I’ve heard some professionals say, “ADD is just a cover-up label for suburban parents who cannot deal with their emotionally-disturbed kids.” Some write it off as “being in vogue–the problem for this decade.” Others wonder, “If ADD is a result of an inborn physical difference, then why wasn’t it around when we were kids?”
I respond strongly to this skepticism. ADD is a very real problem!
Because we are more knowledgeable, we are able to identify ADD more frequently and, thereby, it appears to be in vogue. But ADD was around when we were kids. We just weren’t aware of it.
Biologically-based attention differences are probably no more common in 2014 than they were in 1950. However, dysfunction resulting from these differences is more common because societal expectations have significantly changed over the past several decades. Many of these new demands put a high premium on the individual having efficient attentional skills in a way that was never demanded before. As a result, just as with ADD in an individual, these new societal expectations have uncovered an underlying societal problem that has probably always been there.
1. New opportunities for our children highlight the existence of ADD
In the ‘40’s and ‘50’s, most parents worried about the basics. Nutritious food on the table and a roof overhead. Reading, writing and arithmetic. Basic health. In fact, my parents worried about whether I would survive polio or die like several of my best playmates. Thanks to amazing technological advances, today we, as parents, take these basics for granted and want much more for our children. We want our children to achieve at school, to go to college, and to get a job that is better than the one we have.
I am constantly impressed how far we will go to provide enriching opportunities and to push our children in the name of wanting them to have the chances we did not have. Often, these “chances” backfire because they require proficiency in areas, like paying attention, that some children just don’t have.
In our schools, the demand for high achievement and independent learning has filtered down to earlier and earlier grades. Curriculum content has expanded so that many teachers are overwhelmed and unprepared to introduce a wealth of new material, let alone to teach the basics to children who require some extra help. Support services in most school districts are shrinking rather than expanding. Access to extra help is often contingent upon student failure rather than being viewed as a preventative response to minor difficulties.
It is easy to see why regular classroom teachers get frustrated when they are placed in the bind of producing high group achievement test scores to please the school board while watching 20% of their class struggle to just get by. Without support to address these children’s needs, most teachers either become guilty or get burned-out, both of which reduce their effectiveness further.
2. Modern parenting styles highlight the existence of ADD
Societal attitudes about discipline and behavior management have changed radically as well. These changes have also contributed to our increased awareness of ADD–the problem that has always been there. The pendulum has swung from the rigid, authoritarian, and, frequently, punitive approach of the ’50’s to a more permissive and democratic approach in the ’70’s and ’80’s.
Today’s parents are more likely to provide a detailed answer to the child’s proverbial question “Why?” than to end the discussion with “Because I said so!” In an attempt to promote self-esteem and foster creativity, many parents hesitate to set firm limits on children’s behavior or to structure their lives. Many parents are afraid to say “No.” They walk on eggshells instead. They try to control their child’s behavior with rewards rather than meaningful consequences. Many children can go with the flow and adapt to whatever management style is used.
However, the more democratic, laid-back approach places demands for self-awareness and self-control on ADD children that they are rarely equipped to meet. The resulting behavior problems in the home or school bring the ADD children into the spotlight and allow us to identify them.
3. Modern family units highlight the existence of ADD
The nature of the family unit has significantly changed in the past 50 years. Again, this change has forced us to become aware of the ADD population. More children are being raised in single parent homes. More and more, both parents need to hold full-time jobs outside the home. In our mobile society, Grandma no longer lives two houses away but more commonly, two hundred miles away.
All this means that the support system that previously was there to structure and bail out the child with ADD is no longer present.
Moreover, this prop has been pulled out at a time when society has placed increasing demands on children without creating increasing levels of support.
There is, for example, a shocking lack of affordable, quality childcare services across the country. As a result, many children spend countless hours alone or in the care of people who have not received basic training in child development, let alone training in working with difficult children.
In a permissive society, without supportive props, the ADD child is a set-up to misuse the increased amount of unstructured time available to him. Truancy, vandalism, and delinquency are often the outcome. And each time an individual commits such a “crime,” we have another opportunity to identify ADD.
The pace of growing up has quickened and, as a result, children are faced with increasing expectations to exercise mature social judgment. Adolescent children are placed in the position of having to make independent, adult decisions about sex, drinking, and drugs. These demands put the impulsive ADD child with poor problem-solving skills at an even greater risk for alcoholism, drug addiction, and teenage pregnancy and provide him with another chance to be in the spotlight.
4. Our technological society highlights the existence of ADD
As our society has moved from an industrially-based to a technologically-based economy, a new set of skills and abilities are now required to make it on the job.
The highly structured, physically demanding, manual labor jobs have been replaced by white-collar positions demanding good organizational skills, effective problem-solving abilities, and independent self-monitoring.
Once again, the individual with ADD is at a disadvantage and at risk for being identified. It would not be surprising to find that individuals with ADD have a disproportionately high representation in the ranks of the unemployed.
5. Increased stress levels highlight the existence of ADD
Finally, because of these and numerous other reasons, life’s stresses appear to be more complex and challenging than they have ever been. And if there is anything that requires us to be reflective, focused, vigilant monitors, and efficient problem-solvers, it is stress management. Without the prerequisites to meet the challenge, the individual with ADD enters into a devastating downward spiral. Marital difficulties. Money problems. Mounting anxiety and depression. Tranquilizers. Just getting by. Social isolation. Back pain. Sick days. Weight gain. Hypertension. Constant fear. Alcohol abuse. Traffic accidents. Hospitalization. Bankruptcy. Immobilization. Giving up.
ADD is Real, and We Know It.
For all these reasons and probably many more, ADD now plays a more significant and very real role in people’s lives. And, as a result, we all have the opportunity to see its impact. When people are skeptical about the significance or even the existence of ADD, they create a barrier to overcoming a very serious, but very addressable, health disorder. Don’t let skepticism rob you of progress toward a better, and easier, life. ADD is a very real problem. But it’s a problem with very real solutions.
More answers and information about ADD/ADHD can be found in Dr. Liden’s book, Pay Attention!: Answers to Common Questions About the Diagnosis and Treatment of Attention Deficit Disorder.