ADHD To Subtract: Part-1

Words: Dr Rajgopal NIDAMBOOR

You know its import, don’t you? Or, so you thought. Either way, whether you are a physician, parent or an educator, you are right. It’s all about a new — or, old — phenomenon that is gaining ground everywhere. You’d call it a case of an entire subculture gone askew, but without boundaries. What’s more, science, with all its good intentions, continues to feed this ‘myth’ to an increasingly gullible, or well-informed, public. It has a catchy name, too — attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.

A number of studies suggest that ADHD is a ‘medical’ malady with a genetic base. You’d, possibly, believe it. However, if you look at the whole spectrum of its identity, you will think it is all hogwash — a part of a rich ‘techno-myth.’ But, wait a minute, and convince yourself — or, you’d be carried away by newspaper headlines that screamed, several moons ago, that ADHD was linked to a ‘thrill-seeking’ gene — a gene that is ‘related’ to dopamine, a neurotransmitter, or brain chemical, that, among other things, regulates the need for ‘rewards.’

Symptoms 

  • Difficulty paying attention
  • Easily diverted
  • Frequent daydreaming
  • Forgetting, or losing things
  • Difficulty finishing tasks, or projects; may do their homework but forget about it
  • Making thoughtless mistakes
  • Hyperactivity
  • Difficulty staying seated
  • Fidgeting, or twisting, tapping their hands
  • Talking too much
  • Always in motion, as if driven by a car
  • Impulsivity
  • Difficulty taking turns
  • Often interrupting others, or blurting out answers
  • Difficulty waiting for things. 

Other Symptoms 

  • The child has trouble following instructions
  • Incapacity to maintain focus — in academics, or play activities in school and at home
  • Inclined to forget, or lose, things needed for activities in school and at home
  • Looks like being not attentive; can do dangerous things without a fear of it
  • Cannot give sufficient, or ‘close,’ attention to details
  • Confused; has trouble planning ahead and executing tasks
  • Fails to recall things; gets distracted; or, loses track of things easily.

Picture this. The last thirty years has witnessed a kind of ‘controlled’ take-over by the medical establishment of certain domains. Children, who were once seen as bundles of energy, daydreamers or fireballs, are now considered hyperactive, distractible, and impulsive — the three classical signs of ADHD.

Flashback — kids, who grew up in the serene ‘sixties, or the Beatles’ era, may have occasionally ‘blew up’ more than a little dust. But, they did not take medications. Kids, today, have their medication dosages carefully measured, and monitored, to control ‘dysfunctional’ behaviour, like ADHD. The unwholesome trend is gaining ground wherever you look, more so in affluent families where both parents are working and don’t have quality time for their kids.

It is possible that millions of children are being misdiagnosed and treated with psychoactive drugs, like Ritalin. Add to this the new spectacle — of parents seeking to ‘classify’ their children as having ADHD, to help them maintain a competitive edge in academics, or scrape through SAT, or CAT — and, you have a growing demand for ‘special security’ at school and work under the Disabilities Act.

Research

One school of research is of the opinion that hyperactivity is most likely a child’s active response to complex social, emotional and educational pressures. It calls on parents and therapists to tackle the ‘root cause,’ such as emotional issues, instead of masking symptoms with potentially harmful medication and behaviour-modification programmes. Medication is, at best, a tool, and one of the several interventions that can be helpful when used with non-medical approaches, like counselling and spiritual guidance. It also suggests that non-medical involvement may provide opportunities to every child with behavioural or ‘attention’ difficulties to reach their fullest potential.

Yet another body of reasoning is of the view that ADHD children are not disordered. All they have is a different style of thinking, attending and behaving. They are themselves at core fully intact, whole and healthy human beings — not kids suffering from a medical disorder. The best way to help such children, therefore, is not by pressurising them with a medical label and/or employing a carefully selected group of specialised treatments, but by providing them with the kind of nurturing, stimulating and encouraging interventions that are good for all ‘normal’ kids.

New research suggests that there may be a possible ‘connect’ between the amount of time children spend watching TV — now the ‘index’ of learning disabilities — and, ADHD. Add to this computer, or video games, and you have a good case on hand. This is more evident at a time when our media-driven short-attention span world has formed a kind of cultural backdrop to the incidence of kids who have trouble paying attention to parental and/or teachers’ instructions.

