The fallacy of ADHD and how we deal with attention deficit in our children

Boys generally struggle to concentrate more than girls during the formative and early school-going years.

That is the general societal perception, not so? Is it a founded perception? And if it is founded, is really it a problem? Are there ways to deal with this phenomenon effectively?

Since the advent and diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – which is a common childhood disorder occurring three times more in the boy child than the girl child and is characterised by difficulty in staying focused and paying attention, errant behaviour and hyperactivity – any concentration problem or over active occurrence in a child is often attributed to this condition. Whilst there are genuine cases of ADHD, there are probably many more boys in South Africa who are presently on the drug Ritalin and do not need to be taking this ADHD medication. Leon Eisenberg, a psychiatrist and the discoverer of ADHD, made a startling statement 7 months before dying on the 15th of September 2009 –that ADHD is essentially a fictitious disease. Martin Forstrom, in an article published early this year, quotes Leon,

In its current form, it serves primarily to enrich Big Pharma at the expense of patients as young as 4 years old and primarily male who are usually misdiagnosed and medicated

If nothing else, what Leon revealed serves to prove that ADHD, as a cause of concentration difficulties in boys, is overrated and parents may need to dig a little deeper before putting their children on Ritalin.

Hyperactivity in some cases could be caused by anxiety disorders or sensory integration problems which are treated differently to ADHD. In many more cases, could it merely be natural energy and adventure bundled up within a boy –that parents and teachers are failing to keep up with?

Author, educator and creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson challenged the way we’re educating our children during his first TED talk in February 2006.  He champions a radical rethink of our school systems, to cultivate creativity and acknowledge multiple types of intelligence.  In the video, he said,

“We are educating people out of their creativity,”

it’s a message with deep resonance in which Sir Robinson gave case studies of individuals who went on to excel in various fields of art & music, who, in the age of ADHD, would have been given medication and told to calm down.

Robinson’s TED Talk has been distributed widely around the Web since its release in June 2006 and has become of the  most watched TED Talks ever. Watch it at the end of this article.

Where a lack of concentration is concerned, a few other areas may be worthwhile considering before settling on the conclusion that a boy child has ADHD.

Source: Psychology Today
Source: Psychology Today

Nutrition, sleep and an emotionally stable environment.
Is your son eating healthy and getting enough rest when sleeping? Are they growing up in an environment where they feel secure emotionally? These vital areas for childhood growth may seem basic but can have a profound impact on a child’s ability to concentrate and pay attention in class. A child who eats a lot of junk food and is not getting enough sleep will naturally struggle to keep still and pay attention in class. If he is negatively impacted psychologically and emotionally at home, this will also have a bearing on his behaviour and performance at school.

Children are creatures of routine. Routine helps them to learn, integrate and develop. Routine does not have to be strict and arduous, it just needs to be a consistent and constructive way of doing things that a child can get used to and develop in. When there is lack of a healthy routine in the home, school or other environments a boy is exposed to, this haphazardness can be very disorienting to child and can affect his own ability to concentrate and focus.

Quiet time
In today’s fast-paced e-era, where people are constantly on the go, parents obliviously tend to crowd their children’s lives with too many activities. A child is always on the go. After school, they are involved with one extramural activity or another and over the weekends there is often something going on to keep them pre-occupied. Add to that, the amount of screen-time children in South Africa are spending on video gaming, TV, social media and e-games. A boy child may hardly get a chance to retreat and be quiet. It is so important for children (and adults too) to unplug, unwind and recuperate even if it means doing nothing sometimes. A child who has regular periods of quietness in his life is more likely to be composed and settled and better able to focus.


Puzzles and books
The skills a child develops whilst solving puzzles and reading regularly go a long way in enabling the boy child to concentrate and focus on activities as he grows. As I watch my own son Jonathan who is 3 years old, grapple with puzzle making and develop an affinity for books, I am noticing that his ability to stay on a puzzle until he has solved it or to have a book read to him right to the end, is growing. His concentrating and solving capacity is growing by simply engaging in these ECD activities regularly.

So, before rushing to the conclusion that your son has ADHD when you find him struggling to concentrate and overly active, why not give consideration to other likely causes which might not be as easy to rectify as administering Ritalin but will probably be more beneficial for his development in the long run?

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