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ADD and ADHD: Learning Disorder or Sociological Shift?

Is Society Changing from Traditional Learning Modes?


My son was diagnosed several years ago as having ADHD with severe impulsivity. Ring of fire, they called it, because of the way the brain scans of a person with this type of ADHD appear to create a ring of orange and red fire around the lobes of the brain.

When I first learned of the diagnosis, I had heard of ADHD. After all, I owned and worked in a day care center years prior, and it was impossible not to hear that at least one child in the group had been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD. However, my experience with ADD and ADHD as a child care provider was very different from my reality of living with an ADHD child.

First, I must say that the consensus is that ADD and ADHD is over diagnosed and frequently misdiagnosed. Many parents who are simply lazy and impatient parents do indeed end up medicating their children instead of taking the time to work on correcting certain behaviors. Not all parents, but some do.

However, even if a large number of children are misdiagnosed or over diagnosed as having ADD and ADHD, there are still a large percentage of children (mostly inattentive type ADD without hyperactivity and mostly female) who go undiagnosed and even more who go untreated.

That being said, in 2006, 8-10% of the elementary school-aged children were diagnosed or being treated for ADD or ADHD. Up to 80% of the children diagnosed with ADD and ADHD will carry those symptoms into adolescence and on into adulthood. (CDC)

A common misconception about ADD and ADHD is that children diagnosed with this disorder are unable to learn in traditional settings, or that their learning is in some way impaired. This is actually not true. In fact, to be more accurate, it would be safe to say that these children simply learn and process differently than their non-ADD/ADHD counterparts.

It is this different way of processing and learning that draws attention to ask the question as to whether ADD/ADHD could be a distinct sociological shift in human brain development and evolution.

ADD/ADHD students are frequently said to have trouble concentrating or sitting still in a traditional desk-lecture based classroom. However, any parent who has an ADD/ADHD child can tell you that if something interests the child, that ADD/ADHD child can spend hours intently focused on that activity. Because of this, many ADD/ADHD children are viewed to be defiant or unwilling to sit still in class.

Video games, cartoons, fast-paced activities – these will all hold the interest of most ADD/ADHD children, and typically, an ADD/ADHD child will perform better when allowed to do homework on the computer (provided you observe their use so they don’t surf off to other things). The reason these activities can usually keep an ADD/ADHD child’s attention is due to the fast-paced, bright colored, multi-skill use requirements – stimulating more of the child’s mind at one time.

As we enter into a digital, technological age, with everything computerized, on demand, at your command, touch of the fingertips instant gratification society – it makes sense that people with ADD/ADHD, who can’t sit still for long, lack focus on things that don’t properly stimulate the mind, and are impatient, process quickly, and bore easily – are going to be the ‘norm’ for the future in a society such as this.

Think about it. Some of the best programmers for computers, video games, web designers, and coders are self diagnosed or doctor diagnosed as having ADD/ADHD. I don’t have statistics for this, but a cursory review of tech blogs shows that many of these tech folk admit to this in their personal blogs. These folks are the ones creating the technology that is ruling our world today and will be ruling it tomorrow.

If you’ve never watched an ADD/ADHD child work out a solution to a problem, it’s almost fascinating to see. While the solution to the problem is the same for everyone, the way an ADD/ADHD child tackles a problem sends the brain down avenues of thinking that spawn additional examination of other factors, instead of tackling the problem head on. While this is difficult to ‘teach’ to in a traditional setting, when allowed to explore an idea or concept on their own, an ADD/ADHD child will usually not only eventually come up with the original solution, but will come up with additional solutions to problems or questions not even asked.

Yet, this innate nature to explore these other avenues, to look for solutions to problems that were not presented, is being medicated and taught out of the ADD/ADHD child by a school model that is a kickback from the experiments of the 60s and 70s.

Some of the greatest discoveries of our time were ‘accidents’ that were found when these other avenues of thinking were explored.

I say, instead of medicating and training away the ADD/ADHD symptoms, research needs to start looking for ways to control and harness the unique way an ADD/ADHD brain functions. There is no mult-tasker like the ADD/ADHD multi-tasker. While the ADD multi-tasker is usually more of a mental multi-tasking and the ADHD multi-tasker is more of a physical/mental mutli-tasker, the ability of an ADD/ADHD person to multi-task is unparalleled by the non-ADD/ADHD world.

Now, please understand I am not advocating for or against the use of medication for ADD/ADHD children. Some absolutely need some assistance due to ADD/ADHD’s symptoms causing the child to get into trouble, have problems fitting in socially, and problems passing classes in school. If medication is warranted, then by all means, under a doctor’s care, medication should be administered.

However, I have to wonder if medicating these children is really the answer. If, as I believe it to be, ADD/ADHD is a sociological shift in our children, then we will see, in two or three more generations, that the majority or children in our public schools are being diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, and eventually, the educational models of the 60s and 70s are going to have to be upgraded to the newer models already being used by our colleges and universities.

Colleges and universities are shifting to applied science degrees, with more hands-on training, less bookwork and direct class work. Applied science degrees are showing in the workforce to be more desirable than traditional bachelor’s degrees, and ‘degree programs’ are overtaking standard degrees.

More parents than ever before are realizing that the public school districts in the United States are not meeting the needs of their children, and it’s a good guess that this has less to do with lack of funding or societal issues as it has to do with simply not teaching the proper way to the children of today. Because of this, there are more home schooled children now than every before. The stigma of homeschooling is fast changing in the face of a non-changing educational system in America.

Why is homeschooling more popular now than ever before? Well, homeschooling provides hands-on training, parents can set the pace, the child is able to learn the way that is best for that child while still meeting standards, parents can use a varied curriculum that blends book learning with hands on education, and most definitely not least, it’s safer, particularly for an ADD/ADHD child who has trouble fitting in with classmates in a traditional school ‘sit at your desk’ setting.

When we live in a world where just about every person can now be labeled with some acronym, ADD/ADHD is not that bad of an acronym to find as a label stuck on you. I myself am now diagnosed ADD, but I was not diagnosed when I was a child. You see, ADD wasn’t known when I was a child, so I had to learn to function, on my own, and make my brain work for me. It was my son’s doctor who informed me I was ADD, when I was 29 years old. Little did I know… but I will admit, I’ve always known I thought ‘differently’ than most people I knew.

While most of this is pure conjecture on my part, I think I’m right. ADD/ADHD symptoms and the way the brain functions in persons with ADD/ADHD is different – this is fact. The conjecture part is that this type of brain function and way of thinking is actually an evolutionary societal sociological shift.

What are you thoughts on the subject? (Feel free to leave your comments below)

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