April 2, 2013 § 17 Comments


Yesterday I caught wind of a recent NY Times article about the recent surge in diagnosis and treatment of ADHD in America’s school age children. According to the article, there as been a 53% rise in cases of ADHD in the 4 – 17-year-old age group over just the past decade.

Now, it just so happens that for another project, I’d recently done a little research into the market for ADHD drugs, most of which are prescribed to children. It probably won’t surprise you to hear that psychotropic behavioral modification drugs are a consistent profit-maker for the pharmaceutical industry, adding up to $7.42 billion in 2010, an 83% increase in just four years. And in 2011 alone, Novartis reported a 19% increase in sales of Ritalin. It’s probably worth noting that these drug carry the potential for the following side effects: Difficulty breathing, double vision, depression, paranoid delusions, and severe aggression. Because they alter the neural pathways in the brain, they are also habit-forming.

I am certain that if my children were “tested,” at least one of them would receive a diagnosis of ADHD (I’m also pretty certain that if I were tested, I’d be diagnosed as such), and there is no question that maintaining focus and managing a seemingly bottomless well of exuberance are two of our biggest challenges around here. But here’s the thing: Because of how we’ve structured our lives, we can meet these challenges, albeit not always with the utmost grace. Furthermore, because we are able to meet these challenges, we are able to view these qualities as being not necessarily undesirable, but actually beneficial. I love my children’s boisterous exuberance and their unrelenting passion, even as it flits from one project to another and I view it as one the greatest privileges in my life that I am able to accommodate it and be present to watch it unfold on a hour-by-hour, day-by-day basis. Frankly, it saddens me to consider how few parents are able to have this opportunity in 21st century America.

Furthermore, what good can possibly come of labeling a child’s natural behavior as a “disorder” that must be corrected? Damn straight our boys are fountains of often-frantic energy and near-constant excitement. I can see how these qualities might not work so well to an institutionalized learning environment, and I am again grateful that we do not have to demand that anyone in our family modify their behavior via the ingestion of habit-forming pharmaceutical drugs, just so they can conform to the behavioral expectations set by the contemporary educational and medical systems. The truth is, I do not want these systems to tell me who my children are. I want my children to tell me who my children are.

To finish, I have two questions: Is the increase in sales of ADHD drugs the result of an increase in diagnoses? Or is it possible that it’s actually the other way around?

And: What message does it send to our children (nearly 7 million of them, according to the article) first that their behavior must be modified, and second that the best way to modify it is to alter their brain chemistry with drugs?

I don’t know about you, but I’m thinkin’ that’s a pretty heavy burden for them to shoulder.



§ 17 Responses to Burden

  • Jennifer Fisk says:

    It is hard to say how much of the rise in ADHD diagnosis is due to teachers not wanting to deal with it vs how much is truly organic. I know of teachers near me who like the ADHD diagnosis and resultant drug therapy because it makes life easier for them.

  • A notification of potential diagnosis of ADHD was the final straw in our decision to pull our nature loving son out of school years ago seven years ago. Homeschooling was the best decision my husband and I ever made!

    During this process we uncovered another factor in the decision for schools to diagnose an increased number of kids (especially boys) with ADHD.

    ADHD students are considered special needs or disabled by the school district and receive hefty funding for each diagnosis, at the state and federal level. No doubt funded by the pharmaceutical industry.

  • mindweapon says:

    Just make sure you tutor them in math. Get the Saxon math books and do an hour a day of math for both of them. Eventually, also get them some old physics for mechanical engineers texts.

    do you know about the lindsay books? They were a source of old technical books. here’s some ofthem for free online, be sure to download and have them:


    the back to the landers need to do a lot of science and math, so that you won’t be dominated by those who do a lto of math and science. Also, studying a lot of physics/mech engineering can lead to Henry Ford type old fashioned “tinkering.” Definitley build up a metal workshop and forge and lathe and that sort of stuff. making hand tools would be really cool. do you know what a broadfork is? Lee Valley and Johnny Seeds sells them, but they are flimsy and break on roots. We need a really strong, durable broadfork.

