ADD has become a common, and at times controversial, childhood “disorder.” Children are diagnosed with it when they have trouble paying attention to tasks, especially ones they’re not interested in.
While a preschooler may be identified as having ADD, more often a child is diagnosed during the early elementary years, when teachers or parents begin complaining about how distractible a child is. “He just doesn’t focus.” “He doesn’t sit still or follow directions.”
There’s no consistent chemical evidence for ADD, and while it’s certainly a real disorder, a growing number of people feel that it’s over-diagnosed by pediatricians, therapists, and even educators. Children who truly have ADD typically have additional neurobiological difficulties including visual, auditory, or motor problems. But any child who says, “I forgot,” and who dawdles before going to school; procrastinates when getting dressed, doing homework, or doing chores; is boisterous, aggressive, or temperamental; or gets involved in something other than what he’s directed to do, could potentially be labeled ADD and medicated for the condition.
One mother gave two examples of what she believed was ADD-like behavior in her four-year-old. “He sits at dinner with one leg hanging off the side of the chair, and he doesn’t listen when I tell him to stay close by me in the mall.” When asked what she does about these things, she responded, “Nothing! He has ADD, so he can’t help it.”
Too often, the diagnosis of ADD and the medication that follows are either a catch-all method of dealing with a seemingly difficult, but normal, child or an excuse for not setting firm limits, spending time with him, and meeting his needs at home or at school. Parents and teachers worried by the increase in ADD diagnoses need to know that there are a variety of other, more common reasons why a young child would have trouble listening to adults or paying attention to his responsibilities.
Many children are simply spirited by nature, or they may act out in aggressive ways because they’re not receiving enough calm, positive attention. A child may feel stress because of his parents’ divorce, a new sibling, tension, and yelling at home, or school pressures. Often, parents haven’t helped their child learn to get along with others, and haven’t given him enough limits, guidance, and discipline.
Other aspects to consider are the quick-paced lifestyle children are expected to live, the constant exposure to TV and video games, and the click of the computer mouse taking children from one busy site to another.