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Kids with ADHD and the U.S. School System

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Sonoma chapter.

Either you or someone you know is diagnosed with ADHD (attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder). ADHD is defined as a brain disorder marked by the National Institute of Mental Health as an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development. It is normally diagnosed in early childhood and lasts into adulthood almost half the time. It is a very recently discovered “disease” or disorder, that has skyrocketed in its diagnoses in the last three decades.

In 2016, the CDC(Center for Disease Control and Prevention), reported 9.4% of kids ages 2-17 in the U.S. were diagnosed with ADHD. That’s about 6.1 million kids or almost 1 in 20 people. This statistic has been on a steep upward trajectory for decades; measuring at 4.4 million in only 2003. They only seriously started to begin studying the symptoms of the “disease” in the early 1900’s. In 1968 they got closer with “hyperkinetic reaction of childhood” which is akin to ADHD, as it first appeared in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. In 1980, the first form of the disorder called ADD (attention deficit disorder) officially appeared in the medical world. It was updated to ADHD or attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder in 1994. We’ve had this “disorder” around for less than thirty years, yet so many kids today appear to have it. How much do we really know about it? How has our society handled it and its rapid growth in diagnosis?

Think of who you know who is diagnosed with ADHD and how old they are. For me, it’s my older brother who’s two years older than me and was diagnosed when he was 6 years old. Kids are diagnosed on average at age 7. That’s first grade. Generally, ADHD is treated with therapy and medication. My brother did both. I remember going to family therapy only a few times when I was very young. He started to take medication to “help him focus”, “be calm”, and make his “8 tracks mind” into one, when he was only 6 and a half. Through childhood, he got into trouble all the time at school. He was constantly disciplined in school and elsewhere and did not academically perform well enough to go to private school like his younger sister did. Despite never flunking a class and his genius test scores, the middle school staff wrote him off as troubled.

Growing up, I blamed him. I blamed him for acting out, not doing well in school, not holding a job, and for his seemingly irrational outbursts of emotion. It made our relationship a train wreck till about a year and a half ago. I can shamefully say, up until that point, I hated my brother.

As I’ve gotten older, my perspective has changed drastically in a positive direction. Don’t get me wrong, my brother is a 22 years old fully competent person who is responsible for the direction of his own life, but as we know, our environment has just as much, or even more influence on who we are and what we can become. His environment told him his outgoingness and creativity could be categorized as lack of attention and misbehavior. With the world is telling you this about yourself, at the age of 10, you would believe it too. 

When a teacher is met with a different learning style, which threatens the norm and is perceived as a challenge to the school system, they will call that child’s parents in to tell them their child should get checked for a learning disability. This is in no way to say that there are not legitimate learning disabilities that need extra attention, and have obvious ways of showing themselves before they are diagnosed. However, the statistics about ADHD speak for themselves, and so does my brother.

Society and the school told my brother something was wrong with him. Parts of our family and members of our community saw his academic performance and behavioral issues and also told him something was wrong with him. Wouldn’t you think something was wrong with you too? He wasn’t crazy, he was creative. He wasn’t disruptive, he was different. He wasn’t inadequate. He’s incredible. His brilliance shows in his phenomenal way of understanding technology. He knows how to program, understands code and builds his own computers. I can barely update my phone. He played with legos and bionicles because he could figure out the puzzles so easily, much faster and quicker than I ever could. He drew beautiful art and was featured in shows all the time growing up. Can you imagine what he could have been if the right teacher, the right school had put in an effort to create a curriculum that catered to his learning style and creative genius? But our school system is only equipped to handle brilliance if it knows long division and all the state capitals. We smoosh kids into these cookie cutter expectations, with little regard to their individual talents, interests, and learning styles. I mean think about it, what are the first programs to be cut in school? Art and then music. Arts such as dancing receive the lowest amount of funding than any other school subject in the U.S. This is telling dancers, who are often kinetic learners, meaning they learn best by moving and touching, that their learning style is inconvenient and inferior. It says the same about their talents and interests. But if you’re good at math, or reading and writing, you will get the most amount of support up through college. Art majors might not even get there.

