Over the last twenty years, the term ADHD has gone from something unfamiliar to most people to the first word that comes to mind when a person sees a child misbehaving. It has become one of the most commonly diagnosed disorders among children and is becoming a somewhat common diagnosis among the adult population.
There are specific diagnostic criteria, but the symptoms of ADHD are sometimes difficult to differentiate between simple childhood misbehavior. Professionals in the mental health field have differing views of the disorder and the widespread diagnosis of it. Some professionals even question if ADHD is an actual disorder or simply an excuse given for the negative effects of modern society.
The medical field accepts ADHD as a real disorder. “The U.S. Surgeon General, the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, among others, all recognize ADHD as a valid disorder” (Barkley, 2006). There are specific diagnostic criteria that must be met for a diagnosis of ADHD. The symptoms include markedly high levels of energy combined with a decreased ability to maintain attention or focus on tasks. The first symptoms usually become noticeable around the age of three or four, when it is noticed that the child has a shorter attention span and more trouble completing tasks than peers of the same age. Some of the children diagnosed with ADHD outgrow the disorder by adulthood, while others continue to have difficulty with jobs and adult relationships. The professionals with this view have spent significant time studying the disorder and possible causes for it. A strong genetic correlation has been found with indication of 80% of cases having a close relative also diagnosed with the disorder (Barkley, 2006). Although an exact cause of the disorder has not been found, several genes have been found to be likely contributors to it. The most common treatment after a diagnosis of ADHD is a combination of specialized classes, and medication to help minimize the problem behaviors and help the child better maintain focus.
Sami Timimi presents another view of the disorder. He questions if ADHD is an actual disorder at all. His view discusses cultural norms and how different norms of behavior are expected in various cultures and demonstrates that Western culture currently has the most severe problem with children’s behavior (Timimi, 2008). He and others have studied the symptoms of ADHD and found that a great deal of the symptoms can be associated with societal expectations. He has scrutinized the biological basis for the disorder and has found very little evidence to prove the basis. His belief is that a diagnosis of ADHD is little more than an excuse to help parents and educators feel better about failing to properly care for, discipline, or educate normal active children. Additionally it is viewed as an excuse for the child’s failure in academics and often in adult life, by simply saying the child could not control the behavior and thus could not learn. His theory acknowledges that some children are prone to more active and outgoing behavior than others and have shorter attention spans. He however does not believe the first action taken in treating the behavior should be medication. Instead he suggests it should be more behavior modification and training to give the child more responsibility for his actions.
Although there are indications that the disorder does exist, as the behavior of some children and adults does strongly indicate impulse control problems, the rapid increase in diagnosis indicates that there is a problem either with society or the environment is causing more children to develop the disorder. When the disorder was first added as a neurological diagnosis it was a way to identify a group of people with the same symptoms in order to find effective ways to treat the people and help them become more productive in society. The diagnosis seems however to have become a “catch all” for any child or adult who is easily agitated, impatient, or uncontrollable in social settings. The likelihood is that many of these children are misdiagnosed and being treated with medication they do not need.
Instead of a diagnosis of ADHD helping caregivers find ways to help children overcome impulse control and attention span deficits and become more productive, it has become exactly what Timimi has described an excuse for failure. When an overactive difficult child is diagnosed with ADHD, his teachers and parents all breathe sighs of relief. The teacher is happy, because she is no longer expected to make the child pay attention or to educate him as he is ushered off to a special classroom where he is required to do only a minimal amount of work. His parents no longer have to feel the need to make him behave, because he is labeled as unable to help it. He is given medication to make him tolerable to society and “written off” as a lost cause for future disability payments.
A diagnosis of ADHD needs to go back to being a label to help people help the child rather than an excuse for the behavior. Many children with ADHD are very intelligent, if they can find ways to focus their attention. They are capable of doing this, but it requires work on the part of the child and his caregivers. These people as well as the medical profession need to stop taking the easy route of medicating and lowering expectations. And actually teach children with ADHD how to overcome the diagnosis and be successful, productive members of society.
Barkley, Russell. (2006) Dr. Russell Barkley Official site. Retrieved November 8, 2008
Timimi, Sami. (2008) Sami Timimi: New guidelines on attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder fall short Retrieved November 8, 2008 from:
Sami Timimi: New guidelines on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder fall short | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk