The diagnosis of ADHD in North America has escalated to such an extent that some would call it epidemic. With as many as 6 million children, in the U.S. alone, on mind-altering drugs for ADHD, we must ask what is behind this behavioral disorder, and how is it affecting our children? Why does North America diagnose more children with this disorder than the rest of the world combined? Is the diagnosis legitimate, and what are the repercussions of giving our children amphetamines on a daily basis?
To begin with, let's take a look at the diagnostic process. Some may believe that the field of psychiatry and the diagnosis of "mental illnesses" and "behavioral disorders" are based on concrete science, but that is not the case. The American Psychiatric Association has now categorized over 300 mental illnesses and disorders, but there is not a single medical test that can be given to confirm these so called "illnesses." They are not diagnosed by blood tests, CT scans, X-rays, or any other medical examination. Though many attribute the cause of "mental illnesses" to a chemical imbalance in the brain, this idea not only cannot be proven, it cannot even be tested. The diagnosis is based solely on a subjective analysis of one's thoughts and behaviors.
Many of these "mental illnesses" are man's attempt to excuse sin, relieving man of all responsibility for wrong conduct. Just assign a criminal with a "mental illness," and he is no longer accountable for his actions. Drug addicts and alcoholics have not made poor life choices; they suffer from a "disease." And what better way to deal with undesirable behaviors than to classify them as a "behavioral disorder" and administer mind-altering drugs in an attempt to alter those behaviors? So if these "mental illnesses" and "disorders" are not biological in nature, how are they being defined? They are created by members of the American Psychiatric Association voting on what thought patterns and behaviors they consider to be outside the "norm." Then these traits, behaviors, and thought patterns are grouped into categories and assigned a name. That's right, they are created by a group of psychiatrists voting them into existence.
This is true about the behavioral condition known as ADHD as well. After discovering that administering amphetamines to children resulted in making them less active and more compliant, the benefits of utilizing drugs on children in a classroom setting became evident. At first, psychiatrists labeled the more active children as having "minimal brain dysfunction" in order to legitimize the use of the drugs. After all, who would accept the notion of drugging children solely for the sake of making them more compliant? When this diagnosis was eventually rejected as unscientific, psychiatrists voted on what behaviors they saw as most problematic and came up with a new label. Though this process was equally unscientific, because they had a list of traits to attach to it, a new "disease" was created.
Now, instead of evaluating and dealing with the issues that may be contributing to the problematic behavior, or taking into account the natural variance in children's level of activity, psychiatrists and doctors prescribe a powerful, mind-altering drug to try and achieve desired results. The field of psychiatry is validated with yet another discovery, the drug companies expand their billion dollar market, and everyone is happy. Many school teachers have quickly jumped on board to support this new disorder, as drugging children makes it easier for them to manage large classrooms, and school boards are happy because they often receive extra funding for every child diagnosed with a learning disorder. It used to be that schools had drug programs to discourage children and teens from taking amphetamines and other damaging drugs; now they are actively pushing for young children to be put on daily doses of Ritalin and other ADHD drugs, which are equivalent to taking cocaine.
So what is the cost, and who are the real victims in this experiment gone wild? It is the children and their families who pay the price. Parents are being lied to in order to convince them that their children need these drugs in order to function. What they aren't being told is that not only was this disorder invented, but that there are serious risks in giving their children ADHD drugs. The side effects are numerous, but the psychiatrists and drug companies downplay or ignore the risks and are slow to admit that the long-term effects are yet unknown. Besides the general side effects—which include headaches, high blood pressure, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, insomnia, dizziness, aggression, depression, drug dependence, and psychosis—there is conclusive evidence that these drugs have also been linked to liver damage, cancer, brain damage, chromosomal damage, and heart damage, as well as cases of sudden death in children. Any other medication with such a track record requires black box warning labels on the packaging with the risks clearly identified. However, the drug companies have successfully managed to avoid such packaging, which would surely affect their billion-dollar market. Instead, drug companies are actively marketing ADHD drugs to doctors in order to boost the number of prescriptions for their product, seeking to widen their market to increasingly younger children, as well as to adults.
If this is the case, where do parents turn if they are being pressured to put their children on drugs for ADHD? First of all, you need to get informed. Don't just take your doctor's word for it. ADHD is a subjective analysis of child behavior, not a medical condition. Doctors are often relying on information provided to them by psychiatrists and the drug companies, who are all vying for a share of this booming market. Even the Food and Drug Administration can be influenced by these powerful drug companies, who often have representatives on the boards who vote on the safety of the drugs they produce. There are some excellent books on the topic and a host of studies by objective medical doctors and those who have researched the validity of ADHD available online. There are also forums for parents whose children have died, or are critically ill as a result of being put on ADHD drugs. They wish they had heard the truth before it was too late. Read up on the issue and see for yourself before medicating your children.
Secondly, consider the fact that there are a host of factors that may contribute to the behavioral problems many children exhibit. There are legitimate behavioral issues, but let's deal with the causes and try to correct difficult behavior. Our society suffers from unprecedented brokenness and instability within families. This issue alone can be a reason for many of the behavioral issues and lack of focus in children. Diet and lack of exercise is another cause that, when addressed, has proven to be effective in improving behavior and attention.
Another area, often overlooked, is the fact that we are growing up in a media-based society. Children often spend significant hours sitting in front of a TV and playing video games. This especially affects preschool children, whose brains are rapidly developing the skills basic to learning. Is it any wonder that these children, who are accustomed to viewing a screen that displays constant movement, have not developed the ability to sit still and focus on something that is not in motion? Taking the initiative to alter a child's environment, and being willing to work with children who are struggling, can help them develop these skills in order to improve both behavior and attention span. Children need stability, consistent discipline, a healthy lifestyle, and a chance to be active more than they need to pop a pill every day.
Lastly, let's differentiate between behavioral problems and normal child behavior. There is a huge variance from one child to the next in personality, activity level, rate of learning, and maturity. Even the difference in gender is a huge factor, and boys are much more likely to be labeled with ADHD. It is only our current society which segregates children by age, packs them into a classroom and expects them all to conform to one standard, which refuses to recognize this diversity. Children entering school can vary in age by as much as a year, and unfortunately, it is the younger children in the class who are most often targeted as candidates for ADHD. This may be due solely to the fact that they are less mature than the older students, and are therefore less ready to sit still for long periods of time.
Our society also stigmatizes children who are by nature more active or more creative, because they are harder to control in a classroom. However, where would our world be if all the creative inventors, artists, musicians, and entrepreneurs of previous centuries had been drugged to shut down their overactive imaginations, or their desire to move and create? Why has our society demanded conformity of our children, labeling any variance as a disorder? We need to recognize our children's differences in learning styles and discover the gifts God has given them, and then direct them in the way God created them to go.
Elizabeth Wiens has homeschooled her children for fifteen years and works with her family in full-time ministry. She is the author of Bringing Them Home (OakTara) and the soon-to-be-released As For Me and My House (OakTara). www.elizabethwiens.com