Parenting, Strictly My Opinion

Disease or Disorder? Classifying ADHD, and the impact of technology on ADHD – Strictly My Opinion

A recent piece I read noted that a leading neuroscientist, Dr. Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D, has stated that ADHD, the acronym for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is ‘not a real disease’ – and went on to state the dangers of giving psycho-stimulant medications to children.  If you care to read the piece, it can be found here:

I have two children who have both received ADHD diagnoses, and are treated for it via both medication and therapy.  I have seen both the un-treated versions of my children, and the treated ones.  I don’t profess to be an expert or an authority on the subject in any way.  I know only what I have observed and read about.

There are numerous varying definitions for a ‘disease’ and a ‘disorder’ and comparisons of both.  Some feel that a ‘disease’ is an affliction or pathology which affects the function of the body, such as Parkinson’s Disease (something prevalent in my family on my father’s side) and a ‘disorder’ is more a condition of the mind or something that impacts the function of the brain only.

I suppose that an argument could be made that since the brain sends out the signals to our body for motion, pain, pleasure, and nearly everything else that we feel and do; anything that impacts the brain does have a trickle down effect on our bodies.  The brain ‘creates’ the impulse/sensation – and the body reacts to it.  A pleasant memory causes us to smile…a sad realization causes us to cry…a smell that we find offensive makes us gag….the sight of something unsettling causes us to recoil in fear or repulsion…an unexpected noise causes us to jump…there are likely thousands and thousands of ‘brain impulses’ that are then manifested into a physical response or reaction.

None of these things, however, that I have listed above can be classified as a disease.  Happiness and fear are not diseases. Most fears are classified as phobias (defined as ‘an exaggerated and often disabling fear usually inexplicable to the subject and having sometimes a logical but usually an illogical or symbolic object, class of objects, or situation’). Many phobias are treated with medication due to the anxiety they produce in people – often times the medication is a benzodiazepine (many are also used to treat depression).  Overwhelming sadness can sometimes be a sign of depression (defined as a serious medical condition in which a person feels very sad, hopeless, and unimportant and often is unable to live in a normal way), and this is often treated with medication as well.  Telling someone to ‘snap out of’ depression or ‘get over’ a fear hasn’t proven to be an effective treatment plan for people afflicted by them – just the same as telling a child diagnosed with ADHD to ‘pay attention and relax’ rarely ever does the trick. I’ve tried it. It didn’t work.

I’ve had numerous conversations with parents, educators, therapists, and social workers now about what, possibly, is behind the surge of ADHD diagnoses in today’s society.  One major contributing factor, in my opinion, is the advancement of technology and the prevalence of it in our world.  Research has been conducted to examine the impact of our tendency to get the majority of our information and entertainment via a ‘device’ these days as opposed to just thirty years ago, prior to the stone age before computers, tablets, smart phones, and other such instruments flooded the market and became a staple in nearly every home.

Scientific American published an article about the difference in reading from print vs reading from a screen, and what the possible impact is on our minds.  That article can be found via the following link:

In this article, it is alluded to that our minds, when reading from a flat screen, do not navigate long texts and process them to a satisfying conclusion where we both interpret and retain the information.  We skim online text, seeking out only that which most captures our attention, and discard the rest as irrelevant, or simply not germane to what we sought to learn in the first place. When we open a book – we have black and white print in front of us. Certainly we skim certain sections or pages (I do this with long, descriptive lists such as a person describing everything laid out in a food buffet, or all the varieties of flowers in their garden), and yet I still retain that this section of the chapter/book I am reading is about a few things:

1. This was about a character with an interest in flowers

2. There are many different types of flowers, and this character had a lot of them in their garden.

3. Flowers come in many different shapes, sizes, and colors – they are scented or unscented.

4. Flowers can produce either a visual or olfactory response in a person.

5. The writer of the story had an interest in flowers and did a certain amount of research on them to be able to incorporate them into the story.

In truth, I cannot list five things I learned from the last online news piece (prior to the ones I am quoting/linking in this post) that I have retained.  I know ‘in general’ what it was about. I might be able to point out two, perhaps three points of interest.  By tomorrow I likely will only be able to recall two of them, perhaps only one….perhaps none.  In all honesty, I cannot recite from memory the name of the article, nor who wrote it, nor where I found it. That said, I can tell you what the last ten books I read were about. I can list four or five characters that interested me and what their character traits were.  I can tell you the names of the books, what the storyline was, what the conflict and resolution were, and how I felt reading them.  Some were ‘fluff’ books (thrillers and such) and some were classics with language that has ‘gone out of style’ and is a bit more difficult to process.  But all in all, I got a lot more out of them than I do reading things on my computer.

