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ADD / ADHD - a fashionable diagnosis?

hyperactivity kids
hyperactivity difficult childrens
©: S.Kobold - Fotolia

If something is not as it should be, according to conventional wisdom, we are quick to condemn it as false or even morbid. In today's highly technological and highly developed world, we are all too often assume that we are omniscient. What does not conform with the science or has been proven by studies, can’t be right. Well, there we are thoroughly wrong. By now we should have learned which was right yesterday, tomorrow can be wrong again. As a quote from Gandhi says, "History teaches people that history teaches people nothing". Only 25 years ago, who really would have believed that you would find one or more PCs in almost every Western household?

Likewise, we deceive ourselves, when it comes to AD(H)D. Studies say that more than 600,000 young people are ill, although many doctors and scientists repeatedly warn about the high rate of misdiagnosis. What are we doing to our children so thoughtlessly? Do we really want to “immobilize” our children, keep them quiet just because they are a little bit more outgoing; because they are getting a little complicated?

AD(H)D - What actually is that?

The difference between ADHD and ADD is that in ADHD hyperactivity is in the foreground of the disorder. This means that in addition to inattention, impulsiveness, daydreaming and concentration problems those children have an increased urge to move around, which often is interpreted as fidgeting.

Therefore, we know what the symptoms look like. We also know which processes are triggered in the brain. What we do not know is the reason why. Is this rooted in the person’s genes or is this a learned behaviour? Often it is said that this is a metabolic disease. However, the only thing we know is that the metabolism has changed. Why this happened or what the reason for this change remains unclear. Yet, we treat this alleged illness with brain altering medications. The treatment is controversial, and we are unsure about the consequences of this treatment. Some researchers even go so far as to say: with these drugs we are changing, the child’s personality. There are children, who do not wish to take those drugs any longer, precisely of that above mentioned reason. In other words, we are treating a disease which we neither can explain nor understand. And that with drugs, of which we do not know the damage they can cause.

A definitive diagnosis is very difficult, if not impossible because the same symptoms can also be the result of various other causes. For example, similar symptoms you see in children whose parent’s put them under an enormous performance pressure, social pressure, overstimulation or when there are problems in the family. And this is just the tip of the iceberg, just a small sample. Therefore, children are often misdiagnosis with AD(H)D.

Misdiagnosis AD(H)D

Children who are just a little slower in their development and thus behave differently compared to children in the same age bracket are often diagnosed with AD(H)D. In this case, the affected children are evident because far too much is expected of them while they are unable to meet those expectations. The way they express their feelings is with symptoms similar to AD(H)D. Doctors are often not capable of recognizing that the problem indeed has a different cause. The first step seems to be: “sedate the child”. Even to gifted children Ritalin is often quickly prescribed. Sometimes such a diagnosis is made in only a few minutes.

Treating AD(H)D without medication

Just before the doctor's advice is followed and the child is administered pills, all other possibilities should be explored to combat AD(H)D. For example, there is behavioural therapy, in which a psychologist teaches the child new strategies, a new behaviour to respond to life’s challenges. Meditation is also known to help those children to calm down and think clearer. When meditating with children, avoid having the child to sit still for half an hour. Several times a day, just for a minute, to settle down and focus on his breathing could do the trick. Breathing naturally aims to quieten the chaos in his brain. Affected children are flooded with so many stimuli that the "disk" in the head first has to be emptied, at least in part. This can most effectively be done with simple meditative exercises.

hyperactivity relaxation exercise
hyperactivity relaxation exercise
©: Jérôme SALORT - Fotolia

A lot of sport in combination with the appropriate relaxation techniques helps the child to become more balanced. Especially for hyperactive children; it helps them to reduce the urge to move around. It is crucial reducing as many as possible stimuli which are bombarding the brain at any given moment. For example, watching TV only to a minimum. However, if, after months, all those implementations still do not show any improvements, there is still the possibility of medicating the child. However, all the other implementations should remain part of the treatment.

Medications can ease the situation

If all else fails and the symptoms are becoming so bad that it is too much for the child and parents to bear, then medications can provide the hoped-for relief. Taking drugs permanently is always the last instance. All other possibilities have to be exploited first. It is recommended for the physician to check the medication from time to time to find out whether they are still necessary.

Parents need to be aware, drugs can not heal AD(H)D, only suppress its symptoms. It is only through extensive therapy that the cause of the disorder can be eliminated. However, all parties involved also have to be aware of the dangers which come with the drug treatment. The ingredients of Ritalin - the best-known drug for the treatment of AD(H)D - and their effects are not yet fully explored. This means there is no data available about the long-term effects of Ritalin.

Many researchers claim that Ritalin hinders children's development and restrict their personality. Others don’t see it that way and, therefore, claim this medicine as very helpful. However, it is interesting what happens when an adult takes Ritalin. An RTL reporter took the drug in the context of a self-experiment - the result was devastating. She could not sleep, was unfocused, her heart was pounding and she was extremely hot. Even though this drug is only authorized for children, it seems its effects on adults are questionable. Although this medication calms down children, reduces their behaviours and they conduct themselves more social, it should be used wisely and sparingly. That, however, does not seem to be the case. In the last 20 years, the prescription of psychotropic drugs to children has increased by 200 times. A worrying trend.

Dealing with AD(HS) children at school and in youth groups

Teachers and youth workers must be able to deal with this problem. Statistically, there is one child in every school class showing AD(H)D-like symptoms. It is evident, that really everyone has to deal with those children. However, it is not enough to deal with and support those children, the adult must be able to recognize the signs of AD(H)D. ADD is frequently not recognized.

What do teachers need to consider, what can they can do?

It is an imperative to set those children boundaries and insist that they stick to the rules. Children with AD(H)D can be aggressive and hurtful. Try to eliminate as good as possible every distraction. For example, in the classroom they could sit in the front. Even a single table, not at the window, though, can be helpful. Whether in the classroom or in youth group: Children with AD(H)D need structures and explicit rules. If a child does not comply, this must be followed with the respective consequences. At the same token, whenever a child complies and does the right or a good thing it needs praise. Of course, this applies equally to all children. Otherwise an imbalance would occur, what children would notice very quickly. Older children should be encouraged to exercise self-control. With the child, you could draw up common rules which are then supervised by an appointed person. Indeed, to support a child with AD(H)D there a many options for teachers at hand. Although this can be very stressful, a good teacher is able to positively influence the life of such a child.

I believe that it is important not to give those children privileges but try to give them small tasks (which they can manage) to promote trust and recognition. Many children - not only those with "AD(H)D " - struggle for recognition and, therefore, want the teacher’s or youth worker’s attention. Many “obvious” children can be helped and integrated by appropriate attention. I only can build a rapport with a child if I learn to understand him. If I learn to love him for who he is without labelling him as a "troublemaker", as "hyperactive", as "AD(H)D " -child and perhaps even silence him with drugs.

After all AD(H)D is just another "diagnosis" that recognises a particular condition which, however, have an underlying cause as well. Unfortunately, these causes are often not considered. However, if the roots are exposed, it is easier for parents to understand and correct the child’s behaviour. Possible causes could be lack of recognition, lack of love, lack of time, and a challenging environment. The child feels lost, is not- or cannot engage in activities. All it does is fighting for attention. Others perceive this struggle as a nuisance, as fidgety.


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