A Learning Twist: About ADD and ADHD

I think it is of great importance to look first at the definitions of these learning patterns decided by researchers and medical professionals and pro-claimed in the 1970-90’s in North America. ADD or Attention Deficit Disorder was listed as an Education/Medical issue in the 1970’s. It was applied to children who were unable to give “age appropriate attention to subjects, tasks or events in their lives” in a timely fashion.

ADHD or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder was added to thoughts in the 1990’s. This then included children who were impulsive acting quickly on a thought and very physically active. Of note, these children were thought to give excessive attention to a project they were deeply interested in, and it was assumed to be a negative trait. Perhaps it could have been developing a passion.

Common to both disorders was the finding that both conditions typically appeared between 6-12 years of age, must last more than six months, truly affect 6-7 % of children, and was three times more common in males. The treatment of choice was counselling both of the child and the family for a period of 2-3 months. If this failed, then medicating the child was the next step. Ritalin a derivative of Cocaine was the drug of choice, and sometimes, still is, for a period of no longer than a year.

Certainly there are children with ADD and ADHD, but let’s be very careful. Researchers in the USA report that one in ten children going to school are medicated or treated for the disorders. That’s nearly five million children! The “life-long” stigma of random diagnoses or labelling is to me, equally as horrendous as the cartoons of children in dunce caps.


I was listening to the radio the other day, and almost fell off my chair when I heard there is a movement agitating to have children checked for these disorders before they enter kindergarten. The thought being that the teacher should be aware of the challenges he or she is facing, and have time to lobby the school systems for the appropriate staff to be of assistance with these difficult children. I assume that would mean having little ones of four or five years tested before they even set foot in the school. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry as I had recently been told of a two year old getting a diagnosis of ADHD from the doctor. Had the physician never heard of the “terrible twos’ when many little ones assert their independence by saying NO to everything?

The first days of school often are a challenge for any child. They are in a new environment away from the routines of family, friends and home; simply away from their comfort zone. To be immediately segregated off as a child with a learning disorder certainly would add to their anxiety. As the children adjust to this new world, the educating staff gets to know them and how they differ from each other. The system is often developed for all children to conform to a set of rules, but to expect this to happen to all children at the same time seems to me to be foolish, or a useless protocol.

One of my most interesting teaching experiences was with a little boy who arrived in September with a worried Mom having many concerns as her son was repeating grade one and she had been told he probably never would be able to learn to read. He had a learning disability the name of which she could not remember. That evening I read the notes on this child’s last year: “He was slow, probably had ADD, and contributed nothing to the year but pictures of airplanes”. It came to mind to phone his previous school and ask if the pictures were any good, but good sense prevailed.

A few weeks into the year I had the good fortune to find an ‘aquarium encased’, working beehive. My little ADD boy loved it. He was mesmerized by the activities of the bees and soon was counting them, whispering to them and telling us all just what they were up to. With a little help he was soon printing sentences about his bees and reading these to the others. It wasn’t long before he understood he was reading and writing and he took these simple offerings home to his family. With their help of encouraging him at home, he completed the year with good abilities. A family of bees had opened his door to learning by discovering a passion.

Over the years I have met many children and adults who never had a positive experience in their first years of school. The most astounding to me was an eighteen year old boy who had moved to the area where I lived, and although he was a star basketball player, he had never learned to read. His new school was content with his athletic skills, but more concerned how he had reached grade twelve without the ability to read. They asked if I would help. Before agreeing, I went and watched him play. He was indeed a star; focussed, and living his passion. I took him aside for a chat.

After finding the only reason he could think of for a need to read was the getting of a driver’s licence, we began a project to achieve this aim. We started playing scrabble, reading simple recipes to make chocolate pudding, and it seems to me it was only a short period of time when we were able to start reading the driving books required for his test, which he passed on first try. I would bet at some time he was labelled as having ADHD, as at eighteen he continued to be an active, high energy person.

These are not isolated stories from one retired teacher. We all have them. We have experienced them and we have stories from non – reading friends who were told at a young age that they had a disorder and reading would always be difficult for them.

All children are different. All adults are too. I am not saying that there are not some humans who have learning disabilities but let’s not sentence the daydreaming, fidgety, impulsive child to the life long label of disabled until we have given them a chance. Putting them in a box to excuse their lack of conformity to a set of rules that can be too rigid, is serious.

Late night TV host, Dave Letterman is a current example. He was in school in the 1950’s in a small American town. He was active, often rambunctious and non-conforming. By his teenage years, his mom recognized all the negative reports of her son had all but shattered his self-confidence. She enrolled him in a evening course to learn public speaking. Once in front of a microphone his life passion was defined. All through his career he continued to be self deprecating, but gave a wonderful gift to television and thousands of viewers.

There are life lessons about sharing, respect, manners, families, and loving behaviours, that you as parents will have started teaching before your child is of school age. This foundation you build will aid your child in having a good school experience for many years.

A real learning problem is as easy to recognize as is the neglect of established acceptable behaviour in a child. Dr. Anthony Daniels (pen name: Theodore Dalyrympe) says it well: “Don’t blame bad behaviours on a disease”….”We’re all imperfect and no one’s life is fully satisfactory. If there was a perfect person (child) imagine how extremely boring he would be”.

       Your child is precious. Keep nuturing and opening doors to his or her passions with love and patience.


If you wish to read more about this subject, I enjoyed a book by Ken Robinson, Ph.D. “The Element”. You can also listen to him on the internet. (the story of the English Ballerina is wonderful. )


Gail Brighton, May, 2015. Nanoose Bay, B.C.

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