April 12, 2017

On today's show Adrian Paul, Ethan Dettenmaier and guest Erin Fitzgerald discuss the skyrocketing rates of ADHD.
Erin Fitzgerald, Mark Marshall, Ethan Dettenmaier and Adrian Paul
Erin Fitzgerald, Mark Marshall, Ethan Dettenmaier and Adrian Paul

The rates of U.S. children affected by attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are skyrocketing.  There has been a 42% increase in ADHD diagnoses over the past 8 years.  The average age of ADHD diagnosis is 7 years.  Symptoms of ADHD typically first appear between the ages of 3 and 6. 

Is this ADHD or just kids being kids?  How did our image of childhood evolve so that behaviors once considered normal are now considered a disorder?  

The typical young child is active and impulsive, with fleeting attention. Nowadays, however, if children display these behaviors in a classroom, they are often labeled Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Then in a curious twist of logic, the ADHD is said to cause the inattentiveness, impulsivity and over activity. But ADHD is only a label for those behaviors, nothing more.

Consider this. At about the age of 6 or 7, young children who are normally active and impulsive with short attention spans are corralled in a room and expected to sit still and quietly for relatively long periods of time while listening to an adult or engaging in activities that are not much fun.

Guess what? If adults are made to sit for a long time and listen to someone, they too will become inattentive and impulsive and their activity level will increase. The difference is that adults have learned to be inattentive, impulsive and active privately and subtly: they daydream, doodle or text message; they move around in their seat and kick their legs; or they attend to the slightest distraction.

It is in our nature to choose the simplest explanation for an observed pattern and what could be simpler than to turn to the diagnosis ADHD?  It’s just easier for the parent and teacher to place the low-performing and disruptive child into the easiest category possible. The ease and carelessness with which ADHD is diagnosed is nothing short of alarming.

The Ritalin Generation
The Ritalin Generation

A boy who does not behave like a quiet compliant girl in the classroom is seen as deviating from the norm.  In our medicalized society, deviating from the norm tends to mean there is something biologically wrong with the child.   Boys have more energy, curiosity and impulsiveness than girls.  When schools cut down on recess and physical education, they make school a less welcoming environment for boys. Children need the opportunity for physical activity and engagement with nature. Research shows that more time for physical education and recess improves children’s attention and concentration.

In the four years after the No Child Left Behind Act became law, the nationwide rate of ADHD increased 22%.  Why is this?  The law tied financial rewards for schools to standardized school performance. Having more children diagnosed with ADHD was a boon to school districts that were lagging behind in test scores.  These children’s test scores could be omitted from the school’s reported test scores.

In America, medication is becoming almost as much a staple of childhood as Disney and McDonald’s. Kids pack their pills for school or college along with their lunch money. Some are taking drugs for depression and anxiety, others for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The right drugs at the right time can save young people from profound distress and enable them to concentrate in class. But some adolescents, critics say, are given medication to mask the ordinary emotional turmoil of growing up; there is a risk that they will never learn to live without it.

According to America’s Centers for Disease Control, 11% of four- to 17-year-olds in the US have been diagnosed with ADHD, a label for those who are disruptive in class and unable to concentrate; just over 6% are taking medication.

The blame lies with overzealous physicians; nervous parents; schools looking to rein in troublemakers; and pushy drug companies.

Winter Vinecki
Winter Vinecki

John Bierly joins us today with an amazing update on one of our past heroes...Winter Vinecki.  You might remember Winter from an interview earlier last year.  After losing her Dad at the age of 9 to an aggressive form of prostate cancer, she formed TeamWinter, a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit, to raise money for prostate cancer research & awareness. She has raised close to $500,000 toward that effort and counting.

Winter began racing triathlons at the age of 5 and completed her first Olympic triathlons at 9. She went on to become the Ironkids National Champion for 2010 & 2011 and spent three years as the official ambassador of the sport.

Winter was also the 2011 recipient of the Annika Inspiration Award. At age 12, Winter was invited to an aerial skiing camp by two-time Olympian, Emily Cook. After completing the week long camp, Winter moved to Park City, UT to train and compete for the next four years on the Fly Freestyle elite development team. During that time, she set a world record by becoming the youngest person to run a marathon on all seven continents, the youngest person to run 26.2 miles on Antarctica and the first mother/daughter duo to run a marathon on all seven continents.

Winter has been officially named to the 2016-17 US Ski Team.