Tag Archives: ADHD

Most Likely To Succeed


©Barbara Smaller-The New Yorker – Conde Nast Collection


Many public schools begin a Kindergartener’s education by sorting the child into one of two groups, “gifted” and well… “not gifted”. 
In one of our local schools, this determination is made during a fifteen to twenty minute assessment test given at the end of summer, just before Kindergarten begins.

Little children, who have recently celebrated their fifth birthday, and who have generally been taught not to talk to strangers, are sat down alone with a stranger and asked a series of questions designed to determine if they are gifted. These children are then placed in two separate classes-one for the advanced tract and one for all the rest. They are not evaluated again until the end of their Kindergarten year, at which time, should a child prove to the powers that be that he is “worthy”, he will be admitted to the first grade advanced tract.

A Kindergarten teacher that follows this practice admitted that once a child is excluded from the advanced class it is very difficult to get in, and only becomes harder as the child grows older and the curriculum more complicated. 
Even public schools that do not practice this whimsical sorting are mandated to give standardized tests to all children during the first weeks of school. Kindergarten teachers, rather than focusing on age appropriate social skills, creativity, and hands on problem solving, are required to meet curriculum standards formerly expected of children at least one year older. While expectations have changed, developmental milestones, emotional needs, and children, have not:


The practice of labeling children is egregious enough, but at such an early age and in such an arbitrary way, it is shockingly unfair. 
How can educators who have chosen the vocation of guiding young hearts and minds become so misguided themselves as to send a clear message to more than half the student body that they are just “not as smart” as the rest of their peers? Not only “not as smart”, but chosen to be placed in a separate classroom so as not to slow these “super kids” down?

And don’t think that even very young children won’t know. They understand that they are being categorized and, what is worse, believe it: “How could all these grown-ups be wrong about me?” The pressure on teachers to churn out stellar students who “test well” begins at the federal and state levels and trickles down to each school district. Schools that perform well on standardized tests are rewarded with much needed additional funding-a system that encourages teachers to “teach to the test”.

It is not only the children classified “not gifted” that are affected. Labels in any form hurt the growing mind. The documentary “A Class Divided”, still as relevant today as it was over twenty years ago, clearly shows how vulnerable children are to suggestion and how dangerous any kind of labeling can be, no matter if one is deemed superior or inferior.


IQ (Intelligence Quotient) tests are designed to assess ephemeral and elusive cognitive abilities. These evaluations have no ability to measure creativity, innovative thinking, leadership, compassion, curiosity, wonder, or social skills. It is commonly agreed by child development experts that intelligent children often “overthink” test questions, realizing that there could be more than one answer. This “outside the box” thinking causes them to become confused when asked to check just one “box”.

Limitation of IQ testing is well known and found to be unreliable, especially at the pre-K level, yet IQ Test Prep is a multi-million dollar business that has grown rapidly to support parent’s fears that their child might be among the ones passed over. Books and test kits designed to prepare children as young as two and a half years old for WISC IV, WPPSI III, WAIS III, and other early IQ assessments are readily available on the internet and range in price from forty to seven hundred dollars. These tests help a child to be evaluated for such things as: short term auditory recall, sequencing ability, and processing speed. All this for children who often still pronounce their “R’s” as “W’s”?

Standardized evaluations practice exclusivity-judging children without regard to background, cultural variations, what a particular child has been exposed to in the home (familiarization), introversion, physical state (tiredness or hunger), what type of learner a child is (many of these tests demand the viewing of photos or drawings – best for a child who is a visual learner, but certainly not suited for tactile, auditory, or kinesthetic learners.) No allowance is made for children who tend to be perfectionists and freeze at the idea of failure, or for the fact that, often, there can simply be a bad chemistry between the subject and test giver. There are innumerable reasons why individuals may not be at their best at a particular time of a particular day. To have children tested for something as important as class placement by these standards is fuzzy science at best.

