Casual ADHD

A friend of mine just made what I feel is a common perception and prejudice- they said something like “Don’t be surprised if your child comes home with a prescription for Ritalin.  Public schools would rather drug than deal with intelligence.”

This touched off a huge nerve with me.  Being someone who was tracked into the “Geek Stream” early on at public school when such things were still the norm, and being the parent of a kid who is also identified as “academically talented”  I have lived this issue.

Let’s start from a personal perspective.  I never knew I had ADHD until I got diagnosed after my kids were.  I wish I had done it years before.  My unending caffeine addiction now makes sense, as does the various hurdles and self-esteem problems I’ve had.

Going through school, I knew I was smart, but I was horribly disorganized, and could never seem to get my act together. The simple things that would have earned me easy points and better grades were simply “stupid” in my opinion and not worth my time, so I ignored them, and didn’t do as well as I might have otherwise.

I suffered for years from what I call the 90-10 problem.  I could get 90% of anything done wonderfully but could never close the deal, leaving the important 10% necessary for blockbuster success undone.  I could never figure out why.  I ended up feeling like a loser, like someone who couldn’t get anything accomplished, and stupid frequently.  Even despite getting into an Ivy League school, and making law review in Law School.   This critical margin made me feel worthless.

This is really damaging to kids and to adults.

Lack of self- esteem and self-value is deadly.  This is what causes depression and chronic underachievement- because if you don’t believe in you, who else will?

My youngest is really smart.  This isn’t just bragging, I have data. He is bored silly in school.  Already in the 4th grade, he is the youngest and smallest and one of the smartest in the year, and we worry about warping him too much by trying to skip him.  He may be a black belt in karate, but it’s hard for little boys to get picked on about being the little guy all the time.  He comes home crying about that, since it’s about the only thing other kids can pick on him about.

Beyond public school, we would need to find a school that could deal with him well, and we are looking again.  We know we’ll need this for middle school.  But it’s a really hard decision to balance pushing a kid academically, and making sure they have a childhood and friends.

We treat the youngest for his ADHD for social reasons only, not academic.  When J is finished with his work, the teacher still needs to teach it to the other kids in the class- they don’t work at his pace.  So he needs other things to do, other things to work on, and the ability to self-direct rather than get into everyone else’s business socially.  (He is a social butterfly as well.)  Without meds, he’s prone to driving everyone crazy, trying to keep himself entertained; with meds he can do it on his own, and we have less sit-com moments.

A boy in his class last year clearly had ADHD, but the parents didn’t go through the whole diagnostic procedure or try meds.  The child was ostracized by his peers for always getting them in trouble, causing problems, being mean and acting out.  At one point, this child sat alone by the teacher all day; later on in the year, the child’s mom actually went to school with him every day and sat next to him in the classroom, like an aide, to help him through the day.   This child is one who is smart and can/could do well, but the social challenges he faces because people aren’t addressing his ADHD is criminal in my book.

I can give you all the references you want to the biological nature of ADHD and the medications.  (Please email me at There’s a basic issue with kids not having well developed frontal lobes where all those judgment functions reside until well into the teen years.  Kids also can’t self medicate like adults with caffeine and lattes all day.  If there’s something that they really cannot control, no matter what structure or punishments we devise because of an underlying medical/developmental issue, how can we punish them for this?  This is like punishing a kid because they have the stomache flu.  (How could you barf on the floor???!?– I think NOT).

This doesn’t mean meds are right for everyone.  It does mean we have to recognize what’s in a kid’s control and what is not.   But I am unwilling for my child to learn school is a place of critique, punishment and other unpleasant things, to get turned off to learning, because I was unwilling to extend myself to help them.  Learning to learn is far more valuable, long term.

That’s my quick two cents on the issue for this morning.



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6 responses to “Casual ADHD

  1. I would lay more of the blame on the structure imposed by public schools and schools in general since the ‘reforms’ imposed by Rockefeller and Carnegie in the early 20th century. The reality is that the public school system is designed to turn out automatons that would make great factory workers, not question authority, and not think critically. Agreed that social interaction is as vital as academics, but our academic system itself is badly damaged. One could, I suppose, argue that it is a self-imposed filter – only those bright enough to break past its limitations will truly succeed – but in a world where America faces intense competition, an industrialized education system in an information economy only sets us farther behind, and children who exceed the boundaries of that system need to be rescued from it, not forced to conform to it.

