Is ADHD Overdiagnosed?
We’ve all heard of ADHD and probably know someone who has been diagnosed with this disorder. From an early age, anyone who knew me realized there was something different about me...I marched to a different drummer. Always moving, singing, dancing, unable to focus, and had a difficult time learning in school. As a child growing up in the early 1960’s, ADHD wasn’t a term until the 1980’s. Most children with my constant energy level, distractibility issues, and difficult time learning, just received extra help with a math and/or reading teacher. For me, even a tutor after school to assist this struggling reader was needed. I remember having certain letters and shapes taped to my desk in first grade and other students making fun of me because I just couldn’t remember that information. I was unable to learn the alphabet and basic shapes until second grade. There were just too many other things constantly running through my mind. I couldn't hear what the teachers were saying because my brain had nonstop music playing and ideas that needed to be shared. I had to learn to control the urges to sing, hum, whistle, or say what I was hearing in my brain. I was quite obsessive/compulsive wanting to be my best in those areas I knew I could excel in...music, dance, theater, climbing trees... I wanted to move often and found myself rocking back and forth to alleviate the energy moving through my body. All of this still happens today at the age of 55! Trying to read and remember what I read was a struggle until I reached the 6th grade when I realized I needed to read everything multiple times and attempt to control what was running through my brain. College was beyond difficult, as I had to read every assignment at least six times to remember what I read, due to my ever-racing mind. Can you imagine reading a 300 page assignment 6 times?! Quite overwhelming, but we all have some cross to bear! We learn to deal with it and be the best that we can be.
As a veteran teacher of 26 years, I’ve seen so many children with similar behaviors to mine. Always so funny how my students usually have to remind me to stop singing and wonder why I'm rocking or doing peculiar things throughout each day. They learn early on that's who I am and I'm doing the best that I can. Just as I expect them to do the same. Children are so wonderful...they haven't become judgmental yet... I believe my students realize if I can be successful and do my best, so can they! I'm also able to help other children with ADHD behaviors and give them strategies to help them be their best...without judging them or becoming impatient with them. I understand where they are! I've always thought that if I lived at a different time, perhaps during the hunter-gatherer times, I wouldn't have been looked upon as being different. Perhaps I would have been seen as successful because of my great energy and ability to accomplish multiple tasks within a short period of time...very efficiently and with outstanding effort at all times. Yet, in our society today, we are expected to sit for long hours, listening, not moving often, conforming to what is believed to be the best way to learn. Sorry, slightly got off topic...typical of ADHD! Back to the research! Often, children may be just so young and not ready to tackle the rigor that is now required even in Kindergarten. New research has found that these younger children who may enter school when they are immature, are more likely to be diagnosed as having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. This is raising questions about whether this disorder is being misdiagnosed along with the medications used to treat it.
Today, ADHD is the most common neurobehavioral disorder diagnosed in children, and the number of cases appears to be growing. It is estimated that ADHD effects 5% of America's children although the rates are increasing each year and are now approaching 8% to 10%. The severity of symptoms can vary greatly from mild to severe. Recently, the Centers for Disease control found that nearly 11 percent of children in the U.S. ages 4 to 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD. Findings from the Journal of Pediatrics suggest that ADHD is being identified and treated at younger ages and possibly improperly diagnosed. Researchers concluded that doctors should consider the age of the child within the grade they are currently placed when making ADHD diagnosis and prescribing medication such as Ritalin or Adderall, which can cause addiction, anxiety, and psychosis, along with a host of other side effect.
Is ADHD a biological-neurological disorder or medical condition that has psycho-social and situational causes? In the United States, child psychiatrists consider ADHD to be a biological disorder with biological causes and the preferred treatment is with psycho stimulant medications such as Ritalin and Adderall? While in France, some child psychiatrists view ADHD as a medical condition that has psycho-social and situational causes. Rather than treat a child’s behavioral problem with drugs, many French doctors prefer to examine the underlying issue that is causing the child’s distress – not in the child’s brain, but in the child’s social environment. Instead of prescribing medication, they tend to use psychotherapy or family counseling as treatment -examining the causes of a child’s behavior. We do have some clinicians in the U. S. who are using this method to treat children with ADHD.
Physicians are starting to realize that placing a child in nature and examining nutritional factors may be healthy holistic solutions to ADHD. This is something I have seen help many students in my classroom, including myself, in managing ADHD symptoms. Sadly, still many clinicians in the U.S. ignore the influence of diet and time in nature as factors on children’s behavior, along with the age of the child and grade they are in.
