Putting a child in a classroom for 8 hours a day, for more than a decade, and expecting them to listen while remaining ‘obedient’ is very unrealistic. From day one we are taught that this is the only path to success and we are shown the consequences of not paying attention. It’s important to recognize that it’s perfectly normal for children to struggle with paying attention to something that they are not even remotely interested in; this doesn’t necessarily mean they have a disorder and it doesn’t mean they require (potentially quite harmful) prescription medications.
It’s Okay If Your Child Struggles With Attention – This Does’t Mean They Have A Disorder
Many doctors and teachers are already aware of this, but I would like to reiterate the point — just because your child struggles with paying attention in school or sitting still in the classroom does not mean there is an underlying disorder to blame. It’s perfectly natural for your child to want to be active and to want to focus on things which actually interest them. Sure, low grades might come as a result of not paying attention, but it is possible for a 2.0 student to know more than a 4.0 student; grades don’t necessarily equate with intelligence. In many cases, they reflect an ability to follow rules and memorize information — both important skills, but perhaps less important than critical thinking and creativity. Some students may have a better ability to buckle down, pay attention, and do their work, while other, equally as intelligent students, may struggle with this model. This, again, is perfectly normal, and could actually be a marker of something really positive. If your child is being held back and being denied even the possibility of entering a gifted program based on the fact that they have attention issues, then there is problem.
New data from the National Center for Learning Disabilities shows that only 1 percent of students who receive services for their apparent learning disabilities (some of which are completely and unquestionably valid) are enrolled in gifted or talented programs. The report concluded that “students with learning and attention issues are shut out of gifted and AP programs, held back in grade level and suspended from school at higher rates than other students.” (source)
Disorder Or Creativity?
The last point in the above paragraph is pretty disturbing, particularly given the fact that recent work in cognitive neuroscience shows us that both those with an ADHD diagnosis, and creative thinkers, have difficulty in suppressing brain activity that comes from the “Imagination Network.” There are no school assessments to evaluate creativity and imagination; these are admittedly difficult to measure and, accordingly, receive very little attention in the education system. Yet a lot of research is pointing to the fact that people who show characteristics of ADHD are more likely to reach higher levels of creative thought and achievement compared to those who don’t show these characteristics.
“By automatically treating ADHD characteristics as a disability– as we so often do in an educational context– we are unnecessarily letting too many competent and creative kids fall through the cracks.” – Scott Barry Kaufman, Scientific Director of The Imagination Institute in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania (source)
While brain scans of people diagnosed with ADHD do show structural differences, it is a scary reality that a large portion of ADHD diagnoses are derived from the observations teachers make in school. Too often, children are diagnosed based on perceived behaviour alone, and then encouraged to take medication right away. These children are not actually tested or scanned; they and their parents are simply told that they have ADHD.
“I think the big mistake in schools is trying to teach children anything, and by using fear as the basic motivation. Fear of getting failing grades, fear of not staying with your class, etc. Interest can produce learning on a scale compared to fear as a nuclear explosion to a firecracker.” – Stanley Kubrick
Did They Tell You This About The Pharmaceutical Industry?
The quote to your left comes from Harvard Medical professor and the former Editor-in-Chief of The New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Marcia Angell. She joins a long and growing list of some very ‘credible’ people within the medical profession who are trying to tell the world something important. She has said on several occasions that it is no longer possible to believe much of the published research, or even to rely on the judgement of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. (source)
Another great example is Dr. Richard Horton, who is currently the Editor-in-Chief of The Lancet, which is considered to be one of the top ranked medical journals in the world. He said that “the case against science is straightforward, much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. . . . Science has taken a turn towards darkness.” (source)
The reason why these professionals are saying such things is because, as Dr. Angell puts it, “the pharmaceutical industry likes to depict itself as a research-based industry, as the source of innovative drugs. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is their incredible PR and their nerve.”
“The medical profession is being bought by the pharmaceutical industry, not only in terms of the practice of medicine, but also in terms of teaching and research. The academic institutions of this country are allowing themselves to be the paid agents of the pharmaceutical industry. I think it’s disgraceful.” – Arnold Seymour Relman, Harvard Professor of Medicine
The percentage of children with an ADHD diagnosis continues to increase; it went from 7.8 percent in 2003 all the way up to 11.0 percent in 2011. According to a recent analysis, ADHD in children has surged by 43percent since 2003. (source)
The quotes above aren’t just opinions, clearly these few (out of many) examples are from people who know a thing or two about the industry, and it is troublesome to think that people still believe pharmaceutical corruption and manipulation of scientific literature are conspiracy theories.
The most recent real world example of this comes from a few months ago, when an independent review found that the commonly prescribed antidepressant drug Paxil is not safe for teenagers — all after the fact that a large amount of literature had previously suggested this. The 2001 drug trial that took place, funded by GlaxoSmithKline (also maker of the Gardasil Vaccine), found that these drugs were completely safe, and used that ‘science’ to market Paxil as safe for teenagers. The study came from John Ioannidis, an epidemiologist at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
Ioannidis is also the author of the most widely accessed article in the history of the Public Library of Science (PLoS), titled “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False.” In the report, he stated that most current published research findings are false. And this was more than 10 years ago.
