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Dr. Hallowell Responds to Time Magazine: Is it ADHD or Pseudo ADHD?

Recently, the tech section of TIME magazine’s online site posted an article about gadgets and the rise in the diagnosis of ADHD in children.  According to the article, the past decade has seen a 50% increase in the diagnosis of ADHD, so that now 6 million children have been diagnosed.
This touches upon an issue I’ve been writing about for 20 years now.  There is a group of children (and adults) who appear to have ADHD but actually do not.  They exhibit all the symptoms associated with ADHD, and often receive a diagnosis, but their condition is created by the environment in which they live.  True ADHD is usually genetic in origin, while this masquerader, which I call “pseudo ADHD” is caused by the context in which the child spends his or her time.

Pseudo ADHD is caused by the combination of two forces common in childhood today.  First is the proliferation of electronic technologies of many kinds, from iphones to laptops to gaming systems to ipads to screens of myriad dimensions and definitions.  It is not rare for a child to spend upwards of 6 or 7 hours on his or her electronic devices.  I coined a term for such usage: screen-sucking.  Screen-sucking not only is a waste of time, it is also addictive, and robs a child from participating in other activities, such as playing outdoors, getting exercise, reading a book, or doing schoolwork.  In the trance induced by screen-sucking, the child builds no useful skills and wastes precious time he or she could be investing in beneficial activities.  So alluring are the screens, however, that children feel all but compelled to sit in front of them, sucking away.

The second force that is common in today’s childhood and contributes to pseudo ADHD is interpersonal disconnection, the disappearance of the human, face-to-face moment, as the electronic moment takes its place.  Children are suffering from a lack of human connection, which I call the other vitamin C, vitamin Connect.  Without enough family dinner, time spent in conversations, bedtime stories, family outings, or time spent playing outdoors with friends, children’s spirits sag, their imaginations atrophy, their get-up-and-go goes away, and they gain weight while losing drive, enthusiasm and ambition.

These two forces combine to make children distractible, impulsive, and restless, the hallmark triad of symptoms of ADHD.  But the treatment for pseudo ADHD is not medication.  The treatment is to turn off the electronic devices, learn to use them in moderation, while increasing the daily dose of the other vitamin C, increasing the amount of human contact, play, and physical connection each child receives.

Pseudo ADHD is common, and highly treatable.  But you must first identify it and not confuse it with true ADHD.  The best way to tell the two apart is to look carefully at the child’s life.  If his ADHD disappears when he visits grandpa’s farm in Vermont, then is it pseudo ADHD. If it disappears when he is in a setting that is low on electronics and high on human contact and connection, then it is pseudo ADHD.  If the supposed ADHD disappears in a structured environment with limited access to electronics, then it is pseudo ADHD.  The last thing this child needs is medication.

He needs a drastic cut in electronics, and a big increase in vitamin Connect!

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