How should parents be viewing A.D.H.D. and A.D.D.?

A.D.H.D. diagnosis and medical treatments have surged in the past decade or so. By some estimates, the lifetime prevalence in children rose from 7.8 percent in 2003 to 11 percent in 2011 (that’s a 41 percent increase), and 6.1 percent of young children were taking some A.D.H.D. medication in 2011, itself a 28 percent increase from just four years prior. Over 10,000 toddlers aged 2-3 are thought to be taking A.D.H.D. drugs, which is generally considered to be outside of pediatric best practices.

There are many ways to look at A.D.H.D. and A.D.D., and this post is not meant to encapsulate all of them; rather, entire books and numerous medical research papers have been written on the topic. It is best to consult with your specific pediatrician on issues related to your child, especially if you think A.D.H.D. could be a factor.

However, there are some contextually interesting ways to look at A.D.H.D. — as outlined by Richard Friedman, the director of the psychopharmacology clinic at Weil Cornell, in a late October New York Times article:

Recent neuroscience research shows that people with A.D.H.D. are actually hard-wired for novelty-seeking — a trait that had, until relatively recently, a distinct evolutionary advantage. Compared with the rest of us, they have sluggish and underfed brain reward circuits, so much of everyday life feels routine and understimulating.

To compensate, they are drawn to new and exciting experiences and get famously impatient and restless with the regimented structure that characterizes our modern world. In short, people with A.D.H.D. may not have a disease, so much as a set of behavioral traits that don’t match the expectations of our contemporary culture.

Friedman takes the idea further with this paragraph linking A.D.H.D. back through time:

Consider that humans evolved over millions of years as nomadic hunter-gatherers. It was not until we invented agriculture, about 10,000 years ago, that we settled down and started living more sedentary — and boring — lives. As hunters, we had to adapt to an ever-changing environment where the dangers were as unpredictable as our next meal. In such a context, having a rapidly shifting but intense attention span and a taste for novelty would have proved highly advantageous in locating and securing rewards — like a mate and a nice chunk of mastodon. In short, having the profile of what we now call A.D.H.D. would have made you a Paleolithic success story.

The overall idea – and again, this varies by parent approach and child needs, as well as doctor feedback – is that if your child has symptoms that resemble A.D.H.D., maybe the best idea is not medication, but rather thinking differently about the school environment they enter.

For example, someone who might be classified as A.D.H.D. in their toddler years is probably highly curious and experience-seeking (interestingly, that’s how the current “millennial” generation is frequently classified). Rather than medication, small classes that focus on hands-on learning, experience-driven projects, self-paced computer work, etc. might be best.

In short, there’s a way to look at A.D.H.D. where it’s not something that medicine needs to rush in and treat; rather, it could be a competitive advantage for your child, if you put him or her in the right situations to exploit that advantage and really grow as a learner and build a bank of skills and interests.

What do you think about A.D.H.D. and A.D.D. diagnoses? What steps have you gone through, or what research have you found?




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