  • Rachel T says:

    Ben, I really like how you reframe what might look like ADHD, “our boys are fountains of often-frantic energy and near-constant excitement.”
    I have a boy like that and though that energy is hard for me to manage at times, I love that he has time to tinker and dig and construct and draw and dream, even if it doesn’t fit into any neat “schooling” category.

  • I so agree with you Ben. Our children certainly deserve better than the cookie cutter approach to public education most of them are getting. I wouldn’t blame teachers so much as the broken system they work in. At the very least all children deserve fully present and attentive adults in their lives who will really listen and allow them to grow. I will say it encourages me to be part of this movement away from consumerism toward a more sustainable lifestyle. There’s nothing more important to be teaching/modeling to our children in my opinion.

  • Ann says:

    Some would consider my son ADHD with his tireless energy and enthusiasm for life, but what I say to those people is why do we consider it normal for a child to sit for 6 -7 hours in one place.

  • Wendy H says:

    Thank you for writing on this topic, Ben, it was much needed.

    My mom and I often used to discuss the many ways modern life changed from that of her childhood in the 1930s, especially around the continued rise in medicating for things that used to be managed with real food, farm work, and everyday exercise.

    In the case of children, real food (without hidden sugars or processing) was part of their daily lives, as well as walking and running to school to discharge the excess energy most kids naturally have (or had before the medication era!). Their minds and bodies were constantly engaged, too, in some way – whether through farm work, school work, or simply playing outdoors in whatever activity they chose to enjoy. Rarely were kids seen sitting inside at that time, except for meals and homework.

    She said there seemed to be a huge change in people’s lives around the time that busing became more prevalent, especially school busing, as well as television viewing and advertising. While she noted that busing was a critical piece toward human evolution and equality, she couldn’t help reflect on some of the more negative aspects of it and its cost to communities.

    Busing, she said, took people out of their own neighborhoods, thus shifting their lives and their value systems around respect, tolerance, volunteerism, and appreciation. At that time, folks used to work and go to school where they lived – thus knowing, helping, and appreciating their neighbors, and generally respecting them and community property in general (for the most part).

    Television (especially advertising), as we both know, is a whole ‘nother beast – and one I won’t belabor here (but which might be another good post for you to consider?).

    I, for one, can see how they both played a significant role in what we as a nation are dealing with today with regards to agricultural deterioration, health care, disease, mental illness, and the over-prescribing of medication.

    Thankfully, though, more and more people are waking up and getting off the hamster wheel by seeing the need for a return to community and a more natural lifestyle, wherever they choose to live (be it country, ‘burb, or city). I know I see it every day in our little neck of the woods, so it warms my heart and makes me hopeful to think that it’s happening in other places, too.

    So, keep writing your ‘soul’ food, Ben – it’s bound to reach and help those who need it most as they begin to find their way back from ‘the outer limits’! ;-D


  • AliH says:

    The NYT article that you posted reminded me of another that I read earlier this year and passed around to our Waldorf school teachers. Boys at the Back. http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/02/the-boys-at-the-back/.
    This op-ed surmises that behavior is factored into the teachers assessment of aptitude. My 9 year old boy is the wiggliest I know, and while it drives me crazy at the dinner table. I love him for it in the fields and forests.

  • dawn says:

    Yet another post that resonates so strongly with me, Ben. My two boys are “bottomless wells of exuberance” (love that phrase!) already at 1 and 2 years of age and it is a joy to witness. My oldest, in particular, seems as if he will be what I call a “physical learner” and one for whom being required to sit still and be quiet would be frustrating and soul-crushing. We feel strongly that homeschooling will allow them both to become the people they are meant to be while allowing us to filter the ever-oppressive adult world that creeps into most children’s lives and leads to the anxiety that contributes to behaviors that some describe as a disorder. This all makes me think – Have you read “Simplicity Parenting” by Kim John Payne? One of the best books I’ve ever read and speaks to this topic clearly. Reading it reinforced beliefs I already had but helped me organize my thoughts and opinions so I can more easily express them to others (when asked, of course!)

