ADHD is a New American Normal

ADHD is a New American Normal

“I can’t imagine Jeff as ADHD,” said an educator who knows my middle-aged brother, after I had been describing how he couldn’t sit still in grade school.  The educator was surprised, because he only knows my brother as a successful lawyer.  My parents didn’t allow much TV, and my brother made some dramatic changes, but only after learning to discipline himself.

There’s evidence that certain therapies are a better long-term solution to ADD/ADHD than pharmaceuticals, as the recent article in Mercola.com suggests.   When  you think of the  cost of pills over many years, isn’t one year of training therapy safer and more cost effective?  Some children have multiple learning differences, but even these cases may be better off without medication.

The United States has an epidemic of pill addiction, and the push to legalize illegal drugs.  Has the love affair with ADHD medications contributed?  There was a time not so long ago that kids who displayed annoying behaviors and didn’t get good grades weren’t given medication.   A few may have become delinquents, but others had skillful parents and wise teachers. Like the rest of us, they had to learn self-discipline.

A child who naturally is attentive in school and works hard all the time without distraction is the exception.  Even for adults, the person who can be focused all the time is unusual.

Yet, the American education system has adopted a “one size fits all” mentality, something destined to become worse with the Common Core Standards.  We’ve forced “accountability” on the teachers, and they are expected to fix everything.

It’s no wonder teachers and parents often want to diagnose a common problem for which there is no definitive test and look for a simple pill solution.  The parents and kids may be happier with better grades, so it seems, and the teachers’ jobs can be made easier.

In this scenario, the pharmaceutical companies have found an opening, and they’ve had a welcoming audience.  Doctors and psychologists have easily been convinced, as the ADHD diagnosis promises steady income.

Difficulties of modern life and an educational system not accepting individual learning styles can be blamed, too.  Parents are overburdened with job pressures and the need for multiple incomes. Many of us also resort to fast foods instead of cooking nutritious meals for our children,  and to using TV and other media as the babysitter.

ADHD or ADD is now a diagnosis given to 15% of American teens, second only to asthma as a medical condition of American children, according to the recent New York Times article. When ADD was originally identified, it was said to affect 3% to 5% of children.  How can something that is normal be labeled a disorder? Isn’t the overstimulation of TV and movies, followed by Facebook, text messages, Twitter, Instagram, etc., feeding into the condition that keeps growing?   Certainly it will only get worse as new technologies entangle us in the web of the future.

Schools need to accommodate and allow for childrens' innate needs for activity.

Schools need to accommodate and allow for children’s needs of activity.

Emotional Intelligence, a book by David Goleman published in 1995, argued that IQ and good grades are not what determines success.  Developing good emotional intelligence, meaning emotional cognition and good coping skills, is a better determinant of success.  It only comes when one has learned delayed gratification.  Good Emotional Intelligence allows people to meet challenges without outside help, because they’ve learned to negotiate their difficulties.

In adulthood, life will never be easy, so why would we deceive our children by taking away the need to overcome challenge and use medication as a substitute?  People who’ve been taught that pills are the answer to a difficulty may have a harder time developing emotional intelligence.

The hyperactive child who is taught and treated appropriately to his/her maturity level will develop according to their temperament or personality.  They may take on a vocation to fit their personality—-sales, politics or broadcast journalism.  With their active curiosity and left to its own devices—not to artificial stimulants—they can become, like Thomas Edison, an inventor.

Is ADD/ADHD Real?

Millions of people have been influenced and convinced of its existence after reading Dr. Edward Hallowell’s and Dr. John Ratey’s Driven to Distraction.  A newer book, Child Temperament, by Dr. David Rettew argues for a more dimensional approach to labeling disorders.  He says that the effort to legitimize psychiatric disorders has created all-or-nothing model does not work as it does for cancer or high blood pressure.  When does active become hyperactive, for example?   More specialists are adopting the idea that disorders exist on a continuum.

It has often been suggested that ADD grows into depression, or bipolar disorder, another poorly understood, over-diagnosed condition.  Dr. Rettew suggests that the “speed limit” between what is considered normal and abnormal level of behavior has been dropping in both the  ADHD and bipolar disorders.

