I was at my therapist’s office the other day (Why? Because it’s 2019 and doesn’t everybody have a psychiatrist or psychologist?) and as my doctor and I were closing the end of our session, he asked a final question.
This man has been my therapist for a while now and knows basic details about me like where I’m from, that I have a little boy, and that my dad messed me up so bad I’m probably a lost cause. (Ok, he’s never said that last part out loud, but I’m pretty sure that’s what he’s thinking as he takes my money after each session).
He politely inquired about my 3-year-old boy, asking if he was adjusting to preschool. I confirmed that, yes, my son was doing quite well. Then, my therapist dropped this bombshell on me:
“That’s good to hear. So, you don’t think he has ADHD?”
For context, my entire family has a history of mental issues including ADHD, so it wasn’t COMPLETELY out of the blue for him to ask. However, my son is three. He has also never met my therapist. So, those two factors trumped any details regarding my lineage and any associated behavioral issues.
Taken aback, I said “no,” but motivated by sheer curiosity, I asked him what age he typically diagnoses kids with ADHD. The therapist said, “Around 5 years old.”
Ya’ll, the man said FIVE YEARS OLD.
Now, I’m in no way qualified to assess behavior and/or mental disorders and I believe ADHD is an actual thing. However, if we have medical practitioners both diagnosing and prescribing meds for little kids this flippantly, there is a glaring problem.
What exactly are the markers of little boys (or girls) struggling with attention span? Do they have trouble sitting in school for hours on end? They go around playing with one thing after another? Are they rambunctious on the playground? Do they have trouble eating at the dinner table for lengthy periods of time?
That’s not called ADHD. That’s called being a kid: a new person in a new world with a curious drive and high levels of energy.
Part of the issue with this seeming rise in an ADHD epidemic is how Western culture teaches our youth. In Finland (and many other modernized counties), recess and playtime are heavily encouraged. In fact, Finnish schools require 15 min breaks between 45 min academic sessions. During these breaks, children are encouraged to play outside or with toys or just socialize amongst their peers in the classroom.
And guess what? Finland has held the top ranking for the best education in the entire world since the year 2000, with kids outperforming every other country in all academic areas. And mounting evidence suggests that play-focused schooling has a large part to do with this.
It makes perfect sense. Think about your job, particularly if you have one that requires you to sit in an office all day. Think of how bored and anxious YOU get during an 8 hour day, and you are an ADULT.
Expecting kids to stay focused, sit still, and listen and absorb information for large quantities of time inherently goes against their makeup. Toddlers and elementary-aged kids don’t need prescription drugs – they just need freedom to play, explore, build, and try things in an environment that lends itself to constant activity.
Does my son have ADHD? I have no idea. And I won’t know until much further along his developmental journey, because I’m not going to take him to therapy or medicate him on the premise of him being a curious, rambunctious, little boy.
If you are grappling with whether you should seek help for YOUR child’s behavioral issues, please consider this: while medication and therapy are very important and valid in some childhood cases, give your kid time to grow into him or herself. Remember they are still navigating their emotions, their understanding of things, and the world around them and that would make ANYBODY appear to have attention deficit disorder. Do everything you can to facilitate their intuitive needs before asking for professional help. A growing mind should be celebrated, not suppressed.