Sunday, June 23, 2024
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Postcards from the chalk face: The great ADHD swindle


An occasional series by a former secondary school teacher reflecting on the realities of education today.

OVER more than two decades in the classroom I’ve taught thousands of children and teenagers: some were lovely and lots were hard-working. On the other hand, quite a number were disruptive and argumentative, and a number were violently opposed to learning. But I don’t think I’ve taught more than a handful of kids who could be properly described as having the symptoms of ADHD. And that handful could just as easily have had something else wrong with them. Because here’s the thing: despite the fact that the best part of a million children are medicated for the condition, ADHD doesn’t exist.

There’s no definitive medical test for it, experts can’t agree on what it actually means, and most of the symptoms disappear if the child in question has lots of exercise, good diet and, crucially, a set of clear behavioural boundaries, preferably set early in childhood and, for the boys at least, enforced by a stable adult male living at home.

They do say that boys suffer from ADHD more than girls. Well, boys need about six hours exercise a day just to feel normal. And I’m not talking about staying up ’til four playing Zombie Nazi II on their PlayStation. How many of the ADHD sufferers in your child’s class are getting hours and hours of running about every day? How many of them eat real food every day? How many get enough sleep every night? What they do get is state-sanctioned approval to ruin your child’s education.

Boys need to be taught how to behave – if you don’t show them how, they will misbehave as though that is normal, because for them it is. Boys don’t know how to socialise themselves, which is why, left to their own devices in a rule-free, judgement-lite, female-run environment, a lot of boys turn to each other to form their own versions of a hierarchical and often very violent society. Lord of the Flies, coming to a classroom near you.

Actually, it’s already here.

Despite not being a real condition, ADHD has become something for which a parent can claim extra benefits. There are other rewards for the ADHD-enabled. They get one-to-one attention from kind, educated middle-class ladies who are very tolerant of their behaviour, and talk to them in a nice way. They get rewards for behaving normally – a big bar of chocolate, or a ‘free’ session on the computer, or they get to run odd jobs for the Deputy Head instead of having to sit in class having to pay attention and learn. It’s a very Pavlovian cycle of misbehaviour.

Having been labelled as ADHD, or ODD or whatever (I can talk to you about ODD another time), is the equivalent of a Get Out of Jail Free card. We are required to cut them a lot of extra slack. They’ve got legal protection. Of course, your child, behaving normally and working hard, doesn’t get any slack at all. In fact, if there’s an ADHD kid in class, your child won’t get much attention at all.

So get this straight: ADHD does not exist. It’s a con. It’s a career, for feckless parents and otherwise-unemployable do-gooders, and it’s a cash cow for Big Pharma. It may be genetic, but only in the sense that if mum is unable to exert control on her children at the age of two, then young Carl or Jack or Oscar will likely be completely out of control at 14. If from the age of two they learned to not listen, learned not to do what they’re told, learned that kicking off gets them their own way, then that’s how they will behave when they get to secondary school.

If you add in energy drinks, a crap diet, no physical exercise, 3am game-playing hyper-stimulation, the after-burner effects of hormones and a whole set of do-gooders telling them: ‘It’s not your fault’, then . . . voila!


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Daniel Ken
Daniel Ken
Daniel Ken (pseudonym) is a former secondary school English teacher. He has published two books about his experiences in the classroom: Bog Standard and Must Try Harder.

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