So parents, be wary. While your young child who longs to be outside running, laughing, exploring, jumping, building, collecting, climbing, pretending (in other words, learning), is being tested for things he cannot yet pronounce: VCI, PRI, WMI, and PSI (verbal comprehension index, perceptual reasoning index, working memory index, and processing speed index) should become irritable, bored, restless, inattentive, resentful, distracted, or day dreamy, there is a chance that the test giver, whose job it is to apply labels as she sees fit, may determine that your child is neither gifted nor not gifted, but instead, a possible qualifier for ADHD treatment.


“The mind grows by self revelation. In play the child ascertains what he can do, discovers his possibilities of will and thought by exerting his power spontaneously. In work he follows a task prescribed for him by another, and doesn’t reveal his own proclivities and inclinations; but another’s. In play he reveals his own original power.”

Friedrich Froebel – founder of the first Kindergarten


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“She’s flighty.” “He’s a dreamer.”

Should these children be diagnosed, labeled and medicated to make them conform? Are they abnormal, or just marching to the beat of a different drummer? Perhaps she’s flying somewhere and he’s dreaming of something far more interesting than the worksheet of the day. Are we creating standardized children to excel on our standardized tests? Our culture values achievers. Does enduring the weariness night after night that many children feel at finishing their homework count as an accomplishment? How does a child who continually fails, who is labeled as a troublemaker, who never gets the shiny sticker awards, or the stellar grades, develop belief in himself?

When, in the United States, approximately six and a half million of all school age children, one in five of every high school boy, and over ten thousand toddlers are taking powerful medications after being diagnosed with ADHD, it’s time to change the system, not the children. How do we teach both the child and the teacher the difference between bouts of creative distraction, when one thought is allowed to pinwheel into a beautiful display of many thoughts, and distractions that are indications that the child is not connecting, for any number of reasons, to the subject being taught?

It is not likely that the educational system will soon change to accommodate different types of learners, but individual teachers can. It is a teacher who often is the one to bring up the possibility of ADHD to the unsuspecting parent at the first parent/teacher conference. Although the diagnosis is purely subjective, there being no definitive test, either psychological or physical, for this condition, parents assume that the teacher must be right. Of course there are teachers who may be right, who with much serious forethought have made the difficult decision to approach this sensitive issue. But, more often than not, the teacher is wrong and herself a victim of the aggressive pharmaceutical marketing campaigns that are truly shameful considering the grave side effects and the unknown impact on brain chemistry that can afflict a child taking Ritalin, Adderall, Concerta, or any of the other potent psychotropic drugs. In the last 20 years the number of narcotized children skyrocketed from approximately six hundred thousand to over 3.5 million:

Psychologist Dr. Keith Conners, Professor Emeritus at Duke University, who was one of the first researches to bring ADHD to the public’s attention as a neurobiological disorder, states in a 2013 NY Times article, “The numbers make it look like an epidemic. Well, it’s not. It’s preposterous. This is a concoction to justify the giving out of medication at unprecedented and unjustifiable levels.” In the same article Roger Griggs, the pharmaceutical executive and entrepreneur who coined the term “Adderall” after his Orwellian idea of combining “A.D.D.” and “for all”, calls these drugs, “nuclear bombs that should be prescribed only in extreme circumstances.”

Teachers, as first responders, must begin to see that celebrating diversity in the classroom means more than creating an environment that respects those of all cultures and colors.   It means creating an equal opportunity classroom in which differences of all kinds are not labeled as deficits. Mastery of a subject often requires perseverance and repetition, but must it appear to the child as boring and without purpose? Most children, even those with diagnoses of ADHD, are able to concentrate with surprising tenacity if a subject interests them. Watch a child build a tower over and over in order to get it to balance, or fathom out a complicated puzzle. What motivates a child to work at these high levels of concentration? This is the subject that we should be exploring, and that all teachers should be striving to understand. How can we spark curiosity and create stimulating lessons that inspire creative and attentive students? Has our society gone so far wrong as to believe that a child not sitting quietly over schoolwork is a deviant who must be drugged into submission? It is time to stop ostracizing the atypical and eradicate the illusion that our childrens’ learning problems can be alleviated with meds. Instead, let parents and teachers unite to do the hard work of examining our current educational system and find solutions that do not label our children as the problem.