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"Learning Disorder"? Just Say No!

My heart goes out to those children who have been labeled "ADHD" ("attention-deficit and hyperactivity disorder"), the latest "learning disability" label. Many educators and researchers now believe that these children and their families have been profoundly deceived by the use of these labels. Dr. Thomas Armstrong, a former learning disabilities specialist, changed professions when he "began to see how this notion of learning disabilities was handicapping all of our children by placing the blame for a child's learning failure on mysterious neurological deficiencies in the brain instead of on much needed reforms in our system of education."

"ADD" and "ADHD" are fictions. They are nothing less than self-fulfilling pseudo-diagnoses, used as an excuse to give children powerful drugs so they can be fitted into the unnatural environment of a classroom. Overburdened teachers, and parents made anxious by the school institution, have unrealistic and unfair expectations about what a "normal" child should be able to do. The high energy of many young children - especially boys - is normal for a healthy child. A child's natural energy is something to celebrate, not a problem that we need to fix with mind-altering drugs. It is only a problem when we force children into a boring environment where they have little voice or power.

The abnormality is in the school, not in the child. It is normal and natural for a healthy child to be active and energetic, much more so than our society wants us to believe (see "The Child Who Never Sits Still" by Robert Mendelsohn).

Subjective and unreliable behavioral observations by those who hold to society's skewed expectations of what "normal" behavior should look like in a classroom (meaning, behavior that meets the needs of the teacher and ignores the needs of the child) is a far cry from a "diagnosis". As neurologist Fred Baughman wrote: "Twenty five years of research, not deserving of the term 'research', has failed to validate ADD/ADHD as a disease." And the "cure" is so dangerous. Ritalin is a form of speed, with many potential dangers and side effects - even death. As reported by The Australian, "Children as young as five have suffered strokes, heart attacks, hallucinations and convulsions after taking drugs to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder."1

If ADD and ADHD were true diseases, surely they would be found in the same proportion in all populations of children. Yet neither of these so-called "diseases" are seen in homeschooling families unless the child has recently been in school. Homeschooling parents would have no reason to force unnatural behavior like sitting still for long periods or studying something that is of little interest to them that day. Compassion­ate parents understand and celebrate a child's natural energy and enthusiasm. In such an environment, there are no "learning disorders". The National Institutes of Health admitted in 1998, "... We do not have an independent, valid test for ADHD, and there are no data to indicate that ADHD is due to a brain malfunction."

It is one of our society's greatest ironies that the same educators who admonish children to "just say no" to drugs are at the same time handing out powerful drugs to millions of children for a fictional disorder in an attempt to counter the very normal reactions of healthy children to an abnormal environment.

The fault is not within our children, but in our society's attitudes toward them. A healthy child is naturally active, curious, and even rambunctious. When will we let a 6-year-old act like a 6-year-old and not expect him to act like he's 36? When will we let children be children?

1 Pirani, Clara, "Child drugs linked to heart attack". The Australian, March 27, 2006

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Jan Hunt, M.Sc., offers counseling worldwide, with a focus on parenting and unschooling. She is the Director of The Natural Child Project and author of The Natural Child: Parenting from the Heart and A Gift for Baby.