ADHD: Has this diagnostic fad run its course?
Like hysteria before it, ADHD has been a disorder of its time. And now it’s time to leave it behind and make a commitment to helping children be their best.
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And just this week, a Michigan State University study found that nearly one million children in America are potentially misdiagnosed with ADHD – in large part because they were the youngest and least mature in their kindergarten classes.Skip to next paragraph
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Maybe the greatest problem regarding ADHD as a diagnostic label is that our faith in that label has distracted us and kept us from looking for the better understandings we should be seeking. Stress and sleeplessness lead to inattention. Frustration leads to anger and rebellion. Depression leads to indifference and a lack of enthusiasm.
Probably one of the best ways to make sense of children and the rise of ADHD is for adults to focus on some basic questions. Don’t most adults become distracted when they are tired? Don’t most adults become fidgety when they are bored? Don’t most adults lose interest in their work when they don’t see any significance in what they are doing? And when adults wrestle with concerns relating to stress, sleeplessness, frustration, and depression, aren’t the responses often “get some rest,” “exercise” “start eating better,” and “try finding something you’re interested in”?
As adults, aren’t some of our most meaningful discussions about how to live a meaningful life? If that’s the case for adults, why don’t we put more emphasis on these sorts of answers for children? Wouldn’t more rest, better meals, more exercise, and a greater focus on helping children understand their interests serve most children well?
What we've learned
With ADHD, as with most failed efforts, even its failure is informative. In the case of ADHD we have learned that 1) prescribing Schedule II drugs to children en masse can have serious negative consequences, 2) that highly subjective diagnostic criteria can lead to serious concerns relating to the validity of a diagnosis, and 3) that ignoring the environment in which a person lives and basing a diagnosis solely on symptoms can lead to misdiagnoses and inappropriate treatment responses.
While these shortcomings do not provide answers in-and-of themselves, our recognition of these shortcomings should help set us in a better direction as we move forward.
How do we, as a culture, get past the ADHD bubble and some of the mischief it is causing? Pretty much the same way we have gotten past bubbles and mischief in the past: We broaden our view.
On a scientific level, we get past ADHD the same way we got past phrenology and eugenics; we demand that the theories that are being expounded be based in fact and verified by research. On a societal level, we take responsibility for the fact that the diagnostic labels we have accepted, and pharmacological interventions we have embraced, are harming children and that we have no right to ask children to bear those harms. On a personal level, we place the difficulties of childhood within the context of the life of each child, and within the nature of childhood itself. We make a commitment to helping children be their best selves, and above all, we do the best we can to make sure that we never use our positions of authority to harm anyone.
Stephen R. Herr, an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Studies, Leadership and Counseling at Murray State University, is the author of “Connected Thoughts: A Reinterpretation of the Reorganization of Antioch College in the 1920’s.”