Is the ADHD label abused?

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We all believe that school is supposed to help prepare children for adulthood and the real world.  However, we are constantly making excuses for them to not be able to do something.  Attention is probably the biggest excuse in the schools today.  Working as a school psychologist for 20 years, I could not count the number of times I have wanted to bang my head on the table at meetings with parents and staff when talking about a child, and somebody says, “I wonder if he has an attention problem?”   If the child isn’t doing his homework, “I wonder if he has an attention problem?”  If the child is frequently talking to his neighbors in class, “I wonder if he has an attention problem?”  If the child doesn’t want to do his work, “I wonder if he has an attention problem?”  If the child is behind in academics, for whatever reason, “I wonder if he has an attention problem?”  The list is probably endless.  Today in school if a child isn’t paying attention, then he must have an attention disorder.  By the time an attention “disorder” is mentioned for the first time the teacher is already fed up with trying to get the child to do his work, stop talking, stay in his seat, etc.  So the teacher and the specialists in the building, or the team, have figured out by this point that there is nothing else they can do.  Surely there must be something beyond their control, and of course beyond the child’s control.  It’s sad, but this scenario happens far more often than you might think.  

If we’re preparing children for adulthood, do adults get anything even resembling the kinds of excuses we make for kids.  At work if you’re late regularly, does your boss say, “I wonder if he has an attention problem?”  If you’re slacking in your work, does your boss say, “I wonder if she has an attention problem?”  How would anything in the real world get done if we had this attitude?  What if a police officer accidentally harmed an innocent person because he has an “attention problem.”  If you had to go to war, would you want someone watching your back who is “distractible?”  Do great things get accomplished by people who make excuses (or have people make excuses for them), or by people who are determined to succeed, even if they may truly have some type of disability (or attention problem)?  I think history gives a resounding “no!” to this question and attitude.  

Many of the children I was told by school staff have an attention problem I took to my office to either evaluate or just talk to informally.  By far the majority of these children maintained good attention when they were with me in my office.  Most experts and school staff would of course say this was under stable because there’s less distractions in my room, and the child is getting one-to-one attention.  I used to believe this and regularly said this myself.  However, I realized that something nobody seems to be considering is that in my office there is nothing else to interest them, except me and whatever I ask them to do.  In the classroom, however, there’s all kinds of things some kids would rather do than their work.  The child is not distracted, he’s just doing what he wants, like talk to his friend.  We have all heard how kids with ADHD can’t stay focused on anything for very long, even at home.  But we have all also heard that video games are an amazing exception to this.  Even the “experts” say that ADHD kids can stay focused on a video game for a long time.  Well, I have a new flash for the experts: a video game is something that just about every child really likes a lot, and really wants to do.  For kids who don’t want to do their school work, their going to do something else, or not pay “attention” to the teacher.  

Parents and the schools need to wake up and admit that kids pay attention to what they want to.  If they don’t have to, or don’t want to, then why should they?  It makes sense to me and a lot of the kids I talk to.   However, if we constantly make excuses for kids who don’t want to pay attention, what are we really doing for them in the long run?


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