Why so many hyperactive kids?

Nine percent of school-age children in America have attention deficit disorder, according to a health professional.   Why so many? Pediatrician Lawrence Diller blames a growing willingness to medicalize childhood misbehavior.  Uncertain about discipline and worried too much about self-esteem, parents turn to professionals, who are quick to prescribe drugs for what may be “minor differences in children’s behavior or performance.”

Children are under more stress at school, Diller adds.

. . . more than 20 years ago kindergartners only had to sing the ABCs and play “ring around the rosie.” Now, they are expected to read and do simple math before the start of first grade.

When both parents are working, children spend a long day trying to meet the “behavioral demands” of structured preschool and  after-school programs, he writes. “Parents are tired, too, when they finally get their kids at the end of the day.”

Via I Speak of Dreams.

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  1. On the same subject:


    I don’t think it’s stress or parental time. I think there’s a spectrum of behavior – activity level, attention span, etc. – that forms the foundation for ADD and ADHD, at least as genuinely diagnoses. I think the problem is that, due to the nature of our school system (“sit quietly in rows, raise your hand and wait to be called on, etc.” crossed with the narrowing or elimination of physical activity from the school day), these behaviors are viewed as a pathology.

    Yes, being ADHD can make it harder for a kid to behave in school, and yes, having ADHD kids in school can make it harder to maintain classroom order. It must be particularly tough for kids who are ADHD and of average to below-average intelligence to ‘succeed in school’ by conventional standards. Our schools may try to teach kids not to pound round pegs into square holes, but woe be to any kid who happens to be a round peg.

  2. Oh, come’on! My kindergarten teacher had a BIG class (had to be more than 30 kids, 1/2 day) – that was 55 years ago. No media, no Smartboard, no assistant, nothing except the “centers”, the blackboard, and herself.

    She managed (although she probably went home on Fridays and got drunk!), and taught not only ABCs, but also counting, acceptable behavior, politeness, how to sit quietly, and, BTW, since this was post-WWII, the English language to a few of my classmates. She also covered music, art, reading books aloud, games/phys ed, Our Community, and all the things also done today. What she didn’t waste a lot of time on was forcing kids not ready for it to use a pencil and paper for writing and math.

    I’m not impressed by the reading and math skills taught today, since so many can’t manage to function in either reading or math (or both) years later. We need to realize that some of the little darlings need not “higher level” academic skills, but some civilization skills. Including NOT believing that one is the absolute center of the Universe.

  3. tim-10-ber says:

    I think a lot of this is the pressure on teachers to have the kids do well on the tests that they cannot tolerate kids being, well, kids. I think ADD and ADHD is over diagnosed…yes, all the exposure to video games and TV is not good but I believe the kids can learn what is and isn’t acceptable behavior…

    Parents need to understand what is and isn’t normal and do not allow their kids to be medicated unless they are one of the few (relatively speaking) that truly have the condition…yes, I have a relative with ADHD, autism and lord knows what else…the meds do help him but then he has to have something else to sleep…wonder what he would have been like if he wasn’t on the drugs…just don’t know.

  4. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Even with ADHD kids, the medication is only SUPPOSED to be used until the behavioral therapy can kick in– these kids need more help learning certain skills, but can succeed with help.

    But, a lot of the kids diagnosed with ADHD aren’t. I’m especially suspicious of the “late onset” ADHD kids– a teacher-friend had a girl in her class who was diagnosed in 6th grade. She’d never had problems before, but was suddenly innattentive, not sleeping, not turning in work, etc. etc. So her family put her on ADHD drugs…

    EXCEPT—the big change in her behavior coincided with her parents’ messy divorce. But parents are more willing to claim ADHD than “My kid is depressed because her family is falling to pieces and she can’t stop it.”

    I am the mother of a couple of authentically ADHD kids (I have it, it runs in the family on both sides.) They’re unmedicated, but do take a little more time to develop emotional control, and they really do MUCH better at school if I send them to run a few laps around the block and have them drink a cup of tea every day. (I don’t consider caffiene to be medication– and I TOTALLY don’t have a coffee-problem…;) )

    • I wonder how many ADHD adults are self-medicating with coffee. Maybe there are comparable numbers of kids and adults with ADHD, it’s just that this generation of adults weren’t tested as kids and figured out, as adults, how to cope and self-medicate. (I say this as one who self-medicates with coffee and loves it!).

      • Roger Sweeny says:

        I have always wondered how many young ADD teens self-medicated with nicotine, i.e., cigarettes. Ritalin, caffeine, and nicotine are all stimulants. Often the kids who smoked were the same kids who talked in class, didn’t focus on the work, etc.

        Perhaps the decreasing social acceptance of cigarettes has caused fewer teens to start smoking and more to show up in ADD statistics.

