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 Attention Problems in Children 
The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Holistic Healthcare for Children by . View all columns in series

A child may choose one of several styles of reaction to a classroom that suppresses her fundamental nature. Often children learn to repress their natural inclinations and seek styles of behavior that will win them praise and recognition. When a child chooses some other reaction, such as rebellion, or simply cannot repress a natural exuberance for learning and social interaction, then the whole industry of academic disciplinarians, psychologists, and physicians is brought into the game.

The irony is that the industry sees itself as humanizing the treatment of children. Instead of blaming children for their antisocial behavior, this new field seeks to identify a disorder that underlies the symptoms. The identification and labeling of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) provide a mechanism for its chemical investigation and chemical treatment. When our children are distracted by the world around them, impulsive in their pursuit of creative ideas, and craving active exploration of the world and their own innate urges, they are given a diagnosis. This restrictive attitude gives a clear message about what we value. The child receives the message that she needs to be fixed. Parents become convinced that something is wrong with their child. Then the child’s fundamental way of being in the world is seen as a disease that requires treatment with drugs. The use of these drugs, however, is fraught with problems including many side effects (sleep disturbance, appetite suppression, weight loss, growth delays, nervous tics, loss of creativity, and depression). Drugging children so they can conform in the classroom setting may be thwarting our best intentions for developing innovative, creative thinkers who can solve problems in unusual and distinctive ways. Conformity may be leading our students to mediocrity.

It is much more appropriate for parents to understand their child’s attention skills so that a combination of demystification, self-understanding, and natural treatment pave the way to success. The problems created by attention disorders should not be minimized. Children are often demoralized or identified as troublemakers if their distractibility, impulsivity, and restlessness create significant classroom disruptions. Several specific areas of attention dysfunction have been correlated with learning problems. This is not surprising since attention skills are required to accurately perceive, store, and retrieve information. In one study, 73 percent of a group of 422 children with attention dysfunction had evidence of learning problems (Accardo et al., 1990). Other studies have shown an association between the temperament categories describing attention problems (distractibility, low persistence, and high activity) with grades in reading and achievement scores in reading and math (Martin and Holbrook, 1985).

It should also be recognized and acknowledged that creativity and attention “problems” often go hand in hand. The highly creative individual has the ability to take disparate pieces of information and join them in completely new ways. Creative people are often dissatisfied with the mundane and seek excitement. They tend to be enthusiastic, restless, and impulsive—the same traits that get them labeled with ADHD or ADD. Inventors, innovators, entrepreneurs, and artistic geniuses of all sorts have been diagnosed with attention disorder, either during their life or posthumously (Thomas Edison, Ben Franklin, Mozart, Walt Disney). There may be significant value in having ADD or ADHD traits. And there is concern among many researchers that Ritalin and other stimulant medications used to treat symptoms suppress creativity (Armstrong, 1997).

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 About The Author
Dr. Randal Neustaedter has practiced holistic medicine for more than thirty years in the San Francisco Bay Area, specializing in child health care. He is a licensed acupuncturist and Doctor of Oriental Medicine,......moreRandall Neustaedter OMD
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