The Brain and ADHD

In the past several years, the American ad business seems to be run by prescription drug companies, given the number of drug ads sprayed across every show on TV. I won’t go into how much those ads cost, and how much that raises the price of drugs, since that’s not my topic. However, in the past several days, I have noticed ads for a drug for ADHD which claims not to be a stimulant drug, but which will solve your child’s behavioral problems. This sort of thing drives me crazy.

The assumption is that ADHD is somehow a medical problem, when it’s actually a behavioral difference, one that can be moderated in most children by behavioral methods. I’ve talked about this a lot, and discussed how allowing children to use standing desks, providing fidget toys, and using educational practices involving kinesthetic and iconic approaches will help all children, not just those who are a bit restless. Yes, there are children who need medication, but the vast majority of children identified with ADHD can manage well in the classroom with behavioral adaptations.

Two recent studies looked at ADHD in very different lights. One found a difference in responses to concussions and the other found an advantage in behavior.

One area where children with ADHD need to be carefully watched is when they receive concussions. A recent study, which is not available to the general public, has some very interesting observations. What this research discovered is that children with prior concussions, girls, and those identified with ADHD have a longer recovery time from those concussions. The information about the first two categories is well known, but that it also impacts those with ADHD is fairly new information.

This study wasn’t able to determine why children identified with ADHD had longer recovery times from concussions, but two possibilities occurred to the researchers. The first was that perhaps the neurostimulant medications taken by these children caused some neurological changes which made recovery more difficult, or that these children were more likely to be involved in more serious accidents because of their impulsivity. The study concluded that more research was needed.

Another recent study, which is available to you, looked at the connections among the brain, gender, and creativity. This study discovered that individuals identified with ADHD appear to be more creative than individuals without the condition. One consideration is that this is an artifact from the hunter-gatherer days and that the individual who could solve problems rapidly while responding to dangerous situations survived. The researchers indicated that one way to look at ADHD is as a relic of that behavior, and that it might be considered a “mode of thought” rather than as a medical disorder.


Of course, the researchers who conducted this study are in the psychopharmacology department of an Australian University and not from a school of education. And that’s the issue, after all – they aren’t looking at these children as individuals who have trouble acquiring information from teachers, but as individuals who are better than average at solving problems.

Teachers don’t always respond well to students who come up with novel solutions to problems, or who ask uncomfortable questions for which the teacher may not know the answer. Teachers look at children who are wiggling in their seats, who are talking out of turn, who can’t seem to follow the lesson, and see obstacles. Those who are not teaching see these same children as those who can offer new solutions to old problems and who may advance science. Certainly, many of the boys I have taught in my science classes who were a handful in other classrooms were amazing problem solvers, and some have turned out to be wonderful scientists.

For many years, there has been some idea that ADHD developed as a survival method in the very early years of human development. The second of these studies would certainly support that notion, but the first would not. If the ADHD individual was more likely to recover from a concussion more slowly, that would not be an advantage to the early hunter. On the other hand, it might be one way to make sure that only excellent hunters, not those who were overly impulsive, survived.

Interesting information and observations, and I hope this changes the way you look at your son. It certainly has helped me in my teaching. Pass this information along to teachers you know, it may interest them.