A study done by Dr. David L. Katz found that a school-based activity program called ABC for Fitness had a 33% reduction in medication use for ADHD. Other research corroborates the importance of movement in a child with ADHD symptoms. I truly believe that all children and adults should be moving throughout each day. It’s how we are designed! (Yes, I know I say this all of the time!) Now implement movement in nature and studies have found that children diagnosed with ADHD show a reduction in related symptoms. It’s those wonderful chemicals that trees give off called phytoncides that I speak of frequently, which brings a sense of peace and calmness to humans. Take off those shoes, allowing your child's feet to come in contact with the Earth, to truly reconnect with the ground and nature. This helps to alleviate so much of my anxiety from the on-going thoughts in my mind.
Being the daughter of a man who loved nature more than anyone I’ve ever known, came to be a true blessing in my life, even more than I knew at the time! We spent a great deal of time together in nature; walking and skipping in the woods, talking about the importance of what God had given us, surrounding ourselves with the beauty of the trees, wildlife, babbling brooks, fresh air…Running and playing with our many family pets, swinging on our swing set situated nicely next to our tree house in the woods was another wonderful way to ease my face-paced thoughts. ..I felt free as a bird! As I had such a difficult time staying focused, I came to realize early on in life, that being in the woods, especially climbing high up into the trees, brought me such relief, such a calming effect. There I also felt so close to God. Spending so much time with both my earthly father and heavenly father made me feel SO accepted and loved, even with all of my faults. All of this helped to ease my ADHD behaviors. I knew that God doesn't make mistakes, but rather he uses each of us to show others how to overcome difficulties and enjoy this beautiful life we have been blessed with. I still do all of these activites today! My mind still races 24/7 at 55 years old. I’m always planning, wanting to do something, lost in a spiral of thoughts, overwhelmed by the nonstop ideas I feel I need to complete. Moving outside in nature, eating whole nutrient rich organic food, trusting in God and following His perfectly mapped out plan for my life, greatly reduces my symptoms most of the time. None of us are meant to live a sedentary life. More than ever before, children are moving less each day. Could that be one of the reasons why we see such an increase in ADHD diagnosis? Limiting time in front of the television, gaming, computers, social media, cell phones. Parents and teachers might want to implement more time playing, riding bikes, running, jumping, climbing, crawling, squatting instead of sitting, fresh air and sunlight each day; this is key to reducing ADHD symptoms. Time to go back to the days when children were seen outside playing whenever they weren’t sitting in a classroom.
What about our diet? Research is finding that nutrition can impact ADHD-type symptoms; specifically the fact that the behavior of some children is heightened after eating foods with artificial colors, certain preservatives, and/or allergens. That holds true for me, as well. It took me until my early 20’s to realize that many of my ADHD symptoms and physical ailments were caused by what I was eating. In this country, doctors and parents are aware that dietary improvements can help a child with ADHD. However, because of the focus on pharmaceutical treatments for ADHD, many physicians ignore the positive influence of nutrition and more movement in nature on a child’s behavior.
If your child is exhibiting ADHD behaviors (Inattention, Hyperactivity, Impulsivity) ask yourself, “Is my child getting enough movement throughout the day? Is my child’s diet filled with sugary, processed food? Are there possible allergens to what my child is eating that could be causing these behaviors? Is my child getting enough rest? Is my child getting enough fresh air and sunlight (Vitamin D3)? Is my child watching too much TV, too engaged in technology, sitting playing games too often?” Ponder the path your child is walking. Do you spend enough quality time with your child? Playing, laughing, communicating, moving about outside together, talking about a relationship with God and how we all have a purpose, as well as difficulties to overcome. Are teachers allowing children to move and not just sit all day? I have my students crawling and sitting or standing in ways that are best for them; they decide! We skip though the hallways playing follow the leader, anything to allow my students to be a child and experience life as we were designed to live. So many things to think about as our 21st Century lifestyles may actually be causing this increase in ADHD diagnosis. Are children just being children and reacting with these behaviors because they aren’t getting what a child needs to grow cognitively, physically, and emotionally? There is a spectrum from mild to very severe with ADHD. What I’m suggesting may not be the case for everyone. There are children and adults who may in deed need medication to control their symptoms. However, perhaps it’s time to look carefully at our American 21st Century lifestyles and reevaluate if some children exhibiting ADHD behaviors are just being kids and not living as children are meant to live. Possibly try treating ADHD naturally without using medications that have so many unhealthy side effects, before rushing into using meds.
Thanks so much for stopping by to read our blog! We are all a work in progress. We learn from one another. We appreciate your time and look forward to hearing your thoughts, comments, and words of wisdom on this important topic.
Peace and Grace,