BY KAWANA N. WILLIAMS, LPC
“I have a new theory about all these kids diagnosed with ADHD:
More and more, I’ve had to work with youth who literally you have to ask “Did you take your medication today” to determine what type of day you’re going to have. But, I’ve talked to a few of them and when you hear their life story, I begin to wonder is it really that their lives are so unstable that they’re almost forced to have a divided attention all time for their own survival–they come to school and are expected to focus solely one thing and in order and move to the next thing seamlessly.
Let’s be honest, 25 years ago weren’t all these kids on meds like this. This isn’t a disciplinary issue, but one about stable home lives I think.” – FB Status
As a licensed professional counselor, I am all too aware of what AD[H]D is and what the effects of it are. As a Restorative Justice Facilitator and dance instructor with CPS, I have counseled and taught a variety of children who have either been diagnosed with this disorder, or display behaviors that would match the criteria for a diagnosis. But after reading the aforementioned Facebook status of Joshua Lazard, one of this blog’s editors, I had to stop and think for a minute. To be fair, I am one of those people who work with children who display, what I like to refer to as, AD[H]D-esque behavior. And like most people who work with children who display these types of behaviors, I have grown exasperated with these types of children. Never one did I stop to think that their living conditions and most immediate surroundings off school grounds are the very reason why the children’s attentions spans and energy levels are as erratic they are.
In the social services world, we have this handy dandy little mental health guideline reference called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V for short). In it contains all of the mental, physical, emotional, and behavioral disorders that one could ever suffer from (or choose to make up, which is a whole other monster in itself, and the cause of a lot of debate within the medical and social services communities since the release of said reference book). According to the DSM-V Attention [Hyperactivity] Deficient Disorder has certain behavioral criteria that a child must display for, at least, six months or more in order to be diagnosed as such. The child must also have been displaying these behaviors before age 12 (whereas in the DSM-IV, the onset age of AD[H]D was 7; yet ANOTHER monster that needs to be addressed). The criteria presently listed are:
• Often fidgets with or taps hands or feet, or squirms in seat.
• Often leaves seat in situations when remaining seated is expected.
• Often runs about or climbs in situations where it is not appropriate (maybe limited to feeling restless).
• Often unable to play or take part in leisure activities quietly.
• Often “on the go” acting as if “driven by a motor”.
• Often talks excessively.
• Often blurts out an answer before a question has been completed.
• Often has trouble waiting his/her turn.
• Often interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g., butts into conversations or games)
Now, to be fair, there are a plethora of reasons why a child’s focus seems a little less fine-tuned on a daily basis. There are several reasons why a child’s energy may be off the meter. Some children are just genuinely bored with certain activities and genuinely have extreme amounts of high energy; I am a living example of that. And even as academically advanced as I was as a child, if it didn’t interest me or hold my attention it didn’t get paid attention to. The ONLY things that held my attention for more than 5 minutes were music and dance. Quite frankly, had my father not signed me up for Pop Warner cheerleading at age 8 and placed me in a weekend performance program at Chicago’s ETA Creative Arts Theater (which included acting and vocal classes and Dunham Technique training) at age 10, I could have been one of those very children that currently rub my nerves every which way but loose. But being a child who was raised in both the Roseland and Englewood areas of Chicago, there were just some situations that called for my attention span to be spread across 3 or more different areas, which became second nature as I grew older and my surroundings grew more volatile. I was not in the position to solely focus on being a child; I had a younger brother to look after. I had my OWN life to look after. I had cousins to try and protect. I had meals to cook and a house to maintain before/after my father went to work to lighten his load as a single father. I had scripts and choreography to remember from ETA. I had predators that I had to duck and dodge just walking down the street to get some candy. I had bullies that I so desperately had to try and avoid. I had bullets to try and duck and dodge, depending on what part of the neighborhood I was in or near. There was never a point in my young life where I was really able to focus on one thing in one moment because one moment in my neighborhood held 15 different details that one was required to be aware of.
………..all of this by the age of 9……….and I was raised in a relatively normal household……….
I did not have the disadvantage of being raised in a household where my parents were pathologically neglectful. I did not have the disadvantage of being raised in a house that has more children than it has anything else. I was not raised in the projects where life and crime and violence are so dense within that compacted community that it’s abnormal for violence not to occur. I was not privy to having parents who suffered from severe substance addiction/abuse. I was not aware of the perils of parents who systematically abuse their children. I did not know what it was to have a parent refuse, or not have the money, to feed and clothe my siblings and I. There are so many things that our children deal with outside of the academic system (that pale in comparison to what they actually DO suffer through within the academic system) that one has to consider that some children’s attentions spans, or lack thereof, is their primary survival tool. And because these things are not taken into consideration, or go without being addressed, an administrator who has not taught in, or seen, a classroom since their high school days will impose their belief that a child needs to be medicated and/or placed into “Special Education” onto that child’s parent. Let’s not even deal with the fact that diagnosing these children as having AD[H]D and placing them into a special education classroom will garner that school, and that parent, a check; that’s a whole OTHER monster that I will deal with in a whole other blog.
Some children’s attention spans are short because not all inner-city school children are afforded the luxury of the after-school and extracurricular activities that would aid in alleviating some of the symptoms that come with having this particular disorder.
Some children’s attention spans are short because between the 3-6 brother and sisters that they have at home and the 35-40 classmates that they have to compete with at school, they are too busy trying to figure out where they even fit in the equation of life. Some children’s erratic, hyperactive behavior is caused by the very food (or lack of it) that they ingest both at school and in the home. Hell, some children’s attentions spans are short because they are CHILDREN!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Children are human sponges; they are trying to absorb and take in and learn everything that sparks their interests, and that tends to exude a lot of energy. Yes, there are children who are inappropriately hyperactive and whose attention spans are the source of problems for them both academically and socially. I will never say that there are not children who don’t suffer from this disorder. What I would like for people to consider is this: what if the child that you are so quickly to write of as having AD[H]D actually has some other, more pressing issues than what you feel is the issue? It amazes me how we, as adults, write off the things that children have to deal with simply because they’re children. It amazes me how we, as adults, assume that we always know what’s best for a child. It amazes me how we, as adults, are always so quick to throw a label on our children not being totally aware of what our children are dealing with emotionally on a daily basis.
What I would like for us, as adults, to do is take into consideration what a CHILD goes through, and not what we, as adults, feel they SHOULD go through according to what will keep our nerves intact. I would like for us, as adults, to stop being so quick to write these children off or hand them a prescription or a label that will follow them in a stigmatizing light for the rest of their lives. Let us start asking QUESTIONS over making ASSumptions. Let us start TALKING TO these children and not AT them in a demonizing manner. Let’s start finding things that these children are interested in that WILL hold their attention. Hell, how about we stop IGNORING these children and start giving them some POSITIVE attention instead of rolling our eyes, smacking our lips, and sending them back home (the ROOT of some of their issues).
Damn……….I think I just checked MYSELF with this message…………