Opinion: Implement Routine Screenings for ADHD

By: Brynn Gibson


I raised my hand high and proud. I knew the answer. I was laser-focused on one thing, and one thing only: Mrs. Walker. I wiggled my fingers in the air: thumb, pointer, middle, ring, pinky, then back, pinky, ring, middle, pointer, thumb. I liked Mrs. Walker’s purple sparkly hair clip. The sparkles were particularly sparkly, almost like stars. I would love to go to space. I wonder how Sally Ride went to the bathroom when she went to the moon. “Brynn!” Oh, right, my hand was raised. What were we doing? Math? I stole a glance at the board. Oh yeah! I know what seven times seven is, “49!” I shouted. Nobody noticed the delay.

I was a smart kid. I didn’t really pay attention because I didn’t need to; I could get by with little to no effort. I loved to talk and did so all the time. I was “outgoing” and “bright.” It was the perfect disguise. What teacher would have guessed I had the attention span of a flea? Who would look at me and think, “This girl needs help?”

I spent years fighting an unnamed battle. Other kids were quick to