- Over the past ten years, attention deficit disorder (ADD)
or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has emerged from the
relative obscurity of cognitive psychologists, research laboratories to
become the "disease du jour" of America's schoolchildren. Accompanying
this popularity has been a virtually complete acceptance of the validity
of this "disorder" by scientists, physicians, psychologists,
educators, parents, and others.
- Upon closer critical scrutiny, however, there is much
to be troubled about concerning ADD/ADHD as a real medical diagnosis. There
is no definitive objective set of criteria to determine who has ADD/ADHD
and who does not. Rather, instead, there are a loose set of behaviors (hyperactivity,
distractibility, and impulsivity) that combine in different ways to give
rise to the "disorder."
- These behaviors are highly context-dependent. A child
may be hyperactive while seated at a desk doing a boring worksheet, but
not necessarily while singing in a school musical. These behaviors are
also very general in nature and give no clue as to their real origins.
A child can be hyperactive because he's bored, depressed, anxious, allergic
to milk, creative, a hands-on learner, has a difficult temperament, is
stressed out, is driven by a media-mad culture, or any number of other
- The tests that have been used to determine if someone
has ADD/ADHD are either artificially objective and remote from the lives
of real children (in one test, a child is asked to press a button every
time he sees a 1 followed by a 9 on a computer screen), or hopelessly subjective
(many rating scales ask parents and teachers to score a child's behavior
on a scale from 1 to 5: these scores depend upon the subjective attitudes
more than the actual behaviors of the children involved).
- The treatments used for this supposed disorder are also
problematic. Ritalin use is up 500% over the past six years, yet it does
not cure the problem (it only masks symptoms), and there are several disadvantages:
children don't like taking it, children use it as an "excuse"
for their behavior ("I hit Ed because I forgot to take my pill."),
and there are some indications it may be related to later substance abuse
of drugs like cocaine.
- Behavior modification programs used for kids labeled
ADD/ADHD work, but they don't help kids become better learners. In fact,
they may interfere with the development of a child's intrinsic love of
learning (kids behave simply to get more rewards), they may frustrate some
kids (when they don't get expected rewards), and they can also impair creativity
and stifle cooperation.
- ADD/ADHD became a popular diagnosis in the 1990's because
it served as a neat way to explain away the complexities of turn-of-the-millenium
life in America. Over the past few decades, our families have broken up,
respect for authority has eroded, mass media has created a "short-attention-span
culture," and stress levels have skyrocketed.
- When our children start to act out under the strain,
it's convenient to create a scientific-sounding term to label them with,
an effective drug to stifle their "symptoms," and a whole program
of ADD/ADHD workbooks, videos, and instructional materials to use to fit
them in a box that relieves parents and teachers of any worry that it might
be due to their own failure (or the failure of the broader culture) to
nurture or teach effectively.
- Mainly, the ADD/ADHD label is a tragic decoy that takes
the focus off of where it's needed most: the real life of each unique child.
Instead of seeing each child for who he or she is (strengths, limitations,
interests, temperaments, learning styles etc.) and addressing his or her
specific needs, the child is reduced to an "ADD child," where
the potential to see the best in him or her is severely eroded (since ADD/ADHD
puts all the emphasis on the deficits, not the strengths), and where the
number of potential solutions to help them is highly limited to a few child-controlling
- Instead of this deficit-based ADD/ADH paradigm, I'd like
to suggest a wellness-based holistic paradigm that sees each child in terms
of his or her ultimate worth, and addresses each child's unique needs.
To do this, we need to provide a wide range of options for parents or teachers.
- 50 Ways to Improve Your Child's Behavior and Attention
Span without Drugs, Labels, or Coercion (for detailed information about
each way, see The
Myth of the ADD Child) Order
book by calling: 1-800-247-6553.
- 1. Provide a balanced breakfast.
- 2. Consider the Feingold diet
- 3. Limit television and video games
- 4. Teach self-talk skills.
- 5. Find out what interests your child.
- 6. Promote a strong physical education program in your
- 7. Enroll your child in a martial arts program.
- 8. Discover your child's multiple intelligences (link)
- 9. Use background music to focus and calm.
- 10. Use color to highlight information.
- 11. Teach your child to visualize.
- 12. Remove allergens from the diet.
- 13. Provide opportunities for physical movement.
- 14. Enhance your child's self-esteem.
- 15. Find your child's best times of alertness.
- 16. Give instructions in attention-grabbing ways.
- 17. Provide a variety of stimulating learning activities.
- 18. Consider biofeedback training.
- 19. Activate positive career aspirations.
- 20. Teach your child physical-relaxation techniques.
- 21. Use incidental learning to teach.
- 22. Support full inclusion of your child in a regular
- 23. Provide positive role models.
- 24. Consider alternative schooling options.
- 25. Channel creative energy into the arts.
- 26. Provide hands-on activities
- 27. Spend positive times together.
- 28. Provide appropriate spaces for learning.
- 29. Consider individual psychotherapy.
- 30. Use touch to soothe and calm.
- 31. Help your child with organizational skills.
- 32. Help your child appreciate the value of personal
- 33. Take care of yourself.
- 34. Teach your child focusing techniques.
- 35. Provide immediate feedback.
- 36. Provide your child with access to a computer.
- 37. Consider family therapy.
- 38. Teach problem-solving skills.
- 39. Offer your child real-life tasks to do.
- 40. Use "time-out" in a positive way.
- 41. Help your child develop social skills.
- 42. Contract with your child.
- 43. Use effective communication skills.
- 44. Give your child choices.
- 45. Discover the treat the four types of misbehavior.
- 46. Establish consistent rules, routines, and transitions.
- 47. Hold family meetings.
- 48. Have your child teach a younger child.
- 49. Use natural and logical consequences.
- 50. Hold a positive image of your child.
- Armstrong, Thomas. The
Myth of the ADD Child: 50 Ways to Improve Your Child's Behavior and
Attention Span without Drugs, Labels, or Coercion. New York: Plume, 1997.
- Armstrong, Thomas. "To
Empower, Not Control!: A Holistic Approach to ADD/ADHD," Reaching
Today's Youth, Winter, 1998.
- Armstrong, Thomas, "ADD
as a Social Invention," Education Week, October 18, 1995.
- Armstrong, Thomas "ADD:
Does It Really Exist?" Phi Delta Kappan, February, 1996.
- Armstrong, Thomas. "Labels
Can Last a Lifetime," Learning, May/June, 1996.
- Armstrong, Thomas. "Why
I Believe Attention Deficit Disorder is a Myth," Sydney's Child
[Australia], September, 1996.
- Divoky, Diane and Peter Schrag. The Myth of the Hyperactive
Child. New York: Pantheon, 1975.
- Goodman, Gay, and Mary Jo Poillon. "ADD: Acronym
for Any Dysfunction or Difficulty,"
- Journal of Special Education, Vol. 26, No. 1, 1992.
- Griss, Susan. Minds in Motion: A Kinesthetic Approach
to Teaching Elementary Curriculum.Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1998.
- Kohn, Alfie. "Suffer the Restless Children,"
Atlantic Monthly, November, 1989, pp. 90-100.
- McGuinness, Diane. When Children Don't Learn. New York:
- Merrow, John. " Attention Deficit Disorder: A Dubious
Diagnosis," (Video). The Merrow Report, 588 Broadway, Suite 510, New
York, NY 10012,212-941-8060; 212-941-8068 (fax).
- Patterson, Marilyn Nikimaa. Every Body Can Learn: Engaging
the Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence in the Everyday Classroom. Tucson,
AZ: Zephyr Press, 1997.
- Reid, Robert, John W. Maag, and Stanley F. Vasa, "Attention
Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder as a Disability Category: A Critique,"
Exceptional Children, Vol. 60, No. 3, pp. 198-214.