ADHD is classified as a mental disorder, which is interesting because the definition of these types of disorders in particular have been shown to be heavily influenced by the pharmaceutical industry. American psychologist Lisa Cosgrove and others investigated financial ties between the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) panel members and the pharmaceutical industry. They found that, of the 170 DSM panel members, 95 (56%) had one or more financial associations with companies in the pharmaceutical industry. One hundred percent of the members of the panels on ‘mood disorders’ and ‘schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders’ had financial ties to drug companies. The connections are especially strong in those diagnostic areas where drugs are the first line of treatment for mental disorders. In the next edition of the manual, it’s the same thing.
“The DSM appears to be more a political document than a scientific one. Each diagnostic criteria in the DSM is not based on medical science. No blood tests exist for the disorders in the DSMN. It relies on judgements from practitioners who rely on the manual.” – Lisa Cosgrove, PhD, Professor of Counselling and School Psychology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston
The very vocabulary of psychiatry is now defined at all levels by the pharmaceutical industry.” – Dr. Irwin Savodnik, an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California at Los Angeles (source)
These are definitely some facts to take into consideration when it comes to dealing with your child’s ADHD diagnosis. It’s a ‘disease’ — one which I was also diagnosed with — that I personally don’t even think is real. I think it was made up strictly for the purpose of making money.
There Are Other Methods To Help Your Child Focus & Improve Your Child’s Ability To Pay Attention
It’s becoming clear that we need a new approach to ADHD. Apart from examining the truth behind that label, as I hope I have done in the above paragraphs, it’s important to note that there does not appear to be much room in our school system for children who do not fit the ‘normal’ mould of the majority. The fact that we basically point a finger at them and label them does not really help anything. As much as we’ve been marketed to believe that medication can help solve the problem, I really believe they only worsen it. Many of these medications seem to dull the emotions and energy of the children taking them, ultimately making for a less positive and rich life experience.
One great way to improve your child’s ability to focus is to change their diet. It’s a shame that hardly any research has been published examining the relationship between mental ‘disabilities’ and diet, since many medical professionals strongly believe there is a direct link between them. Some studies have, indeed, emerged which show a link between a gluten/casein free diet and improvement in autistic symptoms, and some parents have already seen the benefits of implementing this research. (source)
The Mayo Clinic claims that certain food preservatives and colourings could increase hyperactive behaviour in some children. It would be best to avoid these, regardless of whether they are linked to ADHD or not.
It has also been suggested that EEG biofeedback (electroencephalographic) could help. It’s a type of neurotherapy that measures brainwaves. You can read more about that here.
In 2003, a study published in the journal Adolescence looked at how regular massages for 20 minutes twice a week could improve behaviour in the classroom. This is interesting because studies have also suggested that tai chi and yoga may also help improve ADHD symptoms. According to the studies, children with ADHD that practiced tai chi became less anxious or hyperactive. (source)
So, one thing you could try is observing what your child is eating. You can limit their intake of harmful, hormone disrupting, disease causing foods like sugar, limit their exposure to pesticides, and encourage their consumption of fruits, vegetables, and whole foods (rather than processed foods).
When it comes down to it, developing methods for your child to pay attention to something they find boring and/or useless is a difficult task, and for parents who struggle with this, it’s important to remember that most likely your child is perfectly normal. It will help to choose to look at it in a positive light.
The fact that children are forced into these institutions, told how the world works, made to follow certain rules, and pressured to complete education out of fear of not having a job, is a truly unfortunate reality of today’s world. It is not the best environment for a child. Perhaps things will change in the future, but right now it seems children are encouraged to complete education out of fear, out of necessity, and out of the mentality that “this is just the way the world is.”
“When we can’t say ‘No,’ we become a sponge for the feelings of everyone around us and we eventually become saturated by the needs of everyone else while our own hearts wilt and die. We begin to live our lives according to the forceful should of others, rather than the whispered, passionate want of our own hearts. We let everyone else tell us what story to live and we cease to be the author of our own lives. We lose our voice — we lose the desire planted in our souls and the very unique way in which we might live out that desire in the world. We get used by the world instead of being useful in the world.” – Dr. Kelly M. Flanagan, a licensed clinical psychologist, Ph.D. in clinical psychology (source)
Perhaps sitting down and talking to your child, letting them know that there is nothing wrong with them and that they don’t have a ‘disorder’ is a good start, at least for those who have already been labeled. Again, just because one person struggles with paying attention does not mean they have a disorder. If the information above is any indication, it could actually mean the opposite.
Having your child even believe in that type of label could be harmful. Given the recent developments in neuroplasticity and parapsychology, it has become clear that how a person thinks alone can change their biology.
Speaking with educators and finding a differentiated type of instruction more tailored to your child’s needs and interests could also be a solution. One of the biggest solutions, in my opinion, is not accepting labels for your children in the first place.
This is a big problem in modern day education, and solutions are limited. The issue here really seems to be the environment the children are surrounded by, not the children themselves.
Another thing parents could address are the feelings of the child. Part of growing up is learning to handle our emotions and tackle whatever challenges life throws at us, but in school we are only taught content, and that is all we seem to focus on. Humans are made up of more than just bits of learned information; we all perceive a certain way and if emotions and thoughts are not openly discussed and dealt with, it can create problems in other areas.
“I don’t know about you, but in my adult life, I have never had to use geometry once… yet I experience emotions and challenges every day. If school is designed to prepare you for life… why not teach actual life skills?” – Elina St. Onge
About the Author
Arjun Walia – I joined the CE team in 2010 shortly after finishing university and have been grateful for the fact that I have been able to do this ever since. Ther