's well-rested and learning in an active way.

What can I say? The kid is a delight – – as long as he’s well-rested and learning in an active way.

This video was adapted from a talk given at the RSA by Sir Ken Robinson, world-renowned education and creativity expert.  In it, RSA animates his ideas.  The RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) is self-described as a “258 year-old British charity devoted to driving social progress and spreading world-changing ideas.”

It is from 2010, but still very timely and worth 11 1/2 minutes of your time!  If you don’t have that much time, start at 3:40.  The ideas and the animation are really cool.

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4 thoughts on “Do You Know a School-Aged Boy? Because Mine’s Making me Question Whether ADHD Really is a Fictitious Epidemic.

  1. Awesome topic and I agree with you 100 percent and the video is amazing! I work the public school system and it is true we teach with one goal in mind, to do well on tests. This to me is wrong, there are different level of learning per the style of the student. In the case of my daughter, she is at home online with a more individualized learning plan she soars and is very well adjusted.

    As far as ADHD, yes it is true it is over diagnose we as parents need to be advocates for our children and not let this happen as with other behavioral disorders in fact in my district we have 6 resource rooms in the elementary alone to handle the special education students talk about budget shortfalls its no wonder we have issues with educational system. (Another topic for another day!) Again great topic and I look forward to more on this subject. My gratitude is yours, Allie.

  2. What a beautiful and amazing boy. What is his purpose? I homeschooled my 2 children. They have been making a living since the age of 16. One is a dancer for the Mannheim National Ballet and the other is a hairdresser in a posh salon in Toronto. Both have girlfriends. Both are grappling with the problems of life and are winning. The greatest threat to our children today is the psychiatric profession which is not medical at all but social engineering. Go to the Citizens’ Commission on Human Rights and download their “Parent Exemption Form” and get your son exempted from any way, shape or form of psychological testing.

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