  5. Until recently, kindergarten was not very academic. It was 2-3 hours’ worth of mostly hands-on activities and lots of free play. In contrast, many of today’s kindergartens are full-day and heavily oriented towards sitting quietly completing worksheets. Is it any surprise that the rate of ADHD diagnosis has shot through the roof?

    The other big factor is the decision of the College Board to stop noting which SAT scores were taken with accommodations. When that happened, all of a sudden parents started gaming the system by getting a psychologist to diagnose their child with ADD so that he/she could take the test untimed.

  6. Roger Sweeny says:

    LindaF brings up an interesting point. Kindergartens are more academic nowadays, with more pencil and paper work, and according to the cited article, “Now, they are expected to read and do simple math before the start of first grade.”

    Yet, as a high school teacher, I can testify that many, many ninth graders read, write, and do math well below grade level. Is K-8 “undoing” the head start that kindergarteners get today? Or are the early academics actually hurting? If you try to get kids to do things before they can do it well–and, thus, probably before they are particularly interested–you may start them out with failure and dislike. That’s probably not constructive.

    Years ago parents tried to toilet train kids when they were a year and a half or even a year old. It was a struggle, full of failure and relapses. Some decades ago, pediatricians started saying that a child’s muscles and nerves weren’t really ready for toilet training until two years, and that it shouldn’t be started until the child was ready for it. Toilet training is no longer the problem it used to be.

    • Catherine says:

      And just like toilet training, some children are ready to read/write/calculate before the average age and others after the average age. The one-size-fits-all approach simply doesn’t work for young children because they vary so widely. But just as everyone (barring severe issues) eventually uses the toilet, nearly everyone can learn basic academic skills. We’re faced with two questions: 1) by what age should we expect children without severe disabilities to be able to learn those basic skills, and 2) what do we do in the early years before that age? Assess the children periodically and divide them into groups so that only children who are ready to learn academics are taught them while the other children are kept in an an enriching, play-based environment? That seems to make sense, but it would surely run afoul of the anti-tracking philosophy currently ascendant. (So glad I’m mostly homeschooling–a huge benefit is the ability to teach something when my second grader is ready for it and not according to an arbitrary schedule.)

      • Stacy in NJ says:

        We need school choice and vouchers so parents, possibly with the advice of pre-school or K teachers, could select from a menu of school types to best meet the needs of their kid. Why can’t we have schools that are academically focused and schools that emphasize physical activities/play? In so many other aspects of our lives we expect numerous options. Only in public education do we think one size fits all.

    • Deirdre Mundy says:

      The other plus with waiting is that the TEACHING is less grueling! I tried to teach my daughter phonics at 5–it was like pulling teeth. So I gave up and just read her good books for a year or so. At 6 and a half, phonics was suddenly “Easy” and she went from “Non Reader” to “Crazy-AR-claims she reads at a 5th grade level” in 2 months with very little effort.

      I COULD have beat reading into her in Kindergarten, but it would have been tears and torture.

      Also, if you read the book “Proust and the Squid” there seems to be some evidence that the rise in dyslexia is a result of teaching kids to read before their brains are ready for it– so they develop inefficient pathways— if you wait until the “phonics and decoding” modules are online, then they read better in the long run.

      • Good point, but the test makers and the politicians they own demand we test kids and teach them using a specified curriculum, one size fits all, and in many cases, just happens to be provided by the same company making the tests.

  7. — Is K-8 “undoing” the head start that kindergarteners get today? Or are the early academics actually hurting?

    Let’s just say it’s “more cowbell!” That is, the more schools are failing, the more the education establishment says the solution is more school. School ’em longer, school ’em earlier, school ’em later–it’s the only solution the ed establishment can possibly come up with to its problems.

    –Parents need to understand what is and isn’t normal

    How would they know? a few generations ago, they would have come in contact with *lots of children* in their families and their friends’ families. They would have seen a range of behaviors, and known what was in the range and what wasn’t. Now, what other kids do parents see? Where would they run into other kids, to know what was normal, what was common, what was typical?

  8. nailsagainsttheboard says:

    I speak as a 23-year veteran teacher and as a parent. The question, “Why so many ‘ADD/ADHD’ kids?” begs the question, “Why so much ineffective crappy parenting?”
    Societal changes since the 1960s have unintended consequences. Parenting is arduous and the key to being effective is actually being your child’s parent, not his/her peer or–gasp–friend. Also, parents need to administer vitamins, especially the most important, Vitamin N– “NO”. When age and experience no longer produce wisdom, civilization crumbles from within. Instead of pediatricians handing out Ritalin and Adderall like candy, they would do better recommending parenting classes. ADULT SUPERVISION NEEDED.