QUESTION: I understand that I can’t diagnose my own son for attention deficit disorder (ADD), but it would be helpful if you would list the kinds of behavior to look for in a child or adult who may have ADD. You’ve described the condition in general terms, but what are the specific characteristics of someone who has this disorder?
DR. DOBSON: Edward M. Hallowell and John J. Ratey, authors of an excellent text titled “Driven to Distraction” (Simon & Schuster) list 20 symptoms that are often evident in a person with ADD or ADHD (attention deficit hyperactive disorder). They are:
1. A sense of underachievement, of not meeting one’s goals (regardless of how much one has accomplished).
2. Difficulty getting organized.
3. Chronic procrastination or trouble getting started.
4. Many projects going simultaneously; trouble with follow-through.
5. Tendency to say what comes to mind without necessarily considering the timing or appropriateness of the remark.
6. An ongoing search for high stimulation.
7. A tendency to be easily bored.
8. Easy distractibility, trouble focusing attention, tendency to tune out or drift away in the middle of a page or a conversation, often coupled with an ability to focus at times.
9. Often creative, intuitive, highly intelligent.
10. Trouble going through established channels, following proper procedure.
11. Impatient; low tolerance for frustration.
12. Impulsive, either verbally or in action, as in impulsive spending of money, changing plans, enacting new schemes or career plans, and the like.
13. Tendency to worry needlessly, endlessly; tendency to scan the horizon looking for something to worry about, alternating with inattention to, or disregard for, actual dangers.
14. Sense of impending doom, insecurity, alternating with high risk-taking.
15. Depression, especially when disengaged from a project.
17. Tendency toward addictive behavior.
18. Chronic problems with self-esteem.
19. Inaccurate self-observation.
20. Family history of ADD or manic-depressive illness, depression, substance abuse or other disorders of impulse control or mood.
QUESTION: You’ve said that schools need to have enough structure and discipline to require certain behavior from children whether or not they have a natural interest in the subject being taught. Then you must favor a very structured, teacher-led program, where student behavior is rather tightly controlled. Why?
DR. DOBSON: One of the purposes of education is to prepare a young person for later life. To survive as an adult in this society, one needs to know how to work, how to get there on time, how to get along with others, how to stay with a task until completed and, yes, how to submit to authority.
In short, it takes a good measure of self-discipline and control to cope with the demands of modern living. Maybe one of the greatest gifts a loving teacher can contribute to an immature child, therefore, is to help her learn to sit when she feels like running, to raise her hand when she feels like talking, to be polite to her neighbor, to stand in line without smacking the kid in front, and to do English when she feels like doing soccer.
I would also like to see our schools readopt reasonable dress codes, eliminating suggestive clothing, T-shirts with profanity or those promoting heavy-metal bands, etc. Guidelines concerning good grooming and cleanliness should also be enforced.
I know! I know! These notions are so alien to us now that we can hardly imagine such a thing, but the benefits would be apparent immediately. Admittedly, hairstyles and matters of momentary fashion are of no particular significance, but adherence to a standard is an important element of discipline. The military has understood that for 5,000 years.
If one examines the secret behind a championship football team, a magnificent orchestra or a successful business, the principal ingredient is invariably discipline. Preparation for this disciplinary lifestyle should begin in childhood. That’s why I think it’s a mistake to require nothing of children: to place no demands on their behavior, to allow them to giggle, fight, talk and play in the classroom. We all need to adhere to reasonable rules, and school is a good place to get acquainted with how that is done.