Reading a book is a vastly different experience from reading on a computer/hand-held device. There are no pop-up ads, no hyperlinks, no colorful advertisements luring us away from what we originally set out to read.  No blinking banners entice us to ‘click here and win $1,000,000.00.  No ‘lonely singles in our area’ seduce us away from our knowledge seeking.  ‘Advertising’ plays a major role in how long and how intently we focus on something.  Certain colors draw our attention and stimulate our minds in certain ways. Red is an indication of power and holds attention. Pink appeals to females. Green labels lead us to believe a product is wholesome, organic, and kind to the earth. A list of the 10 most powerful and attention getting colors to increase sales (and why) can be found here:

Some people claim that in order to combat ADHD you simply need to limit the amount of time your child spends watching television or playing video games.  I cannot subscribe to that theory, whereas both my children play outside a great deal, read printed materials, play board games, work on crafts, color, and other activities that do not have a cord attached to them.  This has not done anything to reduce their difficulties in paying attention in school, nor to inhibit their impulse control issues.  Therefore, while I can attribute some of their ‘challenges’ to the deluge of technology we have available to us today, as I mentioned above, I also cannot solely assign responsibility for their attention deficit to it.

I can, however, state with all authority that the stimulants they take to treat their ADHD has had a positive impact on their education performance and on their overall ability to ‘relax’.  Prior to the medication, doing what should be twenty minutes of homework with one of them could take two to three hours with numerous sensory breaks and rewards built into the process.  That has now been greatly reduced, and is far nearer twenty minutes than it was before.  Whereas I could not give the children anything more than a one step task and anticipate completion, I can now recite multiple steps to them of things I wish them to do (brush your teeth, put on your shoes, and get your backpack) and they follow through with it most of the time.  They are, after all, just kids – I have to allow a ‘margin of error’ for that in the process.

I am not a doctor. I have absolutely no medical training whatsoever. I am a parent of two children with ADHD.  Whether or not it is a disease or a disorder is up to people far more learned than I to decide. I chose not to classify my children as being ‘diseased’ or ‘disordered’. They are who they are. Long-term use of certain medications has been known to produce undesired results (Risperidone has been linked to the formation of ‘breasts’ on boys with years of use).  Most medications have side-effects on some segment of the population.  I believe in medication to treat my childrens’ ADHD as I have seen it as having a very positive impact on their ability to focus and to learn.  I don’t advocate it to everyone. The best decision to make is always the decision that works best for you and for your child.

What I do advocate is moderation.  Children can learn from television and gaming devices just as surely as they can learn from books, outdoor play, and crafts. Medication is not the end-all and be-all of treating disorders OR diseases.  Treating a disorder or a disease is an ongoing process, just as living with the disorder or disease is, and is perhaps best viewed as such.  I watch my children for signs that the medication’s effectiveness is waning, just as I strive to engage them in both physical and educational activities…and even things that have purely entertainment value.

Along with this push to vary their activities to encompass a variety of stimulation for them – I also lead by example.  I go for walks (though not as often as I should). I read. I watch films. I listen to music. They see me doing all these things. In addition, I sit and talk with them. I take them for outdoor activities. I read to them and with them. I have introduced them to live theater and live music. I go outside and kick around a soccer ball with them, or toss a football. I do things with my children to teach them to do not only as I say, but also as I do.

Lastly, I also advocate ‘knowing’ your child, and figuring out their needs over time. No one article or source will give all the answers as to whether or not ADHD is a ‘real’ condition – just as there is no one way to treat it; via medication, cognitive behavioral therapy, or simply ‘turning off the t.v.’  No one person, myself included, can ever know exactly what works or what is right for your child.  Talk to them – observe them and what impacts their behaviors – get to know them – raise the child you have, not the one you might wish they were or some ‘expert’ is telling you they should be.

As an aside, I’d love to know how many people who read this post did so without opening new browser windows with the web article links, or opened them along the way.


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