Dear Uncle CHiN,
We withdrew our son from school at the end of this last year and plan to homeschool
him this next fall. He wasn't doing well in school. We received several notes saying he
"wouldn't listen to the teacher" and "was disruptive." Toward the end of the year the
school suggested that he be tested for ADHD and put on medication. What can you tell me
something about ADHD and do you have any suggestions for homeschooling a child with it?
Signed, Rita Lin
ADHD (Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is not like the measles or a broken leg.
It does not have clear physical symptoms. In fact, it is a kind of umbrella term. Let's
look first at how the "experts" diagnose and treat ADHD and then we'll look at some
alternatives to mainstream treatments.
Diagnosis of ADHD is based on behavioral criteria listed in a reference book called
the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM for short. There are
three patterns of behavior that might indicate ADHD, "inattention", "hyperactivity"
and "impulsivity." According to the DSM, signs of inattention include becoming easily
distracted by irrelevant sights and sounds, failing to pay attention to details and
making careless mistakes, rarely following instructions carefully and completely, and
losing or forgetting things like toys, pencils, books or tools needed for a task. The
signs of hyperactivity and impulsivity listed are feeling restless, often fidgeting
with hands or feet or squirming, leaving a seat in a situation where sitting or quiet
behavior is expected, blurting our answers before hearing the whole question and having
difficulty waiting in line or for a turn.
You might recognize some of these "symptoms" in yourself. Most people blurt out, bounce
from one task to another, or are disorganized or forgetful once in a while. ADHD is diagnosed
when this behavior is excessive or long-term. The identification of those symptoms in a child
is accomplished by having adults close to him rate his behavior on a scale. The diagnosis, in
other words, is based on the adults' personal perceptions. One adult might chuckle and say,
"My, you're full of it today," or "Do you have ants in your pants?," or "What are you daydreaming
about?" Another adult might respond to the same behavior with disapproval and control. By the way,
ADHD is diagnosed ten times more often in boys than in girls. "He's all boy," has given way to
medicating the active, exuberant child.
The diagnosis ADHD is controversial, because no single cause can be found and the diagnostic
tools are subjective. Medicating children "diagnosed" with ADHD is also controversial. The medicine
is not a cure; it has side effects; it's long-term benefit is limited.
In my opinion it is very important to rule out other possible causes for ADHD "symptoms," before
adopting the mainstream treatment. Work with the whole person and not just a bunch of symptoms. Seek
out a sympathetic pediatrician as an ally and explore all the possibilities. As you explore the
alternative causes, you might find The Holistic Pediatrician, by Kathi J. Kemper, M.D., M.P.H. a
useful guidebook. She explores ADHD in chapter 21 of her book.
Are there physical problems that might lead to your child's behavior? Poor sleeping at night
due to sinus infection, asthma, large adenoids or tonsils can lead to ADHD behaviors. Thyroid
problems, high lead levels, undetectable petit mal seizures and hearing or visual impairments
can also lead to acting out in frustration. A word to the wise, vision is more than eyesight.
When looking into possible visual impairments seek out a behavioral optometrist. A child might
have 20/20 eyesight and be seeing double, have trouble focusing or tracking. Consider any special
dietary needs. Identify any food allergies or intolerances.
Are there emotional considerations? A kinesthetic learner in a controlled environment will be
disruptive. Classroom management techniques that lead a child to feel like a failure might cause
him to fight back by breaking the rules. Differences in personality and energy-level are not easily
accommodated in a group situation. The byproducts of being misunderstood, anger, frustration,
insecurity, depression or anxiety, can lead to non-compliance. If your child has been in a stressful
situation at school or is a delayed learner, homeschooling may bring an end to last-year's behavior
without medical intervention. Inattentiveness and boredom may give way to effortless attention to
activities the child enjoys. You can highlight those interests in your personalized homeschool
While you can benefit from consulting doctors and other health care professionals, the final
decision about what to do belongs to you and your child. Trust yourself and him to discover what
is best through time and experience.
With kindest regards, Your Uncle CHiN
Deducting Homeschooling Expenses
Homeschooling through the Summer
On Doing "Nothing"
On Loving Your Children's Company
Over Eager Mom
Private Time for Mom
Teaching Children at Different Grade Levels
The Many Ways to Homeschool
Uncle CHiN on ADHD
What About the Prom?
Winning over a Skeptical Grandma