Could the simple process of taking a child diagnosed with ADHD out of conventional school and putting them in a homeschool environment make a dramatic difference in their learning and behavior? A recent study done by Peter Gray, a research professor of psychology at Boston College, suggests this may be true.
While the research was done on a small sample group of 28 children, it does provide some interesting insights. The stories of these children suggest that most of the children that were medicated for ADHD in a conventional school setting were able to function very well without the medication in an unconventional school setting. The kids who were never in regular school were never medicated, though being diagnosed with ADHD.
Many people wonder if there are any serious repercussions of putting children on drugs for ADHD, since so often it seems to really help the child function better within conventional school settings. The stories brought out by this study suggest that the some negative effects may be almost next to torturous.
One little boy in the study was put on medication so he could deal with the school environment better. It did work. However, when he was 15 years old, he removed himself from the meds and realized then how they had been affecting him. For those 8 years on the medication, he had been having paranoid delusions--like being terrified when taking shower that terrorists had poisoned his shower water. After coming off the drugs, he realized their affect on them and absolutely hated how they had affected his childhood.
Other children experienced horrible school frustrations because the drugs dulled their minds so much that it made learning very difficult. Once getting into homeschool and getting off the drugs, these kids often found they could learn years of conventional school material in a matter of months. Some other drugged children had multiple complications that required more and more drugs, turning a healthy child into a medicated wreck.
Reading the stories of some of these kids is heart-wrenching. Imagine being forced to take a "medicine" that makes you feel stupid, scared, paranoid, lethargic, or sick. Imagine going through life feeling like you could not function in your environment without a daily drug pill. While this isn't the case for every ADHD child, it is highly common. The idea then, that an ADHD child could thrive in a different learning environment without drugs, is well worth looking further into.
Of the 28 children in this study, 13 were never medicated. These 13 kids had either never attended a regular school or they were removed from a regular school very soon after their diagnosis. Only six of the 28 were still on medication at the time their story was written. This suggests that the environment these children are in may play a large role in how well they function.
In fact the stories of these children indicated that they improved in almost every area of life when they left a conventional schooling environment for a more unconventional environment like homeschool, unschool or free school. Their ADHD characteristics did not go away but the new environment allowed them to learn to work with those characteristics in a more productive manner.
Something worth noting is that there seemed to be a strong need among these children to self-direct their own education. Many of these kids were able to be highly focused on tasks that interested them. Some of the kids showed remarkable abilities to draw correlations between seemingly unconnected ideas and topics during their study. The difference seemed to be the environment and the freedom they had to learn in a way that made sense to them.
One of the people who provided information for the study was a staff member at one of the Sudbury model schools. He had some interesting observations regarding kids who had been diagnosed with ADHD before coming to the school. In this person's mind, there are two different types of kids being labeled with ADHD. The two types are “Attention Surfeit Disorder” and those that are physically active to such a degree that is causes problems when they are asked to be quite.
Recall for a moment that of the 28 kids, 6 were still on some form of medication even though they were homeschooled. What is interesting to note is that while those medicated kids were being homeschooled, their teacher parent was requiring them to do homeschool just like they would do things at conventional schools. Could there be a further correlation here between the learning environment and the ability for the child to thrive?
This study points out that it is just a preliminary work and was done on a small scale. The authors hope that it will draw attention and cause further in-depth studies to be done. Could it be that ADHD diagnosed children might do just fine if they were allowed to learn outside the conventional school expectations and regulations? Has our culture become so fixed on conventional school that we can’t even consider other options?
Could a simple change of environment help the majority of those children labeled with ADHD? Could we stop torturing these kids by just putting them into a learning situation that works with their personal needs? What do you think?
Read Peter Gray’s report here.