As a retired child and family psychologist I can now detail how I’ve watched with dismay, during my working life, the growth of the distinct “syndrome” ADHD. I am certainly not suggesting that there is not a problem and I acknowledge that some very hyperactive children, who also cannot attend, can benefit from a short period on drug therapy while they are being taught some coping strategies. But assuming all children with some or all of the myriad of different symptoms which make up this “diagnosis” need drug treatment is overtly misleading.
In the early 1970s I did some research on “hyperactivity” in children, a condition which was then quite well recognized. Many well known pediatricians in those days recommended activity based learning. One parent, for example, was advised to buy the child a weekend train pass as a reward for attentive behaviours at home and school and he was let roam free alone with certain instructions about noting, in writing, where he went and what he saw and, particularly, when to be home. This would not be permitted in the more protective environment of today as he was 10 years old. It worked wonders.
Anxiety is a very common childhood reason for not attending. Why did I put the word “childhood” in that sentence? An anxious child with heightened vigilance can exhibit all the symptoms of ADHD. Do we want that child on amphetamines? Anxiety in children, other than the quiet, shrinking kind, is often unrecognized. This especially seems to apply in the case of little boys.
One of the difficulties working with children who have ADD or ADHD is having them take responsibility for their own behaviours. It is remarkable how the introduction of a drug regime can actually re-enforce this attitude of no responsibility. Not only do they have an “illness” but when they are in trouble the excuse always seems to be Mum/Dad/ School Support Staff forgot to give me my pill. But life for children in this day and age with busy parents and a more hysterical media about child dangers means that children have less and less opportunities to take responsibility. It is time consuming to devise ways in which they have to take responsibility for themselves and take the consequences reasonably safely (and consequences never equate with punishments). In addition, with the community emphasis on formal education as an answer for all ills, some parents and some schools appear to be more focused on performance and children who are underachieving become anxious and, instead of being accepted for who they are and what they can do, are made even more anxious by these concerns and are then diagnosed with a complaint.
As also in “dyslexia” a word meaning simply “word blindness” and which has many different causes but which has taken off as another syndrome, there are many reasons, causes and treatment for the varied manifestations of children’s inability to fit adult preconceived norms. Whilstsoever funding for educational or medical assistance purposes is predicated on diagnoses we will always have the development and expansion of new syndromes and, as a consequence, sometimes inappropriate or unnecessary treatment for some. Well meaning parents can get frantic and obsessed about their beloved children and well meaning experts can get fanatic about their beloved cause and lose their perspective.
Let’s go back and look at each individual child, assist where we are able but most importantly value each one for whom he or she is, not for how well they fit the mainstream.