Does Everyone Have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?

Some of the more cynical parents that I see in my clinical practice ask me, “Does everyone have ADHD?” These parents often do not want to see their child diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder when everyone around them also seems to be having trouble staying focused. In a recent article in The New York times, David Brooks highlights this issue, admitting that he himself is “losing the attention war.” Even as I am attentively writing this article, I am managing the music that is playing in the background, looking online for other posts to support my argument, and forcibly not allowing myself to check my email. So does everyone have an “Attention Deficit?”

The incidence of ADHD has risen in the US from 3 to 5% in the 1980s to as much as 11%, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Reasons for this include better detection and assessment, a redefinition of ADHD as a result of new criteria in the DSM-IV and DSM-V (the diagnostic and statistical manual of the American Psychiatric Association), and the tendency to diagnose milder disorders involving difficulties with executive functions as ADHD. Diagnosing a child with ADHD will sometimes qualify them for additional services within the school system and it has been the tendency on the part of psychologists, child psychiatrists, and pediatricians to more readily make this diagnosis and to prescribe medication that can be highly effective in reducing the symptoms of ADHD.

However, the increasing diagnosis of ADHD might also be related to the difficulty in retaining focus in a fast-moving world that throws vast quantities of information at us. Technology is in part to blame for the increase in ADHD diagnoses and, in fact, even advocates of technology as a tool for learning argue that video games and apps may improve selective visual attention and multi-tasking, but reduce the ability to slow moving streams of information and focus on only one thing at a time.

If we want to know why it seems like everyone has ADHD, and how to cure this apparent epidemic, we might want to explore new methods to help our kids get fully engaged in pursuing their special interests. David Brooks provides some interesting insights into how individuals can stay focused on something of great interest to them, using the model of engagement that children display when they find something that he describes as meeting a “terrifying longing.” Brooks argues that the key is to throw oneself wholeheartedly into what captures one’s imagination — making an interest into a shared activity can help sustain one’s focus.

Engaging children through their preferred media is exactly what we specialize in at LearningWorks for Kids. Focus is one of the key thinking skills exercised through video game play, and we make it easy for parents to jump into the digital playground with their children. Get started with our playbooks on these great focus-building games and focus-building apps.

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