Does My Child Have a Learning Disability or ADHD?
The simple answer is “almost certainly not”.
It is our belief that the term “learning disability” is grossly overused and would best be re-phrased as “teaching inability”. The term is far too often used to shift responsibility from the school and to blame the child when he doesn’t seem to be learning as well as he should. It is our experience that caring about the individual student and using proper teaching methods will resolve any so-called “learning disability”.
Likewise, we believe that behavior problems in the school are primarily brought on by poor teaching or a troubling school environment and are not symptoms of a “disease”. Children who fail to understand what is required of them can quite naturally be expected to act up and become disruptive; imagine how you, an adult, would feel if you were forced to spend hours every day on tasks that you did not understand.
Furthermore, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is not a disease as we understand the term in medicine. Although you may have been told that it is caused by a “chemical imbalance in the brain”, this has never been demonstrated to have any slightest basis in fact. If someone suggests that this is the case with your child, ask to see the medical test. You can be assured that one will not be provided because no such test exists – no lab test, no blood test, no brain scan, no test of any kind.
ADHD is diagnosed simply by observations of behavior. This is done using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association. (The DSM can be considered the “Bible” of the psychiatric industry as governments and insurance companies will not pay for any disorder not listed by a specific number.)
For 314.01 Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, we have:
1) often fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in seat (in adolescents, may be limited to subjective feelings of restlessness)
2) has difficulty remaining seated when required to do so
3) is easily distracted by extraneous stimuli
4) has difficulty awaiting turn in games or group situations
5) often blurts out answers to questions before they have been completed …
These are the first five of fourteen similarly vague criteria, taken verbatim from the DSM.
Apart from the obvious difficulty in determining what is excessive beyond normal childhood behavior, we are left with the fact that any “diagnosis” may tell us more about the person making it than about the child being diagnosed. A person who has little tolerance for the rambunctious joy in children may find these traits in every child. In fact, with such vague criteria, it’s possible that the “disease” being diagnosed is childhood itself.
We also have the unanswered question of how a drug is supposed to correct an unconfirmed chemical imbalance in the brain, especially as the drugs prescribed for ADHD do not occur naturally in any brain. As Peter Breggin, a psychiatrist himself and an opponent of drugging as a solution to psychiatric problems, affirms, “The only chemical imbalance we know for sure is the one introduced by the drug itself.”
Even if we do allow that a child’s behavior is troublesome, it is much more probable that it may be quite normal childhood response to problems completely unrelated to “faulty brain chemistry”. Here are some things parents can check for themselves.
1) Is the child very bright and bored because of a slow pace of instruction?
2) Can the child read or is he behind in this fundamental skill and on which almost all subsequent learning depends? Does he know that letters and combinations of letters represent speech sounds and that these go together to form words? Unfortunately, with large classrooms and little individual instruction, there will likely be many children who do not grasp this basic concept. Proper instruction can remedy this; any behavior resulting from frustration because of not being able to read will dissipate.
3) As ADHD and other so-called learning or behavioral disorders are usually first diagnosed in the early grades, maybe we should question some of our assumptions regarding schooling. First of all, how natural is it for six, seven and eight year olds to sit quietly at a desk for hours at a time? Is the child getting enough physical exercise throughout the day? If he has no way to burn off excess energy, how can we expect him to be calm when this is required of him?
4) Is there some situation at school that is upsetting the child? Is he being bullied, taunted or teased? Does he not like his teacher for some reason?
The above is a partial list of factors that may cause ADHD-like “symptoms” that have nothing whatsoever to do with anything being wrong within the child’s brain. And this does not even take into account that children are unique individuals who mature differently and who learn in diverse ways and at varying rates. With this in mind, any concerns about particular childhood behaviors may be completely without foundation; perhaps simply realizing that “children will be children” can largely alleviate them.
We believe that schools should do what they are supposed to do – teach our children – and to do so by using correct education methods. To blame the child for our failures to teach properly is adding insult to injury.