Saturday, March 8, 2014

Part 2: Information

Yes, I am aware that a two-part post should really be on successive days. It's been that kind of week. Next week I should be back to my Monday-post schedule.

Anyhow. Two things happened of note: I read an article on ADHD that didn't make me seethe, and I heard Dr. Edward Hallowell speak.

First the article, regarding the new book “The ADHD Explosion" by Stephen Hinshaw and Richard Scheffler. I believe I trashed a Times op-ed by them a few weeks back, so it is much to my surprise that I found the article interesting. Their hypothesis: The rate of ADHD diagnoses varies wildly by state -- from under 5 percent of school-age kids in some states (like my state, for instance) to more than 10 percent in others. That correlates with states that passed No Child Left Behind-style accountability laws linking school funding with students' performance on standardized tests. The states with those laws had the highest rates of diagnoses and medication.

From the article:

ADHD diagnoses of public school students within 200 percent of the federal poverty level jumped 59 percent after accountability legislation passed, Hinshaw reports, compared with less than 10 percent for middle- and high-income children. They saw no comparable trend in private schools, which are not subject to legislation like this.

How do ADHD diagnoses help schools at risk of losing their funding? First, Hinshaw notes, for kids who do have ADHD, it should improve their performance in school, including their test scores. Second, it may help kids who are disruptive in class settle down, which could improve scores for the whole class. Finally, in many areas, the test scores of student with ADHD diagnoses aren’t counted. So even it if it doesn’t help the child, it might help the school.

By the time No Child Left Behind was signed into law, 30 states had already passed these accountability statutes. The maps of those states and the states that have high ADHD rates look remarkably similar — mostly Southern states, with a few in the Midwest. ...

It doesn’t mean that ADHD isn’t a real thing, with a biological basis. Hinshaw and Scheffler are very clear about that. But it does underscore our worry that misdiagnoses are being handed out by doctors with little time, little training in psychiatric disorders, and a lot of pressure to do something to help kids who are failing.

I do appreciate that the authors aren't calling ADHD fake, unlike certain other "experts." But this research sounds striking. I'd want to read the book, obviously, but I do fully believe that there are doctors rushing a diagnosis because they think they're being helpful, or because they have no formal training in the matter. Hence my regular drumbeat of "general practitioners shouldn't diagnose ADHD." It's frustrating to me because rushed or false diagnoses makes legitimate diagnoses, like that of my son, seem less legitimate. If some of the diagnoses are bogus they must all be bogus, right?

Hey, you live with my kid for a week. See what you think. He doesn't run in front of moving vehicles anymore, so, you know, you'd have that going for you.

Here's the thing. I know a psychologist-to-be. (I'm being deliberately sketchy on who.) That person told me once, that if they were treating a kid coming from a lousy home life, who had trouble settling down in class because of the lousy home life, they would prescribe the kid ADHD medication just because it would help the kid settle down. Because assisting the kid with the lousy home life takes too long? I don't know. At any rate, I did already know the "just medicate the kid, whether he's got it or not" attitude is out there. Which is why what this article says sounds right to me.

If you're going to help kids, you have to help what's really wrong with them, if anything, and not just make things more convenient for you.

Also I HATE standardized tests. I hated them when I was the one taking them. I hate them now. I call them "multiple guess tests." They don't prove anything, except how well you take standardized tests. They have nothing to do with true intelligence or education. And I was a "gifted" kid, an honors student, in the top 10 of my graduating class in high school, and I'm saying this. I'll teach my kids to do as well as they can on such tests, because it's part of the school experience, but I'll also teach them the value of independent, critical thinking, which carries a lot more weight in life than "fill in answer A, B, C or D."

... and on to Dr. Hallowell. He gave a talk at a nearby high school and you would not believe how many parents showed up. At first I thought, are these all ADHD parents? because I forgot Hallowell is also a general sort of parenting expert, not just an ADHD expert who also has it himself. (Read his book "Driven to Distraction" if you want a good overall view of the disorder.) This was a more general sort of talk, based off his book "The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness."

He's a good public speaker, should you ever get the chance to see him -- resonant voice (he said he had a cold but I didn't hear it), good sense of humor. For instance, he described his family background in New England as the "WASP triad" of "alcoholism, mental illness and politeness."

His contention was that $1,500-an-hour (!) tutors to help a kid get from a B-plus to an A aren't necessary (this is some sort of New York thing, apparently?) and that helping a kid grow up to be happy doesn't mean getting them straight As or being their buddy or getting them the best of whatever, but teaching them confidence, initiative, responsibility; keeping them connected to their family, their community and their spiritual tradition; and giving them time for unstructured play. "If we could just have an attack of sanity," he pleaded.

It all sounded pretty sane to me. But then DH and I can be a bit old-school in our parenting. We don't want to be our kids' friends, though they're lovely people. We want them to grow up to be mature, responsible adults who contribute somehow to the larger society. We don't much care if they don't get straight As. You know how much that matters once the child graduates? It doesn't.

I think DH and I can afford to take the long view because we were both "gifted," both in honors/AP classes, and having gone through it, neither of us entirely liked the attitudes that went along with it. There's a difference between getting good grades and actually being smart. We prefer the latter.

This is a roundabout way of saying that I agreed with what Hallowell said and was a little surprised, I guess, that people need to hear it from a professional. I did enjoy the speech, though. I would've bought his book, since he was doing a signing, but they'd run out. Should've bought it before the speech.

Since I do think he has many common-sense things to say, I'll include a link to his website here. Peruse at your leisure.

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