Diagnosing ADD

I am a professional educator with over thirty years’ experience working with children from pre-kindergarten through college. Throughout my professional career, I have worked with students who demonstrate the full spectrum of learning abilities and styles. As an assistant principal and principal, I presided over many PPT’s and teachers’ meetings in a variety of school districts. In my current role as owner/director of a learning center, I often serve as a liaison between school and home. In this capacity, I accompany parents to meetings in which they encounter diagnoses of learning disabilities ranging from processing difficulties such visual and auditory problems to ADD (attention deficit disorder) and ADHD (with a hyperactivity component).

Most of the ADD-ADHD diagnoses result from observation. In fact, the definition of learning disability used for educational purposes may vary from state to state. These disorders involve difficulties with listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning, or solving math problems. A team consisting of the classroom teacher, school social worker, special education teacher, and school psychologist observe the student in a variety of instructional and social settings within the school. (An overwhelming majority of children referred for ADD at the elementary level are boys.) The team members visit classrooms to view the student’s behavior. They require the classroom teacher’s input. They check for inattentiveness during a specific activity. They may observe fidgeting, daydreaming, or even excessive movement. They are trying to discern when the child is generally “off task.” They may interview the student outside the classroom, too. Parents contribute their observations as well. However, medical personnel seldom contribute to the information, although the part of the “remedy” often calls for medication.

I have always been troubled by the apparent over-diagnosis of ADD/ADHD. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that one child in a classroom of 25 or 30 will have the disorder. Now, according to Dr. Fernando Miranda, a neurologist and founder of the Bright Minds Institute in San Francisco, diagnosing children with ADHD without looking at their brains is like “trying to diagnose heart problems without actually looking at the heart.” He and his team propose looking at the brain’s activity with EEG’s or MRI’s before coming to a final diagnosis. While some neurologists believe that subjecting children to these tests may be premature, others maintain that looking at the structure of the brain may assist in providing non-prescription strategies that may alleviate the symptoms, such as training. No one has yet definitively determined the long-term effects of placing an individual on ADHD medication. My advice: Meditation BEFORE medication!

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