True story about Alice:

by Jody Simpson, PhD (comments: 0)

When Alice was in the 2nd grade, she had a great teacher, especially skilled in teaching reading skills to her young students.  Alice seemed to be a bright child, easily commanded and exceeded the basics of reading at her grade level, and she was very sociable with her peers.  Alice enjoyed talking to friends in class, was always one of the first to raise her hand to volunteer even when she wasn’t quite yet sure of the requested task, and she did not enjoy sitting in circle time for group instruction.  As the teacher was reviewing sight words, Alice fidgeted with her shoelaces, talked to peers on either side of her, or thought about what she wanted to play during recess.  Alice’s mother faithfully attended every parent-teacher conference and she was very supportive of her daughter.  Alice’s teacher mentioned to her mother that Alice seemed to have difficulty focusing, she often talked out inappropriately which disturbed the learning of her peers, she seemed to have trouble sitting still especially in group settings, and sometimes she impulsively raised her hand even if she wasn’t sure for what she was volunteering.  The teacher mentioned that some students with ADHD exhibit similar symptoms.  Alice’s mother’s statement was, “Oh, I knew there might be something wrong with her!” and her mother began researching symptoms of ADHD on the internet.  As she read the list of symptoms, she recalled that Alice doesn’t keep her room neat and sometimes she forgets to put her homework in her backpack.  Last year, she forgot her sack lunch, twice!  Convinced that her daughter has a disorder, her mother scheduled an appointment with Alice’s pediatrician.  The pediatrician listened carefully to the concerned parent.  She asked Alice what was going on at school and home, and Alice repeated what she had heard her mother and teacher say – “I get in trouble for not sitting still in circle time and talking too much to my friends.  My mom gets mad at me cause my room is messy and sometimes I forget my homework so she has to bring it to me”.  The pediatrician is thorough and doesn’t believe in diagnosing and prescribing medication without objective data.  The pediatrician used an ADHD symptom checklist, readily available on the internet, published by a reputable university, and underwritten by a major medical association and a pharmaceutical company.  It has the face validity of a good test.  The questionnaire was completed by Alice’s mother and her teacher so that the pediatrician had data from more than one environment, and both ratings indicated severe symptoms of ADHD.  Alice was placed on medication, but she continued to talk to friends, began to hate circle time to review sight words, and her room was still messy.  Several medications were tried, adjustmented in dosages, and the school implemented a behavior plan with the goal to increase the amount of time Alice sat in circle time without talking to peers. Now fast forward to Alice currently in the 8th grade.  She loves sports and is athletically talented.  She is a cheerleader, has a lot of friends, hates reading, and often makes C’s and D’s even though she never fails a subject.  As punishment, her parents take away her cell phone if she makes an F.  At the request of her parent, the principal keeps an extra copy of the key to Alice’s locker just in case Alice loses her key.  Her mother goes to school prior to the end of each grading period to help Alice clean out her locker and locate lost assignments.  Her room continues to be messy.  Alice seems to like the image of being an “airhead” and when she talks out in class or forgets to turn in an assignment, she giggles and says, “well you know I’m ADHD!”  She continues to take medication for ADHD and her parents continue to watch for symptoms that something is wrong with her. 

What did Alice’s excellent professionals and caring family look for, illness or health?  What if Alice was simply bright, highly motivated by social contact and physical activity, unmotivated by orderliness, and she learns best through experience?  What if the professionals in Alice’s life would have looked for her drives and talents rather than looked for flaws and nonconformity.  How might Alice’s life have been different if they looked for health and worked with Alice within her motivational system?  Beware - You’ll always find that which you look for!

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