I have apparently created the impression that I don’t believe in ADD, or attention deficit disorder. The fact is, I have no problem with the diagnosis per se. During my professional career, I’ve seen a significant number of children - including my son, Eric - with the symptoms, and I’ve assigned the diagnosis on many occasions. ADD is very real. I’ve never said otherwise.
What I have said is that many professionals who diagnose and treat ADD are giving parents inaccurate information; specifically, that ADD is inherited as confirmed by inter-generational studies as well as studies of the brains of individuals so diagnosed.
The truth is that while some researchers have found that a child diagnosed with ADD has a better-than-average likelihood of having a parent who also has ADD (or had the symptoms as a child), that research is as yet inconclusive and raises more questions than it answers. Some children may in fact have a genetic predisposition to ADD, but supportive evidence and proof are horses of very different colors. Within the limits of our current state of knowledge, it is not possible to say with finality that ADD is inherited.
I have long maintained that it’s possible to explain ADD in terms of findings from research into brain development. During the formative years, a child’s brain is “programmed” by the character of his/her environment; the more pervasive the environmental characteristic, the more significant its “programming” effect. Researchers have discovered that adverse environmental circumstances actually “under-nourish” certain areas of the brain, causing it to be “wired” insufficiently and resulting in disabilities of one sort or another. (For an excellent “lay-friendly” summary of this research and its implications, see the Feb. 19, 1996 issue of Newsweek.) Some of the disabilities are obvious (pronounced communication disorders) while some show themselves only under certain circumstances (a lack of musical ability). It is significant to note that by using highly sophisticated techniques, researchers have found that certain areas of the brains of many ADD-diagnosed individuals are structurally and/or chemically abnormal. Interestingly enough, the areas of the brain in question are those which mediate attention. These findings raise the distinct possibility that for some, and perhaps the majority of, ADD children, their symptoms are the result of adverse environmental experiences.
At this point, we encounter the sticky wicket. The idea that parents who are poor, uncaring or burdened with mental problems often create under-nourishing environments for their children is taken for granted. But a disproportionate number of middle- and upper-middle-class children are diagnosed with ADD. The possibility that caring, responsible middle-class parents might be creating unfavorable environments for their children (even though unwittingly) is highly threatening; so much so that to even suggest it causes paroxysms among parents of ADD children and their professional allies. Nonetheless, there’s ample reason to give it objective consideration.
The average American child, from birth through age 5, watches more than 5,000 hours of television - more than one-fourth of his waking time. We can assume that this is having significant impact on brain development. There’s a distinct possibility that the “flicker” (constant change of picture) typical of television programs might well be disabling the attention spans of significant numbers of American children within all social classes. The irony of this is that only allowing a child to watch certain, carefully preselected programs may not matter. With the sole exception of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” all television programs “flicker” at an average rate of once every 3.5 seconds. Twenty hours of “good” programs a week is probably just as bad for the developing brain as 20 hours of junk.
This hypothesis raises the possibility that in certain cases - perhaps most! - ADD can be reversed if television is eliminated from the child’s environment before the damage “sets.” The brain’s capacity to repair itself is well-documented. I saw this very reversal happen with my son, and I’ve heard of it happening numerous times since, from numerous parents.
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