Some children who have been given ADD medication during most of their school life become alcohol and drug abusers. These kids were primed at an early age to use artificial aids instead of accepting challenge.  Everyone can do better with stimulants, so even high school and college students who get Adderall and other stimulants from their friends have become addicted to it.

I recently heard the story of a young adult in medical school who was told by her classmates to try Adderall for help with studying.  I am not sure how much medicine it was, but  Adderall made her psychotic.  It’s a cause of worry that medical students are using Adderall, and a sad state for American medicine if the next generation of practitioners believes so strongly in pharmaceuticals.  Does someone who can’t get through medical school without a pill stimulant really belong in Medical School?

The drug companies are now marketing to adults, telling them that their ADD may be keeping them from reaching professional potential, or may be the reason they’ve lost jobs.   For these people, psychiatrists should really be looking for hidden drug addiction, a condition that often brings on ADD symptoms.

Alternatives to Medication

The ADHD doctors who made such a hit with Driven to Distraction also wrote Delivered from Distraction. Dr. Hallowell suggests that there are exercises which can be an alternative treatment for ADHD.  Taking a pill may be easier, but training and non-invasive, holistic treatments can have lasting effects without the side effects.

Learning Breakthrough is a program of brain organizing exercises which changes the way a brain processes information and speeds brain reaction time.  It is  multi-sensory approach worked with precision equipment including a balance board and bean bag.  Those who sign up for the program, whether because of dyslexia, ADD/ADHD or another learning issue, should practice 2x a day for 15 minutes for 6-12 months.  The process will improve ability to perform and will produce permanent changes in the wiring of the brain.

Exercise equipment in the learning breakthough program exercises neuropathways which strengthens the foundational structure of the brain.

Equipment in the Learning Breakthough program exercises neuro-pathways, strengthening the foundational structure of the brain.

Dr. Frank Belgau, Director of Visual and Motor Perception Laboratory in Houston, developed the Learning Breakthrough over many years, and he fine tuned it.  Outside of his labs, his methods were first used by Occupational Therapists in schools for Dyslexia, and they’re applicable to other learning issues.

According to Louis Weissman of Learning Breakthrough, many children have both ADHD and dyslexia.  They not only become better students and more focused, but a few also gain better handwriting,  social skills or sports ability after the program.  Exercises involve balance and coordination with precision.  It’s a type of learning that doesn’t backfire and cannot be unlearned.

Some parents get their hyperactive and unfocused children into sports, as Michael Phelps’ parents got him focused on swimming.  However, too often sports are the highly-scheduled, organized lessons or team sports, not the spontaneous physicality that kids need.

Other parents use nutritional changes, such as taking away food dyes and sugar, or eliminating environmental toxins.  When ADD identifications climb during the adolescent years, it becomes obvious that social pressures are causing it and counseling therapy is a better solution than pills.

More Ways to see the Issue

As a society, we wish the same advantages for those who’ve been left out of the economic mobility and for years we’ve tried to use education to level the playing field.  We spend far more money per pupil than any other industrialized nation.

(President’s George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind bill has not been popular.  States that have signed up with President Obama’s Common Core Curriculum have been given relief from No Child Left Behind.  Again, Common Core maybe federal government overkill.)

As a nation, we need more self-starters and more small business owners, not more people who will fit into a common mentality.   Emotional Intelligence should be seen as the goal for the future of our children.  Parents have a greater impact on a child’s success in school and in life, and politicians should realize it rather than continually believing they can manage it.

Last month Brian Williams of NBC News gave a sensationalized report of how the United States has fallen behind other industrialized countries in education.  Every time this happens, the forecast if of doom and gloom.  Yet, our system has always produced highly original, determined thinkers like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mary Barra.  It’s hard to believe that adopting a “one size fits all” mentality, as we’re headed, will give us such successful innovators.

ADD Medications and Later Drug Use?

Someone primed to take medications to concentrate is more likely to think they need marijuana or alcohol or medication whenever they need to meet a challenge, or overcome problems.   Holistic approaches are thrown to wind.

Kudos to the parents who teach that ADHD or ADD label is not a handicap, letting their children be as they may be and bringing out the best in them.  Kudos to the parents who do it without using medications.

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