The increase in children defined as ADD and ADHD has skyrocketed over the past 20 years.  The U.S. Surgeon General on mental health (1999) states that 3 to 5 % of school age children have ADHD. Some reasons for this increase are due to greater knowledge and education by parents and schools. However, other reasons could be the result of misdiagnosis, such as developmental levels (school readiness), poor diet (processed foods/sugar), electronic gadgets (TV, cell phones, computers etc) single parent homes (divorce and separation) all of which can affect a child’s focusing and organizational abilities. In addition, the increased percentages are cause for alarm, especially since the preferred medications for ADD and ADHD children are usually stimulants, which according to some experts, can become a gateway drug and lead to hard drugs.

This article’s intention is not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, or advocate no medication. Instead, I wish to take a different approach in supporting children who exhibit ADHD/ADD characteristics, and address other factors that can affect a child’s focusing and organizational abilities and common characteristics of ADD/ADHD. The factors represent some of the afore-mentioned reasons for ADHD/ADD behavior. Another factor rarely mentioned might ask the question: does the school curriculum or learning environment match up to the child’s learning style or intelligence?  In other words, most school curriculums focus almost entirely on the linguistic, mathematical, and logical worlds, and often neglect other learning modalities such as art and/or the kinesthetic or physical learning modalities. Teachers understand and deal with this dilemma on a daily basis and must adapt their teaching to the linguistic, math and logical worlds, all supported by mandated curriculums, testing, and even shortened school years. Further, teachers are keenly aware that some children who exhibit ADHD/ADD characteristics exhibit learning styles, or intelligence that do not complement the verbal, math, and logical worlds of the school’s curriculum.

Dr. Howard Gardner’s work in multiple intelligences would be an excellent place to begin to support these  “other factors.” Gardner defined eight different multiple intelligence types that support differences in the child’s learning potential and true intelligence. For instance, one of Gardner’s eight intelligences is the kinesthetic learner, or children who need to use their bodies to learn and express their intelligence. Such children are generally the ones who can be geniuses on the playground or in sports, but sit them in a desk for lengthy periods of time, and we often see ADHD characteristics. Hemingway stood up at his fireplace mantel to write his best sellers, and Longfellow wrote his epic poems standing at his desk. In short, a child dominant in kinesthetic intelligence often needs an alternative learning environment that is less formal, one that allows him to have periodic breaks, or simply have learning areas that address his body’s needs when required to read, write, calculate math etc. Some classrooms have reading areas or areas where children can go to learn, rather then sitting in a desk, or at a table for lengthy periods of time.

Other children are those who Gardner describes as spatial or visual, and who often have a hard time focusing or sequencing what they hear or see, because they see the world in pictures such as whole to part, instead of part to whole. Unfortunately, the foundation of most academic skill development, particularly in the linguistic and mathematical world, requires sequencing skills. Children who are visual learners can exhibit ADD characteristics because of their inability to focus or sequence time frames, lessons, communication etc.

We need to identify those children who are ADD or ADHD and provide them with the appropriate interventions and support.  On the other hand, we need to be vigilant and look before we leap when identifying children with serious organic identifications as ADD or ADHD. First ,we need to address the child’s learning style or particular intelligence before turning to learning disability labels.

For further information contact Dr. David Sortino, a psychologist and current Director of Educational Strategies, a private consulting company catering to teachers, parents, and students.  For additional articles you can go to Dr. Sortino’s blog: davidsortino.com or e-mail: davidsortino@comcast.net.