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Myth: ADD/ADHD Is a Medical or Psychological Disorder

Fact: Children who were once seen as "bundles of energy," "daydreamers," or "fireballs," are now considered "hyperactive," "distractible," and "impulsive": the three classic warning signs of attention deficit disorder. Kids who in times past might have needed to "blow off a little steam" or "kick up a little dust" now have their medication dosages carefully measured out and monitored to control dysfunctional behavior. —Thomas Armstrong, PhD

In April 1963, Samuel Kirk, professor of special education at the University of Illinois, addressed a large group of concerned parents on the subject of learning disabilities (LD), a term he suggested using to describe children with disorders in the development of language, speech, reading, and associated communication skills. On this day, The Association for Children with Learning Disabilities was born.

Since that time, the learning disabilities movement has flourished, albeit under ever-changing labels. Today it is most popularly known as ADD or ADHD—but, whatever it is called, the fact remains:

No one´┐Ż has been able to demonstrate´┐Ż that a specific, distinctly unique group of behaviors differentiate LD children from many of their classmates. To build an empire on such a foundation is very dishonest.

Bob Algozzine PhD,

Yet, empire we have. The federal government has spent billions of dollars on this "learning disease"yet it continues to spread, like a virus, across the nation. Proponents of this disorder claim it results from neurochemical imbalances of as yet to be determined genetic origins. Today, it is the most commonly diagnosed children's psychiatric disorder in the United States. Current estimates put the number of children so-labeled at about 2.5 million, and the number keeps climbing. Ritalin is the prescribed treatment in about 90% of these cases. The use of Ritalin continues to escalate--a great boon to the pharmaceutical industry and those involved in diagnosis and treatment.

The most common childhood diagnoses—attention deficit/hyperactivity, conduct disorder, oppositional defiance disorder—describe behaviors that annoy, threaten, or frustrate adults. These diagnoses don't explore the source of our children's distress. Stating that ADD is a medical disorder implies that parents and adults have nothing to do with our children's emotional, psychological, or social difficulties, and that there is little we can do except hand them over to the "experts" for psychiatric diagnosis and drugging.

By stating that ADD is a medical disorder, the source of the problem is seen to be inside the child, yet unlike other medical diseases, ADD appears in one setting, but not in another. For example 80 percent of children labeled ADD don't appear to have ADD when in the physician's office, or when in classrooms or other learning environments where children choose their learning activities and pace themselves through those experiences. They behave and attend quite normally when involved in activities that interest them, that are novel in some way, or that involve high levels of stimulation.

This is not to say ADD-type behaviors such as hyperactivity, distractibility, and impulsivity do not exist, but that our children live in a complex world where ADD is a simplistic interpretation of what children are manifesting. Given the unprecedented range of stressors that are endemic in this period in our culture, it is hardly surprising that we are seeing an epidemic of stress-related and mental health difficulties. Yet most definitions of ADD ignore these broader social, psychological, and educational issues that surround and are the causative factors in creating the "disorder."

Nurturance and protection of the young are the primary roles of every family and every society. But as we look at our children, our schools, and our future, concern mounts that somewhere along the line we have gotten dangerously off track. We may be accepting far higher levels of stress than we can possibly manage and dissipate.

Carla Hannaford, PhD

ADD and the Schools
ADD, Gender, and Temperament
ADD and Cultural Factors

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