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ADD and ADHD are two of the most common diagnoses given to children. They are also among the most controversial. Not only do many experts question whether the conditions even exist, but ADD and ADHD are typically treated by putting kids on stimulant medications – the equivalent of low doses of speed.

What is ADD?

ADD stands for Attention Deficit Disorder. It is diagnosed when children seem to have trouble concentrating, focusing or paying attention, especially as it pertains to schoolwork.

What is ADHD?

ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Kids who have trouble sitting still, are fidgety, can’t focus for very long, or are disruptive in class are commonly given the ADHD label.

What’s the difference between ADD & ADHD?

ADD and ADHD are essentially the same conditions, with the one exception being that the ADHD label involves all the symptoms of ADD plus the hyperactive behavior: fidgeting, trouble sitting still, disruptive behavior, and so forth.

The controversies surrounding ADD & ADHD

It’s undoubtedly true that some children struggle more with focus and concentration tasks than others, especially as it relates to schoolwork. Yet this doesn’t necessarily make them abnormal in the clinical sense. There are many experts who believe ADHD doesn’t actually exist; that it’s a made-up label created when children struggle to live up to our unnatural social demands. You can count me among the skeptics. I’ve worked with a

number of children who had received an ADD or ADHD diagnosis in my career. I would not classify a single one of them as having anything wrong with them.

Like virtually all psychological and behavioral ailments, there are no biological markers for ADHD, just a set of symptoms revolving around behaviors adults find undesirable. “The label ADHD describes medically normal children who are not behaving the way we want,” says Dr. Daniel Zeidner, M.D. “There are social and economic incentives for us to label and drug children, to an extent relieving us adults for other responsibility for their misbehavior, a responsibility that in previous generations was placed on the adults.” (Wall Street Journal, 3-15-2019, p. A16)

The controversy resides in whether these symptoms actually represent a disorder in children, or whether they’re merely a consequence of the unnatural environments we place kids in and the unusual demands we expect of them. Kids today are asked to sit still in a class at a desk for 6 to 8 hours a day, passively consuming information, and usually not the type of information that is likely to capture or hold their attention. This isn’t a natural activity for children. Then when some of them inevitably struggle with this task, we slap them with the ADHD label and diagnose them with a developmental disorder. But is there really something wrong with the child, or does the problem reside in the unnatural environments we’re subjecting them to?

Many of the symptoms for ADD and ADHD involve attributes that are natural to childhood. A short attention span? Lots of energy? Bouncing off the walls? Issues with sitting still? These are traits that could describe any child, and they are developmentally normal behaviors for children, especially throughout early childhood and elementary school.

ADHD doesn’t exist among indigenous cultures where children are raised in more natural settings, learning in the more active and hands-on way that has characterized childhood for millennia. Even in the United States, the prevalence of ADHD rises and falls dramatically depending on the circumstance, suggesting it is social and environmental factors driving these symptoms. Boys are much more likely to be labeled ADHD than girls. The youngest kids in each class are twice as likely to be diagnosed ADHD as the older ones. More media use increases ADHD symptoms, while green spaces and exposure to nature decreases them. ADD kids typically have no problem focusing when involved in a task that actually interests them, and the disruptive fidgeting behaviors associated with ADHD are substantially reduced when teachers incorporate more physical activity into the classroom. All of this suggests it isn’t a problem with the kids leading to these issues, but a problem with their environment and the developmentally inappropriate demands we place upon them.

Then there’s the controversy in how we treat ADD and ADHD. The go-to cure is medication – giving kids amphetamine-based stimulants. If a man with baggy pants were standing on the street corner giving out free speedballs to grade school kids, parents would freak out and call the police. Yet millions of Americans think nothing about submitting their child to a daily regimen of amphetamine use to “treat” ADHD. As you can read about in our sub-pages discussing ADD medication, this comes with substantial risks to children.

Overdiagnosis of ADHD

Even among those who believe ADD and ADHD are real conditions, there’s nonetheless widespread consensus that these labels are overdiagnosed in children. It’s all too easy to slap the ADHD label on a child, and many kids are diagnosed with the condition for dubious reasons.

Further information on ADD & ADHD
The following pages will explore these conditions in greater detail, from the drugs and medications typically used to treat ADHD to ways parents and teachers can manage ADD & ADHD symptoms without the use of medication.

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