For the past 30 years I have served children identified as ADD and ADHD of all ages with different educational abilities and I have always suggested to parents and teachers that medication should be the last resort to help such children with their ability to focus in a school environment. In other words, although medication has been shown to improve learning with some children, the use of medication has also failed a percentage of children, as well as another percentage that often goes unreported. The problem for many ADD and ADHD children and medication is that children can develop a tolerance for certain drugs, which usually leads to increased dosages and/or changed medication, which can then begin a cycle of experimentation.

From ages 2 to 6 and 7 to 11 children go through major developmental changes that are directly connected to their learning potential and intelligence. After these two periods follows adolescence — considered our longest and probably our most difficult developmental period of our life. Add in thousands of years of evolution and season that condition with medication (usually stimulants) and the results can be nothing short of cataclysmic. In short, your child’s chemistry is far more complicated than those who suggest drugs may realize. In many cases, the only predictability is usually the profits generated by the drug companies who produce such medications.

Do we need any further clues about the unpredictable effects medications have on children and learning? We are dealing with nature’s design and not the drug company’s design or clock. If we can’t conclusively prove 100% that medication will not have any negative physical effect on our children then medications have failed the test and we need to look for safer alternatives.

Instead of going the medication route, why not attach the child’s passion or interest toward learning greater focusing and/or concentration skills. Might not a child’s passion or interest toward learning and intelligence be also chemical? Why not attempt to duplicate the impact of the medication experience by stimulating the child’s chemistry through establishing a passion for learning? The purpose of retilin, one of the more popular stimulants prescribed by doctors to stimulate greater focusing with ADD and ADHD children, is to stimulate the chemical dopamine, an essential neurotransmitter that also stimulates the ability for many children to focus and concentrate. The same experience occurs with other neurotransmitters called serotonin and norepinephrine. If these nerotransmitters respond favorably to stimulants and can improve the child ‘s ability to focus what could a child’s passion or intense interest toward learning achieve?

Montessori experimented with this concept with abandoned children who displayed attachment disorders. (Today such children might be defined as ADD or ADHD). She created a kinesthetic learning environment that stimulated the cerebellum or the lower areas of the brain as a way to stimulate greater learning potential or the ability to focus with such children. Moreover, Rudolf Steiner developed art-centered schools that could support my hypothesis linking positive emotions and interest with learning or greater focusing ability. Why can’t we take the same path with ADD or ADHD children and use their preferred learning styles and multiple intelligence as a way to stimulate neurotransmitters for greater learning potential and focus?

It is my belief that we must attempt to find other alternatives to help children to focus in school without medication. Attempting to connect their passion with learning and intelligence might seem simplistic and even unscientific but what are our alternatives?

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: or e-mail:

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