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Special Learners        < Previous        Next >


Do Schools Cause ADHD?


Q. What is behind the enormous increase in the diagnosis of Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder? What can parents do to help?


There've always been kids who are antsy, owly, itchy and distractible. They didn't need a wide range of psychotropic drugs, therapy, special education classes and other expensive interventions. They just needed some simple rules to follow with clear consequences carried out if they didn't, a good diet minimizing pop and candy, a strict limit on overstimulating TV watching, and most of all, an understanding teacher and loving parents.


They grew out of it as their interests focused in later grades.


But now we have all these kids labeled as having ADHD, doing poorly in the classroom even though they have normal or above-normal intelligence. What makes the situation even more confusing is that these same kids, who struggle in the classroom, often excel in other areas, such as dramatics or sports, that require superior intelligence, discipline, focus and self-control - supposedly the things the child is thought to be lacking in order to complete classroom assignments.


A growing number of people think the problem has a lot more to do with the schools than the kids:


n       Traits of gifted kids are remarkably similar to traits of kids labeled ADHD. Could they just be bored? Intelligent, creative kids need good fuel for their high-octane brains or they'll get "flooded."


n       Most kids labeled ADHD are boys. Most boys are abstract thinkers. Most grade-school teachers are female. Most females are concrete thinkers. Could it be a simple mismatch of teaching style and student needs? Abstract thinkers need lots of structure in the early going - like phonics, traditional math and so on. Hardly any schools offer them any more.


n       The chaos and noise of the overprogrammed school day with all its group activities does nothing for any child's concentration, focus and memory. Even the way the desks are often grouped, in clusters, makes it tough for most children to stay focused on the teacher, sit still, and keep their hands to themselves.


n       More and more people say that if children were taught to read, write and figure correctly, ADHD would vanish.


There is no doubt that genetics and the environment sometimes combine to produce a learning problem in a child that can make schoolwork very difficult. But remember, there are countless examples of people who did poorly in school or dropped out, but kept believing in themselves and pursuing their dreams to rousing success. Thomas Edison? Winston Churchill? The guy who started Kinko's? There are lots and lots and LOTS of them.


But many people say there are also lots and lots and LOTS of children mislabeled as ADHD, when it's a curricular problem, not a problem with the child. Parents should urge schools to teach reading with systematic, intensive, explicit phonics in kindergarten through second grade, and make other changes in the classroom as needed to quit labeling kids, and instead help the, stop, look, listen and learn.


Homework: See and "Fifty Tips on the Classroom Management of ADD" in the book, Driven to Distraction by Edward M. Hallowell, M.D., and John J. Ratey, M.D.


By Susan Darst Williams Special Learners 04 2008

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