Sunday, September 9, 2007
ADHD Awareness Month!
You may or may not know that this month is ADHD Awareness Month! For many people, this is a great month to learn a little bit more about ADHD. For me, though, its just another month... because I am very aware of ADHD. You see, I actually have ADHD!
If you want to read more about me and my personal experience with ADHD, you can check out this website I made for a school project last year. The site I made also gives some myths and facts about ADHD, and a list of famous people who do, or probably did, have ADHD. A few of the links don't work on that page (for instance, there's a link that leads back to my old Blogcharm blog instead of to this new one) but I can't go back and change them cause I made the site using a really weird program at my school and I can't remember how to do it!!! But still, its a pretty cool page! Go see it!
ADHD is a very controversial issue in this world. Some people think ADHD is very overdiagnosed and that only a tiny percentage of people actually have the disorder. Others think that it is underdiagnosed and that too many kids have the disorder but are not being treated. Some people think ADHD does not exist at all and is just an excuse for "badly-behaved" children and adults. Others think ADHD is really something else completely... an addiction to sugar, a lack of discipline, a very creative mind, or even a child from another planet! Some people swear by ADHD medication, while others swear by herbal supplements, and others feel that lifestyle changes and nutrition management are the way to go. Who is right? Anyone? Noone?
Now, let me join the chorus of voices talking about their own opinions of ADHD. Let me tell you what I think.
Does ADHD actually exist?
I definitely think it does. I have no idea how a person "gets" ADHD or anything like that. All I know is that I cannot open up a book, or read an article, about ADHD, without finding a description of myself on those pages.
Is ADHD over or under-disgnosed?
I don't know, how should I know? One thing I do feel strongly about, though, is the overdiagnosing of children in foster care. Not just with ADHD, but with any and every diagnosis under the sun! You take a five-year-old who has been severely neglected by his mother, beaten by his mother's boyfriend, and then removed from his home, separated from his siblings and his friends and his pets and his other family members, and shuffled through a series of foster homes... and then you say that that child is acting out because he has ADHD?
Isn't it bad to give children a diagnsis of ADHD, which causes them to be labeled?
Generally, I don't think so. I was not diagnosed until I was an adult, but believe me, I was definitely labeled as a kid... and the labels were nothing as simple as ADHD. The labels that were slapped on me... "babyish", "weird", "Sloppy", "stupid", "Lazy", "Crazy". "loser", etc... hurt a lot worse than that "ADHD label ever did!
Kids and adults with ADHD are going to think and act differently than most people do, with or without the label. Not knowing they have ADHD, it is natural for people to assume that it is them, and their personality, that is "defective. I think it is much more helpful for kids to know that they have ADHD, and that there are specific ways they can deal with it.
Think of it this way. Lets say you have horrible allergies. (Which I do have, too, unfortunately for me!) What makes more sense... to think, "Why do I keep sneezing? I am so dumb for sneezing so much. I am just a mess. Look at my yucky red eyes. Nobody else is sneezing. Whats the matter with me?" Or to think, "My allergies are acting up. I'll have to do certain things, like keep Kleenex with me all the time, run the air filter in my house, take medicine, etc, in order to deal with this and get on with my life."
Is medication the best treatment for ADHD?
Not for everyone. I have tried two different types of ADHD medicine, and neither one has helped me at all. I didn't experience any side effects, but I didn't experience any positive changes either! It was like swallowing a sugar pill each day!
For some children and adults, taking ADHD medicine can have a lot of side effects, including feeling really spaced-out or even getting sick.
I think a variety of things should be tried in order to help kids with ADHD. Teaching children coping mechanisms, helping them find simple ways of keeping their things organized, changing the structure of their school day, learning about nutrition, allowing them to have tons of fresh air and exercise and time in nature... these are all non-intrusive ways to help a child with ADHD. If you give a disorganized kid some desk organizers and give him ten minutes every afternoon to straighten his desk out, or if you take a hyperactive kid and enroll him in an afterschool program where he goes out in nature and hikes and builds things and learns to climb the climbing wall, those things aren't going to backfire and hurt the kid. Giving him the wrong medication can hurt him. Maybe medication should be a last resort. Instead of doctors prescribing medicine the minute they make a diagnosis of ADHD, they should give parents and caregivers some other tools first.
Isn't ADHD just a reason to medicate unruly children into submission to make life easier for teachers?
Actually, I have heard stories that tell me, yes, some schools do insist that any "unruly" children be medicated for ADHD so that they will quit disturbing the class. I have heard of schools calling Child Protective Services on parents because the parents refused to medicate a child who they didn't believe actually had ADHD. I read about a mother who fought against the idea of letting her child be medicated for ADHD, and finally let him be medicated because she was afraid he'd be taken away otherwise. The child's teachers reported that, now that he was on medication, he was behaving so much better. One day the mother dropped into the child's classroom, and saw him sitting at his desk, completely spaced out, not moving. That was what the school considered "better behavior." The kid couldn't disturb his class because he was half asleep all the time!
What I think needs to change is the structure of schools themselves. The truth is, just about every kid hates sitting inside a stuffy classroom on a sunny spring day or a crisp fall day or a snowy winter day, listening to a lecture they find boring, doing a worksheet they find mindless, or reading a book they don't really care about. But for children with ADHD, asking them to do these things is like asking them to stand on their head for six hours. They may eventually be able to figure out how to stand on their head, and they may even learn to do it for six hours, but it will be incredibly, incredibly uncomfortable for them, and after a while they'll probably start refusing to even try standing on their head at all anymore!
Many experts are beginning to realize that children with ADHD need a different type of schooling. In fact, some schools have opened up that are specifically for children with ADHD and/or learning disorders... not traditional "special education" schools, but schools that cater to the needs of these children. For instance there is the Denver Academy in Colorado
which uses innovative programs to get kids involved and interested in their own education. Or the 504 School in Georgia, where elementary school children with ADHD learn traditional subjects in multi-sensory ways, and also get things like yoga, cooking, social skills, art therapy, karate and swimming in their curriculum. Or, on a different note, the Albany Free School in New York, which lets children what, when and how they are going to learn. (Sounds like chaos, but when you see it in action, you find some of the most well-rounded, well-educated kids you've ever met!)
What if every school began to take an "alternative" approach to educating kids. What if every school tossed out their traditional ideas of what school is supposed to be like, and started mixing math and spelling with karate, swimming, yoga, and outdoor experiences? Probably all children would enjoy this type of school and learn more, but for children with ADHD, it would mean a whole world of difference.
For more information about ADHD, check out ADDA!