Dr Matt Dumont, MD, a psychiatrist, observes: “I would like to suggest that the constant shifting of visual frames in television shows is related to ‘hyperkinetic’ syndrome. There are incessant changes of camera and focus, so that the viewer’s reference point shifts every few seconds. This technique literally ‘programmes’ a short-attention span. I suggest that the ‘hyperactive’ child is attempting to recapture the dynamic quality of the television screen by rapidly changing their perceptual orientation.”

New studies corroborate the idea, while suggesting that children with ADHD do not produce enough biochemicals in key areas of the brain that are in charge of organising thoughts and behaviour. In such a scenario, the brain, it is believed, does not work just as well as they do in ‘normal’ kids. The suggested inference also is — ADHD is more common in children who have close relatives with the disorder, with boys showing a greater propensity for the ‘syndrome’ than girls.

The Impact

According to Dr Jerome Schultz, PhD, a clinical neuropsychologist, “The brains of people with ADHD differ from neurotypical brains, specifically in how the prefrontal cortex [PFC] — the front part of the brain implicated in planning, decision-making, and, indeed, motivation — processes and connects information to other parts of the brain, including the primitive survival centre [the fear zone]. These differences in wiring ultimately impact the way students with ADHD make sense of and interpret new tasks and challenges. The act of learning becomes all the more challenging when parts of the brain aren’t effectively ‘talking’ to one another. Without efficient integration of messages within the brain, the ability to perform [certain] related tasks can be seriously compromised.”

Says Dr Jane Healy, PhD, author of Endangered Minds: Why Our Children Don’t Think, “[How] our TV advertisers have recognised one of the best ways to capture a viewer’s attention by capitalising on the brain’s instinctive responses to danger… [This] is a relevant index. The use of sudden close-ups, pan zooms, bright colours, sudden noises and other attention-getting mechanisms may be reducing the child’s natural vigilance, or ability, to remain actively focused on events taking place in the real world. Besides, children who are having their thrill and danger centres constantly provoked by TV and video games are given no immediate context of responding. This pent-up energy for physical response can manifest as over-activity, frustration, or irritability.” The inference is obvious. TV viewing is a passive activity. So also computer, or video, game responses — they are limited to ‘sleight-of-hand’ movements on a joystick, manual, or electronic device.

There is substantial evidence to support the view that TV watching can promote aggressiveness in children. Yet, by way of a paradox, TV viewing may also be beneficial. TV, computer or video games connect children to society. To deprive a child of access to what other children are engaged in puts them at a disadvantage when they go to school, or play with friends, and hear them discussing TV shows, or video games, they have never seen. So, what is the remedy? Limit their TV diet, but don’t deprive them of it. Sit with them, understand their likes, dislikes, comfort and ‘discomfort’ levels, when they watch TV with you. Be receptive. Speak to them openly, without going overboard. Not easy, but give it a good try.

Self-Help: Tips For Parents

  • Increase your child’s self-esteem
  • Make available a variety of stimulating learning activities, like reading, drawing and painting for your child
  • Offer positive role models, or proactive activities
  • Teach your child organisational skills and also to appreciate the value of personal effort
  • Teach your child focusing techniques, such as yoga, or simple breathing exercises
  • Give your child choices, but create consistent rules and routines
  • Hold family meetings; better still, hold a positive image of your child
  • Seek professional treatment, when simple measures don’t help
  • Follow-up with your doctor on a regular basis.

[This is Part-1 of the article. To read the concluding Part-2, go to ThinkWellness360, April 24, 2022]

Dr RAJGOPAL NIDAMBOOR, PhD, is a wellness physician-writer-editor, independent researcher, critic, columnist, author and publisher. His published work includes hundreds of newspaper, magazine, web articles, essays, meditations, columns, and critiques on a host of subjects, eight books on natural health, two coffee table tomes and an encyclopaedic treatise on Indian philosophy. He is Chief Wellness Officer, Docco360 — a mobile health application/platform connecting patients with Ayurveda, homeopathic and Unani physicians, and nutrition therapists, among others, from the comfort of their home — and, Editor-in-Chief, ThinkWellness360. 

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