Every year, 1 million American kids and 600,000 adults are diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, better known as ADHD. All told, 6.4 million children have been diagnosed with this condition, and about 8 million adults deal with its symptoms.
As defined by the National Library of Medicine:
[ADHD] is a problem of not being able to focus, being overactive, not being able control behavior, or a combination of these… out of the normal range for a person’s age and development.
ADHD is a very real thing. I just don’t think it’s a disorder. When we start attaching labels to the condition and telling kids that they can’t learn because they have it, we’re setting them up for failure.
Allow me to explain:
The data is in on this point, and it is clear. When kids are expected not to perform well in school, they tend not to perform well in school. On the other hand, when kids are expected to be intelligent and succeed in school, they generally act that way and even develop higher IQs. We’ve got to expect kids with this condition to perform well and help them succeed, not just diagnose them and sentence them to a life of spastic disorganization.
Yes, it may be true that it’s harder for an ADHD kid to sit still in a boring classroom for an hour. That doesn’t mean that their condition is a learning disability.
A couple of points here: The first is how important it is to think about a child’s learning style. There are three primary styles of learning: Auditory Learners like to listen, Visual Learners like to watch, and Kinesthetic Learners like to do activities.
There are indications that kids with ADHD have a large tendency toward kinesthetic learning. Is it any surprise then that they don’t thrive in boring classroom settings?
This brings me to our second point: If a child has a kinesthetic learning style and is not doing well in school, does this mean that there is something wrong with the child, or that the material isn’t being delivered in their preferred style?
Maybe it’s our educational system that needs a prescription.
The first pill is this: physical activity. Recess has been on the decline in US schools over the past few decades, giving kids, particularly lower-income kids, less opportunities to get exercise during school. Exercise is beneficial for children and adults with ADHD, helping to reduce the severity of the symptoms they suffer.
Here’s the second: Creative teaching methods. Kinesthetic learners and ADHD kids have this in common: They need activity. ADHD kids in particular need to move, and it would be wise to schedule frequent breaks so that they can get the extra energy out and focus more easily. One teacher went so far as to assign students who move the most two desks each, on opposite sides of the room. This way, when the student wanted to move around, they could just go to their other desk.
It may sound bizarre to you, but it worked for the teacher, and it worked for the student. Aren’t the futures of our kids worth us trying a bizarre idea every once in a while?
You might be wondering what authority I have to say all of this. The answer is simple – I was one of those kids. I was a bright boy who stayed out of trouble and made good grades, when one semester my grades changed drastically. That’s when everyone noticed. After some tests, I finally knew why I seemed to be so different from all the other kids, though I didn’t fully grasp it at the time.
My ADHD has been the source of a lot of difficulty, but developing the discipline to fight through those obstacles has made me stronger. As an adult, I’ve discovered that combining this discipline with the deep energy reserves of a super-hyper kid is a remarkable combination for achievement.
My advice to anyone out there struggling with ADHD is this: Own it. Embrace it. Struggle with it. Know your weaknesses. Take advantage of your strengths – you have more of them than you think.
This is you. Don’t be embarrassed. This is part of what makes you who you are. The system may have failed you, but your ADHD is not a disorder.
After all – I’m just like you, and I don’t have a disorder, either.