Thursday, October 18, 2012

A.D.- Squirrel!

 So, I was enjoying some time talking with friends and we got started on the topic of ADD and ADHD, but not really about the conditions themselves, but the frequency with which these prognoses are given.

So, to start, I'm going to preface this: I do acknowledge and realize that certain people do, in fact, have these conditions and need medication for them.

My rant is about the quick-fix nature of society that says "My child can't focus. Something's wrong. Doctor, give him a pill!"

Yes, the first two statements are valid, but "Give him a pill!"? Seriously? This idea of looking for a quick fix has become absurd. According to the CDC,

  • The percentage of parent-reported ADHD in children has increased by 22% from 2003-2007.
  • As of 2007, 5.4 million kids have been diagnosed with ADHD.
  • The rate of ADHD diagnosis increased by 3% each year from 1997-2006 and 5.5% per year from 2003-2007.
  • As of 2007, 2.7 million kids with ADHD (66.3% of those diagnosed) were on medication. 1
This is insane.

Here's my question: Given the increasing trends shown, there must be some deeper issue behind the increasing prevalence of ADD/ADHD diagnoses in the US; what is it?

I have two answers that I think may be contributing to the issue.

The first answer is fairly simple, as a society, we have become lazy. We don't want to spend the time teaching ourselves or our kids to focus and push past distraction, so we seek an excuse, a label behind which we can hide. This doesn't excuse us from the responsibility to try, to put in effort. applying a label doesn't solve anything, it becomes merely another layer of whitewash over the crack.

The second answer is a fair bit more complicated. The brain, especially a child's brain, is extremely plastic. What this means is that it easily alters and conforms to different processing patterns depending on the environment. Are you seeing where I am going with this? If you are, you have trained your brain in deductive thinking. It has become increasingly obvious to me that the media and culture of today has affected the attention span of individuals all throughout society, particularly those of the generation that is just now reaching their adolescence.

In a simple case of input = output, we can see the effect of mass media on the brain. today's media consists of multiple short soundbytes and video clips that are no longer than 5 or 6 minutes. In addition, due to the nature of the internet, if one doesn't like what one is watching, one can merely change the page and search for something else. Society's desire for quick-fix hedonism has affected the way we interact with the world and the media has willingly obliged, moving with the zeitgeist in order to maintain and grow their followers. Ever more ring Cobain's words in my ears when I think of society today.

"Here we are now, entertain us."
Okay, so what does this have to do with ADD/ADHD? Simply this: we are training our brains and the brains of the younger generations to have a short attention span, to focus on one thing for a mere few minutes before moving on to the next. As a tutor, I see these tendencies play out as the kids I work with seek constant diversion every few minutes. Even when doing fun, entertaining tasks, like reading or assembling a puzzle, I see these children starting, getting bored, doing something else, and then returning to the puzzle multiple times. I'm not that old, I'm only 21, but I remember as a kid sitting through an entire book or working through an entire 300 piece puzzle in one sitting.

Alright, so I've ranted long enough. What do I propose we do? It's fairly simple: train the minds of the generations to come. The Bible mentions this concept in Proverbs 22:6. We need to train our children (or, in my case, future children) how to focus. We need to engage them in activities which stimulate the mind, allowing an active engagement, and promoting a long attention span.

"How can I do this?" "What type of activities do you mean?"

Well, for starters, TURN OFF THE TV! One of the things I am, in hindsight, extremely grateful to my parents for doing is limiting the amount of TV I could watch each day. I had 2 hours tops each day. So I had to choose what I wanted to watch: a certain show or two or a movie later with the family. They also previewed and monitored what I was watching to make sure that it consisted of shows, mostly educational, that were beneficial, or at worst, non-degrading to the person they desired for me to become.

The second thing to do, after turning off the TV, is to engage your kids in constructive, lengthy activities. Read a book, put together a puzzle, make an imaginary fort out of sheets, work in the garden, or something else by which you can spend quality time with your kids and encourage mental stimulation. Mental stimulation? Yes. Reading is a very active pasttime, mentally, so is assembling a puzzle or imaginary play. "You left out gardening." I was getting there. Gardening can be a manifold lesson: it can teach discipline, perseverance, patience, and the joy of finishing a task. These activities and more are all things I remember fondly from my childhood, not so much the individual TV shows I watched or the video games I played.

So, I would strongly encourage you, put away the remote and start actively putting into your children (or plan for your future children) the ideals and actions you wish to see from them in the future.

And maybe, just maybe, we'll see the excessive ADD/ADHD diagnoses start to fall...

1 CDC.gov. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/data.html. accessed 18/10'/2012.