Boys Will Be Boys? Telling the Difference Between “Normal” & ADHD Behavior

by | Oct 6, 2011 | ADHD

We all know that ADHD is rampant – but just how much is “rampant,” exactly? As they say on Marketplace, “Let’s do the numbers.”

As of 2007, almost 10% of children between the ages of 4 and 17 had been diagnosed with ADHD at some point in their young lives. Most of them were boys, who are twice as likely as girls to be so diagnosed. Overall rates have risen at a pace of about 3 to 5% each year.

And as they have, so has speculation as to why we’re seeing so many more cases. Some focus on environmental factors, including diet. Some say it’s just better reporting and greater awareness. Some worry about over-diagnosis, either from hyper-vigilance or the desire to explain and control behavior that goes against what we want or expect.

As a result, there’s sometimes confusion between “normal” and ADHD. Even a cursory glance at the current DSM criteria can make you wonder. Fails to pay attention? Avoids or dislikes tasks that require sustained mental effort, such as homework? Fidgets? Talks excessively? What child doesn’t act like this from time to time?

The key is in the frequency and severity of symptom clusters. Child and adolescent specialist Dr. Paul Ballas offers a good illustration of the distinction:

Of course, a girl who doesn’t know the answer to her teacher’s question because she was daydreaming hardly constitutes a psychiatric emergency. However, if you ask a small girl with ADHD why she didn’t finish her test by the end of class, she may tell you she was trying very hard but kept getting distracted by the window, the kid in front of her, or got lost thinking about yesterday’s cartoons. She may do this on every test and it may result in her repeating the 5th grade. To me, this girl doesn’t have normal childhood distraction, but problems with attention.

Additionally, the child with ADHD consistently feels unable to control their behavior. Rather, they feel controlled by it, unable to stop, even when they know they should.

One of the reasons this distinction gets lost – and why boys bear the brunt of it – is that growing boys have a developmental need for more active, physical play. As Certified Yoga Calm Instructor and Intervention and Prevention Specialist Jeff Albin wrote here previously, “The desire to be strong, competent, fierce and protective at the same time runs through the DNA of all males.”

The key is to channel it – to guide boys to and through positive, pro-social ways of filling that desire; to teach, showing them how to grow into responsible men. Without adult guidance or traditional coming-of-age rituals providing a proving method and outlet for that drive, the result can be wild, thrill-seeking and even self-destructive behavior.

We address these issues at length in our course Boys, Coyotes & Other Wild Creatures: Healthy Alternatives for Harnessing “Wildness.” In this class, we explore the importance of movement and “rough” play, and the need for boys to find meaning, initiation and physical connection to the world. Participants learn how to use traditional stories of animals such as wolves, coyotes and cougars, as well as current cultural mythology such as Star Wars and its Jedi knights, to explore the warrior archetype and its importance in addressing the global challenges of this era.

Our next session of this course will be held at Lewis & Clark College here in Portland on October 15 – 16. Complete course info and online registration is available here.

We’ve also developed a special Yoga Calm course we call “Jedi Training.” Designed for boys aged 7 to 12, this kids’ class puts those “Wild Creature” course principles into action. A new 8 week series is just getting underway at The Children’s Program in Multnomah Village, running October 5 through November 23. Late registrations may be possible, space permitting. To learn more call us at 503-452-8002 or email us for more info.

Of course, many of the activities we use in the Jedi Training and other children’s classes – and thousands of teachers, counselors and other professionals use in their work with children every day – are entirely suitable for kids with ADHD and may be just as helpful. When working with ADHD populations, we adapt and emphasize those activities that address their most pressing needs.

Next time, we’ll be sharing some tips from our ADHD: The Mind-Body Connection course for helping children with ADHD practice attention, focus and self-regulation skills. Until then, you may want to check out our earlier set of tips from ADHD expert Dr. Jeff Sosne, as well as these videos:

Want to learn more? Our next ADHD course will be held in Portland, OR, October 22 – 23. Register now!

Images by mangpages and pixieclipx, via Flickr

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