Adapting to their Changing Brains

English 293 Magazine Writing
Research Magazine Article: Teacher Magazine
College of Southern Idaho

Is it possible that many children are referred for ADHD evaluation not because they have true learning difficulties, but because a school has not adapted to their changing brains?

     Sir Ken Robinson shares a story in his book entitled, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, of a little girl that visited a specialist’s office with her mother, for the school suggested the girl had a learning disorder. At the age of eight, she had given much concern to her teachers in the classroom with reports of poor test scores, late assignments, disrupted behavior, unnecessary fidgeting, and bouts of daydreams. The psychologist began the assessment by discussing the difficulties she was having in school with the mother, while the girl sat across the room from them. She sat on her hands in order to reduce her fidgeting, as she was tremendously bored by the event. The girl felt uneasy since the assessment was about her, yet he asked her no questions, just watched her from a distance. Twenty minutes later the psychologist got up from his desk and informed the girl that he was in need of speaking to her mother privately, before leading her mother into the hallway the psychologist turned on the radio. When the psychologist shut the door, he told her mother to stay near the window so they could observe her. Within seconds, the girl got up and began dancing to the music; natural, simplistic movements full of grace around the room. The psychologist told the mother that her daughter did not have a learning disorder; however, she was a dancer. She was not in need of a special classroom; however, of a dance school. The mother did as the psychologist suggested and the girl found a place where she belonged; a place full of children just like her, children who needed to move in order to think.
     Many children have been diagnosed with the condition known as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and have been successfully treated allowing them to lead successful lives; however, with the many environmental changes students have experienced over the years, it is possible that many children are referred for ADHD evaluation not because they have true learning difficulties, but because a school has not adapted to their changing brains.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
     This story took place in the 1930s, so there was no option to diagnose the girl with the condition known as ADHD and place her on a stimulant drug such as Ritalin. ADHD was not first recognized as a mental disorder until the early 1980s, but researchers say the syndrome had been seen and noted much earlier. David G. Meyers defines attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in the book Psychology, as a psychological disorder marked by the appearance by age seven, with one or more of these three key symptoms: extreme inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. According to the Center of Disease Control, approximately eleven percent of children, ages four to seventeen have been diagnosed with ADHD as of 2011. The percentage of children with an ADHD diagnosis continues to increase. By 2011, 6.4 million children were reported by their parents to be diagnosed by a health professional with ADHD compared to the 4.4 million children diagnosed in 2003.
Environment of the Past and Environment of the Present
     The home environment of today’s students varies significantly from the environment of the homes in the past. The home atmosphere of the past was calm, if there was a television in the home it was placed in the common room where it was controlled by the parents and the programs children watched were carefully monitored. The families of the past were consistent, they spent a good deal of time talking, reading, completing activities, and dinner was eaten with one another at the table each evening. The neighborhoods of the past were a significant part of childhood, the children played outside developing motor skills and learning social skills necessary to interact well with others. The schools of the past were an important influence in a child’s life and the primary source of information. This was also a fascinating place as it had special films, field trips, and guest speakers, engaging the student’s mind in the learning process.
     The present-day homes atmosphere is busy, encircled by countless forms of technology, which is often used unsupervised and uncontrolled for numerous hours a day. The present-day families are unstable, with many homes ran by single parents, leaving children with a smaller number of occurrences to speak with adults and changing dietary habits as home cooking is becoming obsolete. The present-day neighborhoods are empty, as children turn to their bedrooms full of television sets, game consoles and computers for their entertainment, causing them to have a lack of social skills, creating poor communication and isolation. The present-day schools are just another activity on their to-do list and one of many places where they acquire information. A place that many students find to be dull, leaving their active minds disengaged and deters them from the art of learning.
Education for Today’s Child
     A vital part of the accomplishment as a student can be accredited to the brains insistent curiosity to things that are unique and different, the changes taking place within our environment. In the book, How the Special Needs Brain Learns, David A. Sousa explains that, “our brains are actively perusing its surroundings for stimuli, when a motivation presents itself, a rush of adrenaline closes down all unnecessary activity in order for the brain to focus attention on the subject”. There is a quote that has been often spoken that resonates deeply with how our brain actively pursues the environment, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” In opposition, an environment that contains similar, foreseeable outcomes day in and day out, like many of our classrooms, causes the brain to become uninterested and attempts to turn to something that is more stimulating.
     Another saying brings truth to today’s student, “capture my interest and you will not need to worry about my attention span.” Teachers have said that today’s students learn differently as they tend to have limited attention spans and become bored more easily. I believe this is happening as the home environment in the present day has changed drastically; whereas, the school environment has remained the same. This is causing the student of today to be constantly searching for a form of stimulus inside the classroom, leading them to act disruptively, creating concern for the teacher.
     Teaching methods are changing, new technologies are being used, and teachers are introducing new ideas in the traditional classroom; however, schools are not changing fast enough. It is time that the school environment adapts to the student needs, instead of the student trying to adjust to the school. If schools began to develop classrooms for the student of today, more children would remain in the educational mainstream rather than be sidelined for labeling.
      After the little girl attended dance school every week and practiced at home every day, she auditioned for the Royal Ballet School in London, where she was accepted and became a soloist who performed all over the world. She then formed her own musical theater company and produced a series of highly successful shows. The little girl, who teachers were concerned that she had a learning disorder was Gillian Lynne, who became one of the most successful choreographers who brought millions of people entertainment and made millions of dollars through shows including Cats and The Phantom of the Opera. Robinson says,
      “This happened because someone looked deep into her eyes, someone who had seen children like her before and knew how to read the signs. Someone else might have put her on medication and told her to calm down. But Gillian wasn’t a problem child. She didn’t need to go away to a special school. She just needed to be who she really was”.

Paragraph 1
Robinson, K., & Aronica, L. (2009). The element: How finding your passion changes everything (Kindle Ed.). London: Allen Lane.

Paragraph 3
Myers, D. (2013). Psychology: Tenth edition in modules; (10th ed., p. 627). New York, NY:     Worth Pub.

Key Findings: Trends in the Parent-Report of Health Care Provider-Diagnosis and Medication Treatment for ADHD: United States, 2003-2011. (2014, December 10). Retrieved from

Paragraph 6
Sousa, D. (2001). How the special needs brain learns (p. 16). Thousand Oaks, California:  Corwin Press.

Paragraph 9
Robinson, K., & Aronica, L. (2009). The element: How finding your passion changes everything (Kindle Ed.). London: Allen Lane.

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