An alarming number of South African children are on medication for disorder, writes Omeshnie Naidoo.
ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) is a sign of our times. We live in a world of stimulants.
These are not just allopathic. As an example, YouTube is proving to be narcotic in nature for toddlers. We’re bombarded 24/7 by the stimulus of mass media, our lives constantly interjected with broadcasts, messages and social media pings. How many times in the work day are we, as adults, distracted from tasks by a device?
A recent Microsoft consumer study suggests the human attention span is about 8 seconds. To put this into perspective, the average attention span of a goldfish is 9 seconds. So we’re all in attention deficit.
An academic article, by Paul Gorczynski, a senior lecturer in the Department of Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Portsmouth, published in The Conversation last month, suggests more academics and students have mental health problems than before.
Gorczynski cites a UK student forum that found 33% of students had experienced suicidal thoughts in the past academic year, as well as another study, which found 43% of academic staff exhibited symptoms of at least a mild mental disorder.
The issue with school children born into this technologically driven landscape is that they’re being medicated for it in the developmental stages of their lives.
An alarming number of South African children - as young as 6 - are on ADHD medication.
The existence of the condition is not in question. It’s prescription and the considerable pressure on parents to conform (because that’s what it is) is.
According to Novartis South Africa, about 12 000 packs of Ritalin are sold in South Africa every month. Novartis estimates that the average patient takes two tablets a day, so about 6 000 children a month take Ritalin.
Don’t change schools, change the child, is what the message appears to be. Children who don’t fit in are often socially ostracised. It’s perversely pragmatic given the parameters the current schooling system has afforded us.
And then there’s the competition.
Tertiary education students are taking ADHD medication to boost their academic performance.We know it works - giving them the ability to focus and learn.So the school-going child who isn’t on the meds is perceived to be at a disadvantage. The issue most of us parents have with ADHD is the drugs, and in particular, the way it’s being forced upon us.
Here are the things I’ve learnt about ADHD and its treatment that I believe are worth knowing and understanding.
- There is no definitive test available in South Africa to diagnose ADHD.
- ADHD is usually detected by parents and teachers who note similar symptoms in different settings. These include fidgeting and daydreaming among many other symptoms and contrary to popular belief, girls get ADHD too; it just manifests differently.
- Children must be assessed by paediatricians and educational or child psychologists, to make a diagnosis.
- Research has found that the five areas of the brain that are affected by ADHD are smaller in children with ADHD than those without. However, MRI scans to detect/ diagnose ADHD are not yet available.