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Attention Deficit Disorder: So Much More Than Just a Lack of Focus

By Eric Hale

In this day and age, terms like ADD (attention deficit disorder) and OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) are a regularly used part of kids’ vocabulary. In fact, teens these days seem to know more about disorders than I learned in my college level psychology course. These terms are used so frequently that these major behavioral disorders have lost all of their meaning. The term ADD has merely become an excuse for not paying attention. If a student is not listening the common response is “Oh, sorry I have A.D.D.” Since these words have infiltrated young teens’ culture, these serious psychological disorders have lost any legitimate concern or sympathy from our society.

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), a developmental neurobehavioral disorder, has become the number one childhood medical condition in the United States. Since its identification in 1980 by the DSM-III, ADD has grown exponentially and now between 3-5% of the world’s population under the age of 19 have been diagnosed with ADD [Polanczyk]. Due to its excessive increase in diagnoses many people do not perceive ADD to be a life altering disability. In fact, this disorder has become very controversial over the years due to its methods of treatment with amphetamine salts. Due to frequent instances where doctors and psychologists have miss-diagnosed patients, many people question the legitimacy of a diagnosed ADD patient.

The reason for this excessive amount of diagnoses is due to the vague criteria listed in the DSM-IV [Morrison 268]. These criteria include:

• Fails to pay close attention to details or makes careless errors in schoolwork or activities
• Squirms in seat or fidgets
• Is forgetful
• Talks excessively
• Has trouble awaiting turn
• Doesn’t appear to listen when being told something

These symptoms could fit any child between the ages of 7-9 years old. So when you place these vague symptoms into the hands of worried mothers, you get an epidemic of self-diagnosed cases of ADD and as a result an entire generation of kids on heavy medications even when they clearly do not suffer from ADD.

At this time point in time, there is no cure for ADD; however, the easiest and most common form of treatment is the use of amphetamine salts, such as Ritalin, which helps stimulate neuro-receptors to increase a person’s ability to focus. These pills are very effective for short term relief, but have shown no effect in any long-term improvements of behavior. As a result 60% of children with ADD continue the use of medication through adulthood and increase the risk of lifelong dependency.

The medication itself is so effective in reducing all of these problems that many parents, mainly in the upper socio-economic area, have given their children amphetamines as a substitute for parenting. Plus, parents are not held responsible for the development of their child if they are believed to have a behavioral disorder. So, for many adults, having their children diagnosed with ADD means they are free of all responsibility. Unfortunately, this sickening loophole is only becoming more and more acceptable by society. In fact, ADD has become so well immersed in our culture that many people don’t even recognize it as a legitimate condition.

In school, many teachers disregard a diagnosis of ADD and just assume that the student’s inability to focus is simply a choice of laziness. This is a common misconception and has left many students labeled as merely intellectually deficient. In other cases, school systems only recognize and give help to those who are not intellectually retentive and ignore others with the same condition. This never became more real to me than in tenth grade, when I requested for extra time on tests because I was struggling to complete my algebra II tests. This request was not an uncommon one. Many people with ADD were given extra time on exams and tests. However, the school refused to give me any kind of assistance because they felt that my overall GPA was too high. I guess I did not fit their profile for a student with “behavioral disorders.”

So why do schools recognize the same disability in some students but not others? Is there a profile for those who have ADD? The truth is, yes, there is a cultural profile for those with ADD. Dr. Brenton Prosser, an Australian sociologist, explains that a child’s diagnosis is “more closely linked to socio-economics than actual behavior or difficulty at school.” He goes on to explain that, “in upper middle-class areas it seems ADHD is about treating inattention and boosting success at school; in lower-income areas it’s more about controlling hyperactivity and keeping students in the classroom” [qtd. in O’Brien 31]. The simple acknowledgement of these profiles proves that schools already have a pre-determined criteria for what an ADD student qualifies as regardless of medical diagnosis. For teachers and parents, ADD is more of a social construct for success than a medical disorder. In our society, “if you cannot concentrate then you are considered mentally impaired” [O’Brien 31].

Labeling students as being attention deficient can be very detrimental to their self-esteem. If a child is aware that they have a brain disorder, then they may live in self-doubt and never try to reach their full potential. In the same sense, they may not partake in certain activities, because they believe their disorder places them at a disadvantage. Teachers and peers have even been known to lower their standards for that student. Kids with ADD aren’t expected to be able to sit still for a long time or take stressful tests that may give them opportunities for success.

Growing up with attention deficit disorder is a cultural struggle. You’re constantly bombarded with people who believe that your behavioral disorder isn’t real because of its frequent misdiagnoses. In addition, you have plenty of people who will belittle you because of your disorder and place you into a cultural stereotype. Furthermore it should be known that just because someone has ADD, that does not mean that they are easily…..oh look a shiny penny.

Bibliography:

Morrison, James. DSM-IV Made Easy. New York: The Guilford Press, 2001. O’Brien, Susie. “A condition that grabs attention.” Herald Sun [Australia] 10 June 2006, first add.

Polanczyk G, de Lima MS, Horta BL, Biederman J, Rohde LA (2007). “The worldwide prevalence of ADHD: a systematic review and metaregression analysis.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17541055

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