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As a newspaper columnist, Nancy Devlin, Ph.D. has written over 700 articles on subjects related to education and parenting. Welcome to her Classroom!

Does Your Child Really Have ADHD?

I just returned from John’s graduation from high school.  Not only did he graduate in 4 years, he received two blue ribbons for his sculptures, first honors as a senior and acceptance in to college to study graphic design.  Pretty good for a kid who in first grade was diagnosed by the school system as having Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD).

This is a cautionary tale for all parents who have a child so designated by the school system. 

It is easier for the school system to put a label on a child and make it the child’s problem, rather than the school examining its philosophy and possibly discovering that it is the school system’s problem.  By calling it the child’s problem the system does not have to change to fit the child’s educational needs.  Instead the child must change to fit the system’s needs. 

You many say that the system does not know what the children’s needs are.  With all of the testing and evaluations done on children, the system does have the necessary data.  The problem is nobody is in charge of interpreting them and making the necessary adjustments.  It is somewhat like the dilemma facing the CIA and FBI.  They had all the information and data needed to predict and to thwart terrorist strikes but nobody knew how or was assigned to correlate and to interpret the information.  This is also true of special education programs.  The law requires reams of testing but few people are trained and given the responsibility to correlate, to understand and to make practical use of all the data.  A number of special education teachers are leaving the field not because of the children but because of all the work required of them to accumulate this essential but mostly unused data.  John’s experience is a case in point. 

John’s history, to which the school had access, indicated that he had frequent ear infections as a baby and subsequently had tubes in his ears.  He still was not talking at age three.  When he did begin speaking, he mispronounced words and nobody understood him. 

In first grade, John was placed in a small class of sixteen children because they all had communication problems.  These children were taught using the reading program mandated for use by the whole school.  It required that every student be taught by learning the sounds of the letters and then sounding out the words.  This was something, since birth, John could not do.  Consequently, although bright, he was not learning to read and he knew it. 

The sixteen children in his class were not permitted to move from or in their seats.  They were not permitted to talk.  They were not even permitted to sound out the words while working in their workbooks because that too was regarded as talking.

The teacher taught the reading lesson to the whole class as a group strictly following the teacher’s manual.  She worked from the chalk board at the front of the room, away from the students.  John was in a seat which not only made it difficult to hear the teacher but to see the chalkboard.  He had to move in his seat in order to see the board. 

Because John was not learning to read, the teacher referred him to the child study team.  Before he was evaluated, the school counselor called his mother and told her that John was a DSM III-R attention-deficit, hyperactive- disorder (ADHD) child.  She recommended to his mother that she take him to a neurologist because there could be a question of medication.  Again, something was wrong with the child, not the program the child was in. 

Testing indicated that John had high average intelligence, but had a problem with language.  Since the system would not change its school-wide mandated reading program, John would have to change.  The only other option the school could offer was for him to receive his reading instruction in the more flexible program in the learning disability class.  Since this was not acceptable under the rules and regulations for the handicapped, the school was forced to create a Resource Room Program for students like John who required reading programs appropriate for their individual learning styles.  John learned to read.  Thus, his story had a happy ending. 

You can have a happy ending for your child if you to learn to ask questions of the school system.  Here is a partial list:

  1. If the school system labels your child, ask for a description of the behavior that results in that label.  One person’s definition may not be another’s.  This is particularly true of the ADHD label which is often based on rating scales and checklists supplied by the teacher.  Observation, not checklists, is the essential procedure necessary to describe this behavior.
  2. Ask the question, “Why”.  Why does the child behave that way?  For some children like John, he knows he’s not doing well, but he does not know why or what to do about it.  He might even begin to doubt his ability to do anything right.  Or he might feel that he is not a good person because he is unable to do the school work, and he is letting his parents down.  He might even be afraid of losing their love.
  3. Remember these are children.  They think and interpret their world and their place in it like children, not adults.  They are concrete thinkers, not abstract.  They need all the encouragement and support and understanding you can give them.  Your role is to be their advocates and best friends.
  4. There are a few children for whom medication might be indicated.  Before you reach that conclusion, however, be sure you understand your child’s role as a member of a very complex school system.
Posted in Getting the Most For Your Child, Labeling, Parenting, Teachers | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

3 Responses to Does Your Child Really Have ADHD?

  1. Jean says:

    Well, it is very normal for parents to worry about this question. Yet, good news is there are sites online that can answer this kind of question. The only requirement here, as parents is our ability to be cautious on what was going on with our children and their behaviors.

    • Puzie says:

      above, there is a chance for misdiagnosis and over-medication at times, but there are kids out there who truly have attention and hyperactivity disorders. I am currently a psych and education major and have an ADHD child of my own. We tried really hard not to put him on medication for the disorder, but in the end it was the only thing that really helped him. The difference at school has been like night and day for my son. He was constantly sent home with notes that he had been to principal’s office for problems in class (he had poor impulse control). His grades also suffered. He was the lowest in his class when it came to reading. He is a very smart kid so that just did not sit well with me. Once he started his medicine (near the end of 1st grade) he jumped from being the lowest to one of the highest in his class on reading. Now he is doing better making friends because he will pay attention to what they want to do and cooperate with them. It has helped him so much. Also, we had therapy for him (as well as parenting class for my husband and I) to help him (and us!) with his impulse control and ways to combat it. It is a very real disorder!

  2. Umamahesh says:

    Very real. Have had it with and without medication as a child and as an adult, and it’s very real, and impacts the entire life of the affected individual extremely negatively. My daughter has it and the same is true. Adderall (Sandoz generic is by far the best for us both) has enabled she and I both to do what we need to do to get where we want to be. The stigma is extremely damaging. Having experienced the all the aspects of ADHD: the stigma, the medication available when I was a kid, my withdrawal from it, dysfunctional outcomes in school and work throughout my life due to non-medication, and the difference I feel and my experience of life and work with the medicationavailable today, I liken ADHD to physical differences people have no problem accommodating: your height or your shoe size for instance. Your hat size. Your vision. Misaligned wisdom teeth. And all sorts of other differences we have even simpler workarounds for.

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