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Biology 202, Spring 2005
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ADD and ADHD, What is Really Inhibiting Bright Minds of the Future?


Nadine Huntington

Nadine Exie Huntington
Bryn Mawr College
Spring Semester 2005
Neurobiology 202
ADD and ADHD
What is Really Inhibiting Bright Minds of the Future?

Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder are learning disabilities which are being detected and treated with startling frequency in America today. There are a plethora of medications and treatments currently being prescribed, also with astounding regularity, and often with little regard for their repercussion. While each drug and treatment has physical and medical side-effects, one must also consider the broader and longer term consequences, not only on the afflicted individual, but on society as a whole.
Medications such as Adderall, Concerta, Dexedrine and Ritalin are now being prescribed 49% more often than they were in 2003 and at ages as young as three years old. Due to the nature of its symptoms (lack of concentration, inability to focus, and impulsivity ) children are frequently misdiagnosed with the disorder, when they are simply displaying normal adolescent or infantile behavior. While 12% of American children have been labeled with one of these two learning disabilities many families are refusing to put their children on medication because of its mind-altering effects .
Although with each patient the symptoms of ADD and ADHD vary, one common thread they tend to share is an abundance of creativity. ADD and ADHD are speculated to be linked to such brilliant minds as Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Salvador Dali, Winston Churchill, Leonardo DaVinci, Mozart, Benjamin Franklin, Maria Montessori, and David Neeleman (CEO of JetBlue Airways). Their ¡°out-of-the-box¡± creativity and spontaneity caused them to succeed in their field of genius, where more closed-minded individuals lack the ingenuity and imagination to stray from conventional ideas. In general those with ADD or ADHD are non-conformists whose insatiable curiosity and exuberance causes them to succeed tremendously in their interests. These individuals, however, are unable to focus on material which does not excite them, and tend to score significantly lower marks in school subjects which do not grab them. Parents in search of an honor roll student are quick to put their children on Ritalin or a similar drug, while parents who embrace their child¡¯s creative, if at times exasperating, personality maintain that these drugs have debilitating repercussions.
One must wonder whether Einstein would have made as many contributions to the world as he did if his inventive mind had been chemically modified. As the rate of children diagnosed with learning disabilities grows, and the number of children on Ritalin increases, will the input of original and daring ideas decrease? The association between ADD and brilliance is strong, but so too is the correlation between medicated students and the extinguishing of creative sparks. Are we as a developing society prepared to loose some of the brilliant minds of today, merely to facilitate order and concentration in our classrooms?
Teachers criticize children with ADD or ADHD as being unstable, uncooperative and inattentive. Dr. Othmer argues, however, that the brain is just like any other mechanism, and as such can be rendered unstable because of the amount of strain or activity to which it is exposed. He urges parents and teachers to ¡°look at the brain as a control system. Any feedback control system obeys the general rule that as higher overall gains are approached, the system runs the risk of becoming unstable. If high mental performance is connected with high gain¡­ then the correlation with brain instability would be explained. ¡± Children with ADD and ADHD are indeed sporadic in their interests and diligence in everyday activities (chores and homework), but are performing magnificently in other venues. Their brains are not lazy or recalcitrant, but directed at a specific focus or goal of interest, causing other tasks to be cast aside, or performed with irregularity and indifference.
Just as many suffering from ADD and ADHD are being robbed of the opportunity to lead normally functioning and orderly lives, our culture is running the risk of being robbed of its most clever minds. Numerous artists, business executives, scientists and other geniuses of today describe their past troubles in school, and their parents¡¯ refusal to use medication for their ¡°problems¡± with gratitude, as they feel that they would not have attained their success with the hampering of their creative intellect through Ritalin, Adderall or other such drugs . These medications are too new to be able to study their long term social and cultural impacts, but we must carefully consider the consequences of their profuse use among children.

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