Some days as I’m running around with 500 things to do, I find myself starting one, looking something up, running to get a cup of tea, then deciding I need to file that paper, and so on. When I was in medical school, I used to study for about 20 minutes and then have to get up and either eat something, cook something, or clean something.
In our modern society we have a short attention span. We experience constant stimulation from an early age, effectively programming us to require it. The internet has accelerated this dramatically; where we used to be limited in our “channel surfing” by the number of channels on the television, the computer provides us a literally endless journey of links to click in the quest for something – anything – interesting to stimulate us, no matter how trivial. Twitter allows us to140 characters to express our deepest thoughts. To some people, being put in a situation without a TV, a computer, or a smartphone creates a feeling of anxiety; we no longer know what to do with ourselves when we’re left alone with our own thoughts.
“Attention deficit” is the way of our times, but there is a difference between every-day inattention and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) when a child is more inattentive, hyperactive, or disruptive than the norm for children of his age. It’s more common in boys than girls. Just because a child doesn’t pay attention in class doesn’t mean he has ADHD. The diagnosis is very specific, and it’s important to make sure.
The symptoms are a long list of behaviors including inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. If a child has six of the symptoms of inattention, or a combination of six hyperactivity and impulsiveness symptoms that begin before age 7, he is likely to have ADHD. The symptoms of ADHD are many, but some examples include:
Inattention: Fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork; does not seem to listen when spoken to directly; often loses toys, books, or tools needed for tasks or activities.
Hyperactivity: Fidgets with hands or feet, or squirms in seat; runs about or climbs in inappropriate situations; acts as if “driven by a motor;” talks excessively.
Impulsivity: Blurts out answers before questions have been completed; has difficulty awaiting turn; interrupts or intrudes on others (butts into conversations or games.)
Over the 20+ years I’ve done this work, I’ve seen a lot of children who were inattentive in class or on the verge of being given medication for their behavior. While it may sometimes become necessary, I find it frightening to think about messing with a child’s brain at such a young age. Diet, supplements, and exercise can make such a huge difference in their behavior.
One of the fundamental principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine is that human life follows natural cycles, and when we live according to those natural cycles we have wellness. For example, daytime is for activity and nighttime is for rest, but these days we have the option of being active long after we should be resting and we have lots of activities and gadgets to stimulate as at all hours of the day. It’s not surprising that ADHD is on the rise.
Whether trying to address ADHD or just our everyday distractability, it’s important to try to create an environment that allows some space away from technology and stimulation. Unplug the game console; turn off the computer; put down the smartphone. Meditation is another practice that can be very helpful, and when parents make meditation a part of their own daily practice, children pick up on it. Even the simple act of getting back to “pen and paper” activities like journaling, painting, or anything that doesn’t involve technology can help create an environment of wellness and peace. Turn off the TV and dim the lights a couple hours before going to bed. And speaking of getting in touch with natural cycles: Go outside!