Here I am at four in the morning, tossing and turning, unable to stop thinking about the intense reaction to my latest post on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and it’s attributable causes. To all those who took the time to comment and to advocate on behalf of their children, I want to say a resounding thank you. I am inspired, touched, and truly blown away by how you are all champions for your cause. I wish more parents took such a committed stance to their child's education.
I also want to say that you are all absolutely right!
You have pointed out a glaring omission in my post. In my passion to argue against the over-identification of ADHD and in my zeal to rally against the “label the student as the problem” mentality that occurs so frequently in our school system, I unintentionally minimized the struggle for the kids and families who deal with ADHD on a daily basis.
Please allow me to clarify my points:
I absolutely believe that ADHD is a real struggle for some students, and I absolutely believe that in some cases, carefully monitored, individualized medication is the best course of action.
I also do believe that there is an extreme over-identification of ADHD, especially in a population with compounding issues, such as kids who have faced trauma, kids who are living lives full of upheaval, and kids who are not benefiting from the love and care that so many Canadians enjoy. I think it is impossible that nearly every child whom I worked with in family treatment also coincidentally suffered from ADHD. I believe that treating professionals MUST consider all the contributing factors to a child’s inability to focus and concentrate before jumping to a catch-all label. I did not intend to imply the reverse, namely that all kids with ADHD have come from difficult situations. Those are two very different arguments and I do not think for one minute that upheaval in a child's life causes ADHD. I do think that often the reaction to turmoil in a child's life looks like ADHD and leads to misdiagnosis.
I do not believe parenting styles cause ADHD—that was in fact the point of Dr. Wedge’s argument that I took the most issue with. For example, I do not believe there is any correlation between a parent’s choice to let their infant “cry-it-out” and a child’s future learning potential. I think it is ridiculous and dangerous to suggest such a thing.
I do believe that the school system marks individuals as “problematic learners” far too early. I do believe that teaching styles and educational programming needs to continue to adjust to learning differences in our students. We need to find ways to engage active learners, to include more hands-on activities, and not expect 6- and 7-year-old children to sit for long periods of time listening to an adult talk at them. I do think we need to give children's ability to concentrate a lot more time to develop before we see it as concerning and outside the norm.
I do believe that there are many other very real learning difficulties that quickly get misdiagnosed as ADHD and are often mistreated due to that label. For example, a student may suffer an auditory processing disorder, making it extremely difficult to take in oral direction and instruction. Understandably, that student will be fidgeting and unable to sit during oral lessons, as their brains are becoming exhausted trying to take in the information. For such a student, it is difficult to comprehend and follow a “called-out” instruction, such as “time to line up.” I believe we need to take the time and continue to devote research and training to truly understanding the nature and variance of learning disabilities, rather than apply a label that won’t serve to help the student or support the teacher. The human brain is a complicated thing and there are no one-size-fits-all solutions.
I do believe that teachers need to continue to be trained and educated in the great diversity of learning styles and learning needs. I believe it is our duty, as professionals, to find ways to engage each individual student. I believe that we are too quick to mark students as problematic, when it is the design of the classroom program that is problematic for the student. Part of the inspiration and passion behind my previous post was due to the number of students and families whom I have worked with where it was suggested in the early years that the student struggled from attentional difficulties and later it turned out that the student was gifted and the early environment was not engaging that student properly and the student’s attention span simply needed time to mature. This is not to suggest that a student cannot be gifted and have ADHD—this is not only possible, but actually quite common; however, if we are too quick to label the “problem,” we may miss focusing on an individual's amazing strengths.
I do believe that there are many great strategies for engaging and working with our students with learning difficulties. I have seen coaching, changes in diets, and changes in teaching styles have profound positive effects on struggling students. I do not think medication is always the first and best choice of treatment; however, I do recognize that this treatment is not only successful, but vital for some students, and I am not arguing that it is never appropriate. Yet even with medication, I believe the onus is on the school system to find strategies to best help our struggling learners.
I am sincerely grateful to everyone who took the time to point out the omission in my former post and who took the time to present the other side of the coin. I have long been a champion of the individual and I strongly believe in the “whatever works for you” approach. What works for one struggling student does not work for all of them, and really that is the whole point. We need to individualize education as much as possible. What works in one family does not work for all. We humans are a diverse and varied group. My ultimate point was that the education system needs to strive to be equally as diverse and varied to meet the needs of our kids.
Thanks readers, for keeping the conversation going!
You can read my original post here: Does Your Child Have ADHD (Or Is He Just Being A Kid)?
Photo by Anissa Thompson