Our school system really started to get its form in the 1800’s during the industrial revolution. With individual craft turning into factory style production, it became very important to grow up to get a profession that was not a craft, and made lots of money like a doctor or a lawyer. To be those things you had to be very good at math, and or reading and writing, so that’s what we made school about. Society values these subjects more, which inherently tells the kids who dance, draw, paint, sculpt, sing, play and create that their talents are valued less. There is a hierarchy of subjects upheld by society and the school system which grooms kids for being a valued adult citizen. Our school system is only equipped to deal with only one or two learning styles, which tend to be sheer reading and memorization. The kids who don’t respond well to read this, recite that, are 1 out of 20 times found to have ADHD. Then everyone tells them something is wrong with them, so wrong with them they need to see a therapist and take pills just to be normal. We’re numbing out the talent and dulling out the uniqueness of 6.4 million children with little white pills. Maybe some are legitimate and really really help, I don’t know. But there are kids falling through the cracks because we’re shutting out their brilliance.

With the use of this early prescribed medication, we’re not only are we sedating children, but changing them into who society wants them to be and keeping them from who they are. Again, the diagnosis of ADHD has not been around very long, so when my parents were told their 6 and a half-year-old son had it, they lovingly did what they were lead to believe was right. My brother was therefore prescribed little white pills to “help him focus” when he was only in first grade. Personally, I do not know many first graders who can sit still. In preparation for this article, he told me how he was in about fourth or fifth grade when he started to tell my parents he didn’t like taking the pills and didn’t want to take them every day. He knew why he should take them, but “they made me better for school, but didn’t make me feel good as a person”. He would even hide the pills sometimes so he wouldn’t have to take them. As he got older, he only took them on big test days. He wanted to feel like his creative, kinetic and unique self. These little white pills are a sedative, not because they “calm the crazy”, but because they put out the fire. Children as young as 6 are doped up because we’re too busy mowing the grass, making sure its clean, cut and uniform. We’re then missing out on these beautiful unique flowers.

My mom once brought forth articles showing how kids, especially with ADHD, scored statically higher if they sat on a yoga ball in class. The principal said no because it would too distracting for the other children. Kids need accommodation, not medication. It’s time we stop grooming kids to fit one mold through the school system. Let them dance and make art. Teachers need to be equipped to change and inspire the diverse group of kids they have before them so our future can be as bright and unique as they are. We need to take second look at this ADHD thing and make sure this epidemic rise in the diagnosis is for the right reasons, and not the wrong incentives. Our futures depend on it and so do the geniuses we can’t afford to dope up before they bloom.


“Persons of genius, it is true, are, and are always likely to be, a small minority; but in order to have them, it is necessary to preserve the soil in which they grow.”

― John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

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Akinbami LJ, Liu X, Pastor PN, Reuben CA. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder among children aged 5–17 years in the United States, 1998–2009. NCHS data brief, no 70. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2011.

Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). (2018, September 21). Retrieved from Center for Disease Control and Prevention website: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/data.html

FARAONE, S. V., SERGEANT, J., GILLBERG, C., & BIEDERMAN, J. (2003). The worldwide prevalence of ADHD: is it an American condition? World Psychiatry, 2(2), 104–113.

Holland, K., Riley, E., & Legg, T. J. (2018, May 30). ADHD by the Numbers: Facts, Statistics, and You. helathline. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/adhd/facts-statistics-infographic

Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty. London: Longman, Roberts & Green, 1869; Bartleby.com, 1999. www.bartleby.com/130/.

National Institute of Mental Health (2018). Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Retrieved October 7, 2018, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-d….


Disclaimer: This article is written by a student individual and only reflects the research, opinion and experiences of such. It does not reflect that of the Hercampus SSU chapter as a whole.


I'm Rebecca DeMent(she/her/they/them), a Buddhist Catholic vegan ecofeminst, and I am a junior at Sonoma State University studying Philosophy in the Pre-Law concentration with a minor in Business. 
Contributor account for HC Sonoma