Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as it is clinically known, is an increasingly pervasive condition impacting millions of people worldwide. The commonality of the condition, combined with the confusion and controversy surrounding it, makes it imperative that those in the education profession be informed about ADD. The on-going debate demands three questions be asked: What is ADD, what are the causes, and what treatments are effective?
Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD/ADHD) is a psychological term currently applied to anyone who meets the DSM IV diagnostic criteria for impulsivity, hyperactivity and/or inattention (Gallagher, 2007). Consensus is ADD is a developmental disorder, largely neurological in nature. ADD is currently considered both chronic and incurable. According to Dr. Peter Jaksa, who writes for the Attention Deficit Disorder Association, the most common core features include: distractibility (poor sustained attention to tasks), impulsivity (impaired impulse control and delay of gratification), and hyperactivity (excessive activity and physical restlessness) (Jaksa, 2007). Jaksa says in order to meet diagnostic criteria, these behaviors must be excessive, long-term, and pervasive to the point behaviors must create a real handicap in at least two areas of a person's life, such as school, home, work, or social settings (Jaksa 2007).
The impact of ADD varies significantly between individuals. One person may be severe with extreme difficulty focusing for any length of time while another may be mild to the point medication is unnecessary and a behavior management system is adequate for controlling the behaviors. John W. Santrock says those with ADD fall into one of three broad categories. He says, “They can be diagnosed as (1) ADHD with predominantly inattention, (2) ADHD with predominantly hyperactivity/impulsivity, or (3) ADHD with both inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity” (Sandtrock, 2006). While approximately four to six percent of the U.S. population has ADHD, it is estimated one-third of people with AD/HD do not have the hyperactive or overactive behavior component (Jaksa, 2007).
The causes for ADD are relatively unknown, but research is on-going. The most common theories are heredity, food related, and minor head injuries. Teresa Gallagher, author of the website Born to Explore: The Other Side of ADD, reveals heredity as the primary cause of ADD (Gallagher, 2007). Jaksa’s research confirms that saying, “There is a great deal of evidence that AD/HD runs in families, which is suggestive of genetic factors. If one person in a family is diagnosed with AD/HD, there is a twenty-five percent to thirty-five percent probability that any other family member also has AD/HD, compared to a four percent to six percent probability for someone in the general population” (Jaksa, 2007). Jaksa adds there is no truth to the speculations ADD is caused by poor parenting, family problems, poor teachers, too much TV, food allergies, excess sugar, or even minor head injuries as was once thought to be the case (Jaksa, 2007). He goes on to say most research indicates ADD is apparently caused by biological factors which influence neurotransmitter activity in certain parts of the brain, and which have a strong genetic basis (Jaksa, 2007). Beyond that, little else is known.
Jaksa also addresses the common misconception that refined sugar and food additives make children hyperactive and inattentive. He states, “Scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) concluded that this may apply to only about five percent of children with ADHD, mostly either very young children or children with food allergies” (Jaksa, 2007).
Treatment methods for ADD are varied depending on the severity of the condition. Treatment usually involves combination of medication, behavior modification, life style changes, or counseling. A physician must prescribe medications. Eileen Bailey, author of the website About ADD/ADHD points out, “Stimulant medications (Ritalin, Dexedrine, Adderall) are commonly used because they have been shown to be most effective for most people with ADHD (Bailey, 2007). ADHD medications work to increase dopamine and norepinephrine amounts in the brain. As with any medication, these prescriptions are only effective for the specified time they are in the person’s system. Jaksa says, “Clinical experience has shown that the most effective treatment for ADHD is a combination of medication (when necessary), therapy or counseling to learn coping skills and adaptive behaviors” (Jaksa, 2007).
Attention Deficit Disorder is a real and relevant part of society. While some wish to debate the reality of the condition, educators wrestle daily with children doing their best to succeed in a world requiring them to function in a way opposite of the signals their brains are sending. Contrary to common thought, children with ADD are not by default poorly behaving children. They are not dysfunctional, nor are they learning disabled. In fact, some of the best thinkers in American history are believed to have had ADD, including Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison.
ADD is a neurological condition. It is more than simple boredom or attempts to gain attention. Although researchers are still discovering more about the causes of ADD, it can safely be said one the condition arises in a family, it will continue to be passed to successive generations. Finally, while it is undoubtedly true some physicians are too quick to medicate children without proper testing to ensure ADD is in fact the root cause of the behavior, that in no way negates the fact there are legitimate cases where medication and a proper behavior management system enables those with ADD to function successfully where they might have been otherwise unable.
By Chris H. Deane
Bailey, Eileen. About Health. (2007) ADD / ADHD Available from http://add.about.com /od/medications/a/adhdmeds.htm.
Children and Adults with Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder. (2007) Understanding ADHD available from http://www.chadd.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=
Gallagher, Teresa. Born to Explore. (2007). What is ADD? Available from (Attention Deficit, 2007) http://www.borntoexplore/whatisadd.htm
Jaksa, Peter. Attention Deficit Disorder Association. (2007). Fact Sheet on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Available from http://www.add.org/articles/factsheet.htm
Santrock, John W.. (2006). Life-Span Development (10th Ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.