Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Boyhood is not a disease!

When you are faced with a child who is inattentive and extra energetic, you can't help but think that perhaps he has ADHD. I have done my fair share of reading on this topic. I have been reading about it from all angles, from what the symptoms are to does it really exist? Being a teacher myself I have seen what ADHD can look like. I've also seen the ramifications of what medication does to a child and even older adolescent children. The bottom line, it is not pretty. But when it hits home, everything changes.

I am not going to write about what ADHD is. I am not going to write whether it is a real diagnosis or not. What I will write about is what we, as a family, are going through as we are being bombarded by comments, suggestions, and recommendations to have our son evaluated. I have my fair share of opinions on how ADHD can sometimes simply be immaturity and how ADHD is overdiagnosed.

For starters, our son is very energetic. Does energetic necessarily mean hyper? Outside the classroom he is high energy, inside the classroom, it means hyper and mental illness. ADHD is classified as a mental illness. Whatever happened to just good old-fashioned high energy and since when is it so wrong to be full of energy? I see the difference between one son and the other and one is definitely in more need of movement. Why does that have to be a mental illness? Fifty years ago we accepted all different personalities in our classroom and dealt with behavioral problems. Now we diagnose, label and medicate. Some teachers and administrators do not want to be bothered.

Then there is the boy crisis. Boys "are three times more likely to receive an ADHD diagnosis than girls." However sexist this may sound, it is a fact, in all my years of teaching, that boys tend to be more distracted than girls. It is also true that the educational system we have set up is more geared towards a girls way of learning than boys. Ask any mother of both boys and girls and they will tell you, a grand majority, that the boys have a much harder time sitting still for long periods of time than a girl. Of course, it goes without saying, that this is not always the case, but it can be typical. Boys need more movement. Heck, children need more movement!

Then there is plain old immaturity. In speaking to our pediatrician, we were pleasantly relieved that she was on our side. She said that it was completely ludicrous to diagnose a child under 9 with ADHD. There are so many levels of development and maturation that there is no way to draw the line between an immature child, who is easily distracted, and a true ADHD diagnosis. What happened to kids being kids and not wanting to sit down for hours on end doing math drills and reading comprehension? What kid would not rather play than do "work"? What adult wouldn't rather relax than do work they do not enjoy?

Finally medication. In all my years of teaching, I was never so saddened than when I witnessed a child on stimulants. Currently "12% of school-age children and as many as 20% of teenage boys, are diagnosed with ADHD." This is staggering. Stimulants are given to children for ADHD. Ritalin (Methylphenidate) and cocaine are classified as a central nervous system stimulant drug. Yes, you read that correctly, they are both in the same category. I realize that for some children it would be almost impossible to function if they did not take these drugs on occasion or often. I am not here to judge anyone's parenting choices. I am here to simply write about our family's experiences and thoughts on this very dividing topic. Medication should not be the first option. In fact, it should be the very last option!

The fact of the matter is that apart from our son being easily distracted and high energy, he understands all concepts and is able to get some of the highest grades. Yes, albeit probably to the detriment of his teachers. But is teaching supposed to be easy? I never found it easy? You are dealing with a lot of personalities and learning styles at once, not to mention personal issues and family problems that they bring with them every day. Teaching is not for the faint of heart. The human person is complex. We cannot expect, as teachers or as parents, to have all the same little robotic children who will do what we say when we say. It should be no different in the classroom.

Perhaps I am rationalizing our situation. Perhaps I am finding reasons to avoid evaluation. Whatever may be happening, I am firm in my belief that although ADHD may be a very real mental illness, we have to certainly take a look at all the variables in a child's life and consider that some children are just different. Some children are just more high strung. Some children are more easily distracted. Some children are lazy. Some children are more laid back. Some children are more focused. Shall I go on?

If you have a child that you are being told may have ADHD, I strongly advise you to talk to many professionals both in and outside the psychological field and really do your research before you get your diagnosis. "Nearly 1 million children in the United States are potentially misdiagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder simply because they are the youngest- and most immature- in their kindergarten class." And an even higher percentage of this misdiagnosis are boys! Fight for your boys, fight for your children and do not let them be labeled just because they are more energetic and easily distracted. Childhood is all about distractions and energy. Let us not make childhood a disease! Let us not make boyhood a disease.

A highly recommend this extensive article for anyone who is considering an ADHD evaluation for their son: "The Drugging of the American Boy" by Esquire.com

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