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Hyperactive, or .. bored?

Posted on | September 26, 2007 | No Comments

Reflexes are good. Reflexes enable us to do things without thinking, such as pulling our hand away from something that is too hot to touch. Instinct is good, instinct helps us to do things that are good for us (besides the whole business of reproduction, that’s for another post) such as eating and sleeping.

The above, instinct and reflex are known as ‘knee-jerk’ reactions. Think about a doctor hitting your kneecap in just the right place with a rubber hammer. Your leg kicks, neat huh?

When we can afford thought to our reactions, we should spend thought on them, its free. This is why we’re on the top of the food chain. I want to take a moment and call into question anyone who prescribes medicine for ‘hyperactivity’ or ‘attention deficit disorder’ in children as a knee-jerk reaction. I was reading some things that alarmed me on some of the on-line parenting communities that I subscribe to.

Depending on your health insurance, you will go to whatever clinical psychologist or psychiatrist that your ‘health network’ permits. Likely, you’ll be seeing someone who has a waiting room full of people with very little time to spare. Be kind, ensure that you don’t take up too much of this person’s time, here’s how to help:

Don’t come in with a pre-diagnosed kid, especially if you are the one who did the diagnosing. What you’ll do is convince your doctor that your child has a certain problem and out the door with meds you’ll go. For the sake of this little rant, we’ll assume that you have not jumped to conclusions.

If your doctor says “ADD” or “Hyperactive” simply ask them, “Please demonstrate to me why you know that my child is not simply bored.” Be careful to not say “what you think”, be sure to say “what you know”, medicine that alters brain chemicals (based on our very, very primitive knowledge of the brain) should be dispensed based on what we know, not what we think. When in doubt, don’t – its that easy.

After that, enjoy your co-pay and leave. Tell the doctor you want to give the matter some thought before starting your child on medicine.

Hyperactivity and ADD are, indeed symptoms, sometimes they are disorders. Discerning the difference can be rather difficult. There are many people in the world who simply do not lend (or bend) well to conventional thinking and learning. Quite a few of these people went on to be very successful and were diagnosed with ADD. I, myself had a horrible time in the public school system, so did many other very successful well-adjusted people.

Look at your childs awareness, from every possible angle. Some simple questions might help -

  • Does my child know when regular things deviate? (someone comes home late?)
  • Does my child embrace, or reject routine?
  • Does my child embrace, or reject structure? (insisting things be done via a certain method)
  • Does my child display compassion?

You can’t hope to sum this up in one night, or even in one week. All parents have attention deficit disorder, we’re pulled in more directions than we have things to pull – it is very difficult to afford proper levels of attention to anything. I highly suggest using the video camera feature of your cell phone and saving short clips of your child when they are not aware of your activity. You can use these videos later to look at their behavior from a bird’s eye view.

The first question helps you to determine if your child has difficulty paying attention to things because they bore your child, or if they just have difficulty paying attention to things. An awareness of the structure of the day shows you, they do pay attention to things. They also do not become completely self absorbed, as they notice when normal events don’t happen on schedule.

A simple routine is up by 8, an hour of cartoons, play time, art time then a nap. If this is resisted, try re-arranging the routine and see what happens. If the routine is still resisted, try a new blend of activities. I suggest eliminating TV first, TV is entertainment, not imaginative play. TV puts your brain to sleep, the brain often wakes up grouchy when TV time is over :) This might influence the rest of the routine.

Structure is often confused with routine. A routine is a form of structure. When you talk about “structured activities”, your referring to activities where the child participates in some kind of a program or class. The gym where my daughter burns off energy offers a structured art class, the kids do what the instructor does, the way that the instructor is doing it. A coloring book is a structured activity, you aren’t supposed to color outside of the lines. Resisting structured activities usually means, you have a pretty bright kid. Bright kids sometimes also love structured activities.

Compassion is important. How aware is your child with those around them, especially you? ADD/ADHD almost always indicates a completely self involved, self absorbed child. Pretend to hurt your finger, say ouch loudly. Does your child interrupt their play to come see what happened to you? Can your child sense if your not feeling well, or if you are angry?

It is critical that you somehow find the time to properly observe and document your child’s behavior before seeing a doctor. I completely agree, if you are concerned, you should see a doctor. For the sake of your child, be sure that you are prepared to discuss your child’s behavior after careful observation. Answering your doctor’s questions from memory is a bad idea, you forget your perspective at the time. You observed behavior last month, you remember the behavior but you have completely forgotten how impatient you felt at the time due to running late for something with a kid that would not cooperate. Objective observation is important before you start any kind of medication.

If, after closely watching your child over a period of time, you really think that your kid is hyperactive or has ADD, go see your doctor again with video of what you observed. The doctor should want to watch them, you pay for it. If your child truly suffers from one of these disorders, medication can help, Neither you, nor your doctor should even consider drugs that alter chemical levels in the brain as the result of a single or even several visits.

This short article was written with a young child in mind, between 1 and 5. It is a reaction to my observations of many parents of young children ‘knee-jerking’ a home brewed ADD/ADHD diagnosis then finding a doctor to agree with them and dispense medication (almost any doctor will). With some adjustments, the same advice carries over to older children.

My intent is not to tell you how to diagnose behavioral problems. My intent is to advise you on how to properly and objectively observe behaviors. Your doctor does not live with you, they need these insights if they hope to be at all insightful in a diagnosis. It is much better to say “I think my child has some kind of problem, here’s the behavior .. ” rather than “I’m sure my child has ADHD, here’s two events from memory ..” Make these observations before going to your doctor, then get a second opinion. Chemical altering drugs can be a very unfortunate consequence to a hasty knee-jerk reaction.

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