Saturday, April 11, 2009
Kids and ADD
When I was growing up, we didn't have any hyperactive kids. We certainly didn't have anyone on Ritalin. We'd never heard of the stuff. At 11, the only "drug" we knew about was aspirin-in-Coke, which was supposed to make you drunk. (We also believed if you put a tooth or nail in Coke overnight, they would dissolve. Our experiments proved this to be not true, just as we proved that throwing salt on a bird's tail didn't paralyze it so you could catch it.)
Probably the main reason we didn't have any ADD and ADHD is because we got plenty of physical activity. We rode bikes and later, minibikes. I rode horses, including one that wouldn't stop galloping while I held on for my life. We swam, we wrestled, we had dirt-clod fights, we played football with just a football and our heads instead of helmets. We had Styrofoam sailboats break apart from under us in lakes. We climbed cliffs. We jumped off cliffs into pools of water. We inflated tractor-tire inner-tubes and bounced them up and down in lakes until all seven of us flew off. I continued to do this even when the other six boys landed on top of me and shoved me down to the bottom of the lake.
We did this stuff for decades. And we never had any hyperactive kids. I don't remember one. Not one. We did have weird kids who couldn't walk down the hall without tripping over their own feet, or who would go spastic if someone so much as gently tossed a ball their way, apparently believing it would go completely through their torso like a cannonball, but we didn't have anybody who was hyperactive.
Yet, today, teachers and parents will tell you that ADD and ADHD has become much more prevalent over the last 15 years. And during those years, there has been a global decrease in language and cognitive abilities. The aforementioned disorders and those decreases are related.
Children who have been diagnosed with ADD and ADHD have different brains than those without the diagnosis. Among other things, afflicted kids show decreased activity in frontal lobes and other subcortical structures, as demonstrated by PET scans and MRIs. The prefrontal cortex, basal ganglia, cerebellum, and thalamus demonstrate both decreased activity and smaller anatomical size, particularly in the right brain and the left cerebellum.
The main treatment, if you can call it treatment, is with Ritalin, a drug similar to cocaine. When I think of the 11 million prescriptions a year written for Ritalin, I am reminded of the saying, that if a doctor can't cut it, drug it or burn it, he's clueless.
Ritalin supposedly "wakes up" the frontal lobes, allowing the kid to concentrate more effectively. My experience, and that of millions of others, is that lots of drugs, say booze and marijuana and tobacco, allow you to concentrate more effectively. It doesn't mean those drugs are conducive to intellectual achievement. I doubt Ritalin is, either, and no matter what the drug companies or the government says, no one knows what the long-term effects of Ritalin are. I am reminded, however, that Kurt Cobain was a Ritalin child, which led to heroin and then a shotgun.
As far as I'm concerned, 11 million prescriptions a year is pure quackery, and I wouldn't take my ingrown toenail to a doctor who prescribed it, much less my kid.
Boys are the main recipients of these prescriptions, eight to one over girls. But why?
Current research is pointing to all of these problems as being right or left brain disorders. Contra left-wing feminists, there are distinct differences between male and female brains. Males are generally right-brain dominant, with a larger right frontal lobe. Females tend to be better with left-brain skills, such as language. Females generally have a greater brain symmetry than males, which is why if there is an insult to one side of the brain, the other can compensate.
The majority of ADD and ADHD disorders affect the right brain; therefore males are more affected. Males are also more afflicted with left-brain disorders involving language, since females can compensate for any damage. In other words, boys get can get hit from both sides.
Males, being more brain-lopsided than females, have brains that are more fragile and easier to damage. The upside to that lopsidedness is that it allows men to more narrowly focus long-term on one thing, which is why, again contra left-wingers, men have invented almost everything in the world.
Now, as to why there has been such an increase in ADD and ADHD over the past 15 years: It has to do, possibly more than anything else, with lack of movement. Motoricity--movement-- appears to be the key to appropriate brain development. They are essentially the same process. Cognitive and motor functions are one and the same, because they involve the same parts of the brain. Therefore, movement, for a baby and child, develops the brain properly. Anything that moves needs a brain. It's why plants don't have brains.
So, obviously, the less movement, the less the brain properly develops. For a child--especially a boy--to spend all his time inside watching TV or playing video games, does not contribute to healthy brain development. A sedentary lifestyle for kids is not a good one. The brain remains underdeveloped. And that is scary.
Now I'll be the first to admit I watched a fair amount of TV when I was a kid, especially cartoons. It didn't hurt me. I think “Rocky and Bullwinkle” and “Fractured Fairy Tales” was truly a good thing for me. But I also got a heck of a lot of physical activity, even if it involved tumbling down hills after falling off of my bicycle.
The worst offender for improper brain development is the government--misnamed "public"--school system. Forcing kids, and especially boys, to sit for hours a day at the desk, with little movement, interferes with proper brain development. Just remember that Ritalin is being forced down kids' throats because of their behavior in school.
Let's put it this way: People like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin didn't have formal schooling. Where are the people like them today? I think there are potential scholars like them in every generation, but we lose them to the government schools. The whole system literally keeps their brains from developing properly. And the problem is getting worse. Just look at our plummeting SAT scores.
Since the lack of movement that is inherent in government schools is the culprit, this means all "reforms" are doomed to failure that don't involve getting kids, and especially boys, out of the classroom. Boys are much more affected by lack of motor development than girls.
The school system cannot be fixed. "Not paying attention" and "not doing homework" are not the problems. "No Child Left Behind" is not the fix. Sitting for hours in a class is the problem. Private schools that copy public schools are going to find themselves in the same quandary.
Not only are school not good for the intellectual development of children, it also doesn't "socialize" them, one of the main claims of government school defenders. If your brain remains underdeveloped, you're sure not going to be socialized properly, either.
"P.E." isn't the answer. I am reminded of what Woody Allen added to the saying, "Those that can, do; those that can't, teach": "Those that can't teach, teach gym." Being forced to do leg-lifts and run outside in circles is no one's idea of fun. When I was in school, the overwhelmingly majority of us wanted nothing to do with P.E., or P.E. teachers, who we thought were more Neanderthal than Homo Sapien. Yet, after school, we get plenty of physical activity.
Anything that improves posture, gait, balance, endurance, timing and synchronization of muscles will improve cognitive function. That means play, not work. And since when are government schools play?
What passes for "school" these days isn't necessary. The only one of Laura Ingalls Wilder's books I have read is Farmer Boy, which is about her husband's life growing up on his father's farm. It is a book very much worth reading, and will disabuse anyone of the notion that formal schooling is necessary.
Wilder's husband, Almanzo Wilder, hated school with a great passion, and probably attended only a few months. Yet he grew up literate, and highly intelligent.
From kindergarten to a senior in high school, I cannot remember a thing I learned. I started to teach myself to read at four; in the first grade, when we were supposed to learn to read, I found Dick and Pony and Spot and Jane boring me out of my skull. Twelve years of schooling, and I learned basically nothing? For those 12 years, I mostly day-dreamed, and I still have my report cards with notations on them informing my parents I wasn't paying attention. You bet I wasn't. I was chained to a desk. I wasn't hyperactive. These days, I would be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder. My fault? I don't think so.
As far as I'm concerned, that day-dreaming is what saved me, along with all the swimming and bike-riding and wrestling. I have no idea what would have happened to me without that ability to day-dream, or the minibikes and the carnival rides and all the rest of that dangerous stuff that's supposed to be outlawed in the coming Nerf World.
I'd never let my kids go anywhere near a government school, not unless I wanted their brains to be warped permanently for the rest of their lives.