  2. Nice post Whit.
    Chris that is a pretty old stereo-type. Schools today, and teacher education programs, have adopted self-learn models and critically thinking skills. It is less and less common to see kids lectured to, instead you see children engaged in independent learning with the teacher as a moderator and guild. School districts still have a long way to go, but they are working at it.

  3. We are in total agreement on that one. Schools are designed as a one size fits all solution for a manufacturing based economy. The do not deal with the disabled, learning disabled, special ed or the gifted very well at all, or at least not in any systemically outstanding way.

    Many articles and news reports abound on the cutting of funds to gifted programs because of the NCLB requirements. We concentrate on minimum not maximum achievement to our overall detriment. Great article on this is last week’s Time Magazine.

    The job I face as a parent is getting a kid through school as successfully as possible without breaking the kid in the process. The big picture is school reform, and I am on that, too, but the Today picture is my 12 and 9 yr old sons, and what I need to do to see them through and get them what they need to be as successful, academically and emotionally, as I possibly can.

    I can’t assume others have the same motivation, and only I can be responsible for my kid’s outcome and enrichment. I can’t blame others for not doing “the best”. But I do have to do what I can to not make my kid a target for problems- that’s permanent emotional damage that is hard to correct and relatively easy to avoid.

  4. Charles- I do think many schools work hard at this, but we still don’t have any good info on how we should treat the brightest kids, and sometimes we look at gifted education as not being more in depth knowledge, but just giving kids more homework or something else to do to stop bothering everyone else. Not everywhere, not everybody, but too frequently.

  5. I agree with Chris. Many of my friends are teachers and they express the same frustrations. (They’re still young enough to realize the system is flawed, and still care enough to think they can do something to change it.)

    If every school were an adaptive learning school, then perhaps our children would receive the proper education that suits them individually. But two things would have to happen before I’ll call our American school system “adequate” to handle the plethora of “types” that pass through its doors:

    1) Children must be viewed as young individuals, not multifaceted pegs to be squeezed into the same antiquated molds, and

    2) Our population needs to decrease. There’s simply no way to offer specialized guidance to children when population rates are this high.

  6. This post sums up what I’ve been trying to explain to adults that sling around the term ADHD like it’s no big deal. First, I’d like to say how amazing I think you are for finding your own ways of dealing with your abilities, and now that of your son’s. Not everyone comes out on the ‘other side’ with such understanding of the way their brain works – and languish for years in limbo, never understanding or accepting.

    ADHD does not mean ‘cannot sit still’ or ‘troublemaker’ like most of society thinks it does. It’s a complex condition that I’m starting to understand is either mis-diagnosed or over-diagnosed.

    The challenge to today’s parents is to just look at each situation individually, don’t jump to conclusions, and don’t IGNORE things that you should be looking at. Yes, we send our kids to school, and somehow ‘we’ have gotten it into our heads that schools today are looking to box our kids into a nice neat paragraph of abilities – or disabilities. I honestly don’t think this is the case.

    As parents it is our responsibility to teach our kids, be in charge of their learning, and not just leave it up to the teachers at school. Learning happens 24/7, not just from 9am to 2:30pm Monday through Friday.

    Today I sent my daughter off to public 1st grade after attending a Montessori pre-K & K. I met her new teacher last week. When asked about her personality and the types of things she had learned in K, or **IF** she could read yet, I held back my honest answers. Honestly, she is reading chapter books, can do simple multiplication and division, and can name most of the countries in Africa. But … she also likes to talk, walk around, fidget, check out what everyone else is doing, play with her food, open drawers to see what’s in them, and just generally not sit still. Normal 6 year old? Maybe, maybe not. But it IS normal for her. I have already overheard other parents from her old school ‘label’ her as unfocused and disruptive. It’s just a short jump to a medical term from there. Stereotypes hurt the kids along with the parents. And unless you have a whole wall of medical degrees – or a child who has gone through the diagnosis – I think the term should be banned.

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