You know its import, don't you? Or, so you thought. Either way, whether you are a physician, parent or an educator, you are right. It's all about a new — or, old — phenomenon that is gaining ground everywhere. You’d call it a case of an entire subculture gone askew, but without boundaries. What's more, science, with all its good intentions, continues to feed this ‘myth’ to an increasingly gullible, or well-informed, public. It has a catchy name, too — attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.
A number of studies suggest that ADHD is a ‘medical’ malady with a genetic base. You'd, possibly, believe it. However, if you look at the whole spectrum of its identity, you will think it is all hogwash — a part of a rich ‘techno-myth.’ But, wait a minute, and convince yourself — or, you'd be carried away by newspaper headlines that screamed, some moons ago, that ADHD was linked to a ‘thrill-seeking’ gene — a gene that is ‘related’ to dopamine, a neurotransmitter, or brain chemical, that, among other things, regulates the need for ‘rewards.’
Picture this. The last thirty years has witnessed a kind of 'controlled' take-over by the medical establishment of certain domains. Children, who were once seen as bundles of energy, daydreamers or fireballs, are now considered hyperactive, distractible, and impulsive — the three classical signs of ADHD.
Flashback — kids, who grew up in the serene ‘sixties, or the Beatles’ epoch, may have occasionally ‘blew up’ more than a little dust. But, they did not take medications. Kids, today, have their medication dosages carefully measured, and monitored, to control ‘dysfunctional’ behaviour, like ADHD. The unwholesome trend is gaining ground wherever you look, more so in affluent families where both parents are working and don't have quality time for their kids.
It is possible that millions of children are being misdiagnosed and treated with psychoactive drugs, like Ritalin. Add to this the new spectacle — of parents seeking to ‘classify’ their children as having ADHD, to help them maintain a competitive edge in academics, or scrape through SAT or CAT — and, you have a growing demand for ‘special security’ at school and work under the Disabilities Act.
One school of research is of the opinion that hyperactivity is most likely a child's active response to complex social, emotional and educational pressures. It calls on parents and therapists to tackle the ‘root cause,’ such as emotional issues, instead of masking symptoms with potentially harmful medication and behaviour-modification programmes. Medication is, at best, a tool, and one of the several interventions that can be helpful when used with non-medical approaches, like counselling and spiritual guidance. It also suggests that non-medical involvement may provide opportunities to every child with behavioural or ‘attention’ difficulties to reach their fullest potential.
Yet another body of reasoning is of the view that ADHD children are not disordered. All they have is a different style of thinking, attending and behaving. They are themselves at core fully intact, whole and healthy human beings — not kids suffering from a medical disorder. The best way to help such children, therefore, is not by pressurising them with a medical label and then employing a carefully selected group of specialised treatments, but by providing them with the kind of nurturing, stimulating and encouraging interventions that are good for all ‘normal’ kids.
New research suggests that there may be a possible ‘connect’ between the amount of time children spend watching TV — now the 'index' of learning disabilities — and, ADHD. Add to this computer or video games, and you have a good case on hand. This is more evident at a time when our media-driven short-attention span world has formed a kind of cultural backdrop to the incidence of kids who have trouble paying attention to parental and/or teachers' instructions.
Matt Dumont, MD, a psychiatrist, observes: "I would like to suggest that the constant shifting of visual frames in television shows is related to ‘hyperkinetic’ syndrome. There are incessant changes of camera and focus, so that the viewer's reference point shifts every few seconds. This technique literally ‘programmes’ a short-attention span. I suggest that the ‘hyperactive’ child is attempting to recapture the dynamic quality of the television screen by rapidly changing his/her perceptual orientation."
New studies corroborate the idea, while suggesting that children with ADHD do not produce enough biochemicals in key areas of the brain that are in charge of organising thoughts and behaviour. In such a scenario, the brain, it is believed, does not work just as well as they do in ‘normal’ kids. The suggested inference also is — ADHD is more common in children who have close relatives with the disorder, with boys showing a greater propensity for the ‘syndrome’ than girls.
Says Jane Healy, PhD, author of Endangered Minds: Why Our Children Don't Think, “[How] our TV advertisers have recognised one of the best ways to capture a viewer's attention by capitalising on the brain's instinctive responses to danger... [This] is a relevant index. The use of sudden close-ups, pan zooms, bright colours, sudden noises and other attention-getting mechanisms may be reducing the child's natural vigilance, or ability, to remain actively focused on events taking place in the real world. Besides, children who are having their thrill and danger centres constantly provoked by TV and video games are given no immediate context of responding. This pent-up energy for physical response can manifest as over-activity, frustration, or irritability.” The inference is obvious. TV viewing is a passive activity. So also computer or video game responses — they are limited to 'sleight-of-hand' movements on a joystick, manual or electronic device.
There is substantial evidence to support the credo that TV viewing can promote aggressiveness in children. Yet, by way of a paradox, TV viewing may also be beneficial. TV, computer or video games connect children to society. To deprive a child of access to what other children are engaged in puts them at a disadvantage when they go to school, or play with friends, and hear them discussing TV shows or video games they have never seen. So, what is the remedy?
Psychologists suggest that parents should limit rather than eliminate their children's TV watching and computer game play. One hour a day during the school week, and not more than two hours on weekends, would be a reasonable goal for TV watching. In addition, parents should, they suggest, eliminate violent programmes from their child’s TV and computer or video game schedules as much as possible. As a psychiatrist puts it, “If you want to watch it, or your child wants to do likewise, sit with them and watch it together, and explain your feelings, while listening to your child's reasons for preferring this type of programme.” His prescription — the more parents allowed their child to indulge in 'self-talk,' the better. For example, 'Easy does it, ' 'Keep Cool.' 'Behave Well,' or 'Relax.’ Self-talk is a handy tool, so also imagination — it represents a process where the child develops key phrases that can guide them through a complex task. It is also a problem-solving strategy — one that can be used to help kids form a more positive image of themselves as learners. Eventually, it could make a perceptible difference in how a child thinks about oneself.
Parents need not be psychologists to discover their child's personal learning style. The best way to doing this is by providing children with an opportunity to learn what they do best. Parents could, with good effect, also use soft — not loud, or noisy — background music to help focus and calm their 'hyperactive' child. Researchers recommend Western classical pieces such as Mozart, for example. May be, one could add Indian classical melodies, with a ‘good clip,’ or pleasant-sounding instrumental compositions, such as Shankar-Jaikishan’s ‘Raga-Jazz-Style,’ to the list.
Yet another time-tested idea is — encouraging the child to visualise by focusing on a special place in nature, favourite colour, toy, song, sport or movie hero, or a film. This will have a calming effect. Also, parents should not forget to remove allergens from their child's diet. Because, what may be ‘eating’ the child’s mind could be what the child is eating. Patience too holds the key, so also giving time to the child's ‘difficult’ behaviour. This is more effective than conventional wisdom — a nourishing channel for promoting the child’s inherent skills rather than pills.
The big question is — are parents, teachers and others listening and willing to take the ADHD 'bull' by its horns?