  • Karen says:

    Such a great post. When I was in elementary school we had recess twice a day. A short one in the morning and a long one after lunch. We also had to option of walking home for lunch. My grandson who is 10 and lives with us was so amazed to hear that. Before he lived here he spent almost 2 hours a day on the bus as well as a full day of school. He was a very unhappy boy as you might imagine. Now he gets to walk to school and home again which he loves. He would probably be diagnosed as ADHD but I will fight that label and work hard to protect the wonderful explosive energy he has and his joy for life in general. Wish I had the option of staying home with him-would do it in a minute if I could.

    Besides having to sit for so many hours a day-the amount of chemicals the kids are exposed to in the foods today surely impact their energy and attention span. I know red dye makes my little guy and his younger brother totally strung out.

  • No doubt, even as an adult, I would be diagnosed as

  • Suzanne from VA says:

    They tried to label my youngest ADHD but I said no he’s just bored. I would be too if I had to sit in school all day. I volunteered there – I saw what the kids went through. I would have loved the opportunity to home school my kids from the beginning, what an awersome education to be had!

  • I think that it’s all big pharma driving this, just like the rampant prescribing of cholesterol lowering drugs. You lower the cholesterol number deemed as “safe” and bingo you automatically just sold quite a bit more drugs to people who really don’t need them, there is also big business in side-effects :(

    I have been married for many years to a great guy who surely would have been labeled ADHD if that was available or even thought of in the 60’s when we were in grade school. He’s the smartest, most capable guy I have ever met, he can fix, build, or cobble together anything he needs to on our ancient creaking farm, and if he wasn’t a fidgeter I doubt he would be able to do that.

    Articles like this is exactly why we chose homeschool for our daughter. I second the Saxon in addition to what the kids will learn on the farm.

    Love, love, love your writing. Just finished Making Supper Safe.

    • Ben Hewitt says:

      Thanks, Matron. I sure have gotten a lot out of your blog over the years. Thanks for that, too.

      Take care, Ben

  • Vonnie says:

    Hey Ben,

    Well, I’m no authority on this subject, neither one of my boys has any issues with ADHD like behavior…BUT, I am a very involved mom with their sports teams and Cub Scout dens. My husband is the den leader for my youngest child’s den and assistant coach to both boys sports teams.

    That being said, we interact with lots of children outside of our own on a daily basis. I do think there is a problem with an increase in ADHD, and I also firmly believe through reading and researching this that our “normal” food sources have some blame in this. Many of the pesticides used and additives put into processed food are causing an increase in not only ADHD, but also autism. I believe in my heart that there is a connection and one of the biggest reasons I have raised my kids on organics and whole food since they were in utero. Many of the kids that we deal with outside our own have what is defined as ADHD. I’m not dealing with them when they are sitting a desk all day, but rather after hours when they are moving playing sports or doing den activities in Scouts. These children have a VERY difficult time focusing and following directions. Some have what are deemed dangerous behavior both for themselves and also children that they interact with, they are aggressive and lack the ability to self discipline their own behavior. While I do believe that there are teachers who would prefer the easy road, I know that the majority of the teachers in my son’s school do genuinely care about the children and want to do a good job teaching them. But having experience with these children ourselves, it’s a challenge that they can only do so much about.

    It’s a complicated issue and not one I think is going to be easily solved, teachers stretched to the max with time and resources, parents in households that don’t see much of their kids because they are both working and are tired at the end of that long day, “No Child Left Behind” not accounting for all children, especially the ones who are more advanced then their peers, the list goes on and on. Homeschooling has been at the forefront of our list many times as well, and I totally understand families that chose that road. Complicated issue to be sure.

  • Karel Holloway says:

    I have an ADHD daughter. It’s not about energy, or wiggliness or full of energy. It’s about the ability to focus. What if you couldn’t pay attention to one of your boys telling you about their day in the woods because you were distracted by the lopsided wood pile. Or one of your boys couldn’t finish dinner because he saw something flash by the window, and the lopsided wood pile. Couldn’t remember why he went out in the woods or finish a chore because of all the distractions buzzing around him. I also think ADHD is being way overdiagnosed. But for some, those medicines give them an opportunity to be a little more normal, to finish a book or play with friends.They can take their boundless enthusiasm and endless curiosity and finally be able to use it.

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