Question: Our 8-year-old is scheduled to enter third grade at a public school this fall. Last year, he did well; nonetheless, his second-grade teacher was convinced he had ADHD. At a meeting with the principal, school psychologist, school social worker and the head of the special education department, lots of pressure was put on us to have him tested and put on medication. When we pointed out that his grades were all good to excellent, they pointed out that his standardized test results were average. In our estimation, he's self-motivated and responsible. We don't feel that one test proves anything. Granted, he's impulsive and disorganized, but we've chalked that up to just being a boy. We are considering homeschooling and would like your advice.
Answer: First and foremost, there is no good science behind the diagnosis of ADHD. The claims that it is genetically transmitted and involves biochemical imbalances and brain differences have never been proven. After researching the subject for 10 years, a nationally known pediatrician and I wrote The Diseasing of America's Children, in which we expose the bad science and propose an alternative explanation that requires no intellectual leaps of faith. No ADHD spokespeople have ever mentioned the book publicly, which my coauthor and I take to mean they have no rebuttal and don't want to draw attention to it.
The scenario you describe is common. Public and private school educators have been generally persuaded by "experts" (through in-service workshops) that ADHD is a legitimate medical diagnosis. Their argument is that medical problems require medical interventions; therefore, the ubiquitous insistence that ADHD children require medication. To my knowledge, none of the medications in question have ever outperformed placebos in clinical trials. Their necessity is highly suspect, in other words.
Then there's the matter of testing a child to determine if he has ADHD. The fact is that none of the published diagnostic criteria depend upon test results. They refer to behavior, period. When I've pointed this out to professionals who administer such tests, the standard response is that they do so in order to do proper treatment planning. That begs the question of why they almost always lead parents to believe that the tests are necessary for a diagnosis.
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And, yes, the diagnostic criteria are biased against boys, who tend to be more impulsive, forgetful and distractible than girls. If the hunt for ADHD boys had been in full swing in the 1950s, I am convinced that I would have been caught in the net.
The sad reality is that once a school decides that a child has ADHD, it rarely lets it go, and parents who are uncooperative are not regarded well. Under the circumstances, I have often recommended homeschooling. That is not a one-size-fits-all recommendation, however, and obviously involves considerations over and above a school's arbitrary decision that a child has ADHD.
In next week's column, I will discuss homeschooling in greater depth. Stay tuned.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents' questions on his Web site, Rosemond.com.
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