Many parents that come to my practice these days immediately tell me “My child is ADHD.” Yes, they tell me this as if they are absolutely, 100% certain the child has this disorder, and even more confident the child “needs to be on something” in order to control it.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has become about as common for kids and adolescents as acne and puberty, with increasingly more kids being diagnosed each day. On the surface, this mental illness (and yes, that’s what it’s classified as) seems quite innocuous, but upon closer inspection you might be very surprised to learn the following:
- Is it really a mental illness? Even the doctor behind the original diagnosis claims it has been over-diagnosed, and far too many kids drugged as a result. Take a close look at the current criteria used in the DSM 5 and tell me what kids don’t display most of those symptoms listed:
DSM-5 Criteria for ADHD
People with ADHD show a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development:
- Inattention: Six or more symptoms of inattention for children up to age 16, or five or more for adolescents 17 and older and adults; symptoms of inattention have been present for at least 6 months, and they are inappropriate for developmental level:
- Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work, or with other activities.
- Often has trouble holding attention on tasks or play activities.
- Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly.
- Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (e.g., loses focus, side-tracked).
- Often has trouble organizing tasks and activities.
- Often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to do tasks that require mental effort over a long period of time (such as schoolwork or homework).
- Often loses things necessary for tasks and activities (e.g. school materials, pencils, books, tools, wallets, keys, paperwork, eyeglasses, mobile telephones).
- Is often easily distracted
- Is often forgetful in daily activities.
- Hyperactivity and Impulsivity: Six or more symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity for children up to age 16, or five or more for adolescents 17 and older and adults; symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity have been present for at least 6 months to an extent that is disruptive and inappropriate for the person’s developmental level:
- Often fidgets with or taps hands or feet, or squirms in seat.
- Often leaves seat in situations when remaining seated is expected.
- Often runs about or climbs in situations where it is not appropriate (adolescents or adults may be limited to feeling restless).
- Often unable to play or take part in leisure activities quietly.
- Is often “on the go” acting as if “driven by a motor”.
- Often talks excessively.
- Often blurts out an answer before a question has been completed.
- Often has trouble waiting his/her turn.
- Often interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g., butts into conversations or games
- Who is doing the diagnosing? In the vast majority of cases either a pediatrician or psychiatrist diagnoses kids for ADHD today. Did you know that pediatricians are not generally trained in psychology/counseling, and hardly ever actually use the DSM to diagnose for ADHD (yet still write prescriptions for high-powered drugs to treat the condition). Ironically, psychiatrists today are also rarely trained in counseling, and while they do usually diagnose for ADHD using the DSM, rarely do they prescribe counseling or other behavioral approaches but almost always prescribe psychotropic drugs instead. So the reality is that most pediatricians don’t diagnose (yet still write prescriptions for drugs), and most psychiatrists only write prescriptions for drugs (and aren’t even trained to deliver counseling).
- The corporal punishment effect. Let me be clear in saying I am not a fan for corporal punishment, nor am I suggesting that it be brought back to schools anytime soon (although when it was in schools when I was a kid you better believe we settled down!). The point I am trying to make, however, is that when kids actually have a fear of potential punishment, they often stop acting wild and out of control. In most of the cases I have had at my office, enabling and lack of any accountability have been the major sources for “ADHD,” and not some biological dysfunction the child is unable to control. Hold kids accountable and use positive reinforcement to increase good behaviors whenever possible
- What does it all mean? So what if my kid is diagnosed with ADHD you might say – but hold on until you hear the rest……first, your child will almost certainly be put on a high-powered stimulant drug. Next, he will then have a self-fulfilling prophecy to battle as he will begin to believe he really is “different” from all the other kids (after all, he has a mental disorder now). The “mental illness” label will also be viewed as a pre-existing condition, and will inevitably increase health insurance rates — and quite likely life insurance rates down the road as he will be viewed as someone with a mental illness.
Before we go assigning a mental disorder tag to another kid, why don’t we step back and actually try and qualify what is going on — for example, does the kid fidget and jump all over the place when he is doing things he likes? Can he sustain his attention building a puzzle, playing a game, shooting basketballs, drawing, or watching his favorite TV show? If so, could it be that the child is simply bored and disinterested in things he doesn’t like (and why he is inattentive and hyperactive), and not because he has a mental illness? And if this is true, why the hell do we keep drugging normal kids? Wouldn’t it make more sense to employ empathy, positive reinforcement, accountability & consistency, and punishment when necessary??
If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m not on board with ADHD being a legitimate mental disorder, and I am continually horrified when I hear the number of kids these days being put on high-powered, dangerous medications. ADHD is a flimsy, “easy diagnosis” and there are far too many medical personnel (and big pharama) all too willing to dole out prescriptions to interested parents who have simply become frustrated.
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