My son is starting kindergarten next year. I am terrified. I don’t know if he has ADHD or not. I do know that he is a wonderful, loving, intelligent, amazing kid who still views the world with a sense of wonder I envy. I’m pretty sure that school will beat that out of him. So many really, really smart kids end up in my office having been destroyed in one way or another by the traditional educational system in this country. If you think I’m overreacting, find a way to see the movie “Race to Nowhere.” http://www.racetonowhere.com/
I firmly believe that there is a strong bias in many corners of our society against the understanding, diagnosis, and treatment of ADHD. This is terrible and I fight against it everyday. I could not be further from one of the people who deny ADHD and it’s impact. However, over the past year or so, I have taken note of several things that are going on in our schools that I find tremendously alarming. Kids are simply asked to do things that they are not developmentally ready for. A child who is not ready to learn a given thing or has developed to the point where there brain is ready to manage complex tasks will look like they have a disability.
When I was in elementary school a mere 25 years ago, at the beginning of our societal awareness of ADHD, kids were often diagnosed with ADHD around age 10 or 12 when the demands of school increased. Now I find many many more kids diagnosed between five and eight. In many cases, this should be lauded. We are identifying things earlier and treating them better. However, I think it is incredibly important to be open to the idea that it is not that these kids aren’t neurotypical, but that they just aren’t ready.
A five year old boy should not have to sit still for 6 hours. A kindergartener should not have homework. I think of the example of learning to read. If you expect every child to read at age four, you will get lucky with some of them. But, mostly you will fail. Does that mean that all of these kids have reading, processing, or attention issues? No. It just means they are not developmentally ready to read. Furthermore, we have to recognize the variation in levels of readiness in children. Just like potty training, they are ready when they are ready.
My Dad really struggled with learning to read. I want to say it was not until second or third grade when he go the special attention of a teacher and neighbor that he got it. He went on to go to Brown, graduate with a degree in classics, have a play produced off Broadway, and teach high school English for 35 years. I’d say he did fine. He was just ready late.
Our educational system is broken. In typical American fashion, we focus only on quantity and not quality. We are falling behind other nations, so we push harder and younger. In essence we try to “super-size” our children’s educations. It doesn’t work. Eliminating recess for 5th and 6th graders is moronic. Failing a 3rd grader because he/she did the homework but didn’t pass it in because the teacher refused to remind the kids to hand it in is bordering on cruel. Making a middle school kid suffer though a block schedule where hey have math one day a week for 90 minutes straight without a break, is insane. Allowing high school kids to not schedule a lunch so than can take an extra class to impress colleges means we are not doing our jobs as adults in teaching our children to have balanced, healthy, productive lives.
We have completely stopped emphasizing (if we ever did) problem solving, creativity, intellectual diversity, people skills, and many of the qualities which many so many of us successful in the real world. When we don’t acknowledge so many things that so many of us are good at and only emphasize the strict academic disciplines that exist in school we doom many smart, capable kids to lives of disappointment and stress.
Much like the diagnosis issue with ADHD, depression is becoming a bigger and bigger problem in children. As with ADHD, I applaud the fact that we are more aware and will treat kids with depression. For from saying that the increase doesn’t exist, I ask, are we causing it? I came across a statistic about a year ago the average age of initial diagnosis of depression has dropped from somewhere in the twenties to somewhere around 12 in less than a generation. (I will effort to find the exact stat and post it.)
I’m totally sure what to do. I feel like a spec of foam floating on the ocean. The problem seems so big. But, if we all speak out. If fight for what we really know our children need, perhaps we can stem the tide.