When thinking of young children, most people assign adjectives such as hyper, curious, inquisitive or active.
While this seems to be commonplace in their personalities, others believe there is a darker force at work.
Diagnoses of attention deficit disorder (ADD) have multiplied by twenty times within the last three decades, according to a New York Times article written by professor emeritus at University of Minnesota, L. Alan Sroufe. There are few explanations for this increase, including heightened awareness of the symptoms and incorrect diagnosis.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, published by the American Psychiatric Association, symptoms of ADD include difficulty paying attention in tasks, easily distracted by outside stimuli, talking excessively, difficulty waiting for a turn and often fidgeting while seated.
Requirements to be diagnosed with ADD include having symptoms for at least six months, symptoms appearing before seven years of age, symptoms present in multiple settings (such as at school or at home) and evidence of significant impairment in social or academic functioning.
Several of these symptoms seem to be expected in children, as they have a shorter attention span than adults, as well as their brains not being fully formed. While diagnosis does not cause any problems singlehandedly, the willingness of parents to put their children on medication can be alarming.
It is true ADD is a real issue for many children, but some of the ambiguous and vague terminology used to describe the disorder can be misleading. Adolescents and adults often get bored during lectures or meetings, but their maturity allows them to manage any signs of this boredom.
Diagnosing a child with ADD for having trouble paying attention for hours at a time seems unfair, especially because children are so active. It seems strange people would be concerned with a child having trouble sitting still, when children used to be encouraged to run around and play outside often.
Some side effects can result from using drugs such as Adderall or Ritalin, including stunting of growth, sleeplessness and loss of appetite. Worse still, children can increase their tolerance to the drug and no longer be affected without increasing dosage.
Parents seem to think taking children off their medication makes behavior worsen, reinforcing the idea the children need these drugs to function. However, anyone who has ever routinely had caffeine or nicotine and then stopped cold turkey will show changes in behavior, including irritability.
Sroufe believes children are more likely to develop ADD due to their environment, as children who are born into poverty, move homes frequently or have intrusive parents are more likely to have behavioral problems.
While it is entirely possible children develop ADD due to imbalances in the brain, it makes little sense to treat these children with blanket solutions like drugs. Children require individual attention, and more effort should be put into understanding their behavioral changes, instead of giving them medication.
Behavioral problems including ADD definitely exist, as do mental disorders like depression and anxiety. However, parents should consider other avenues before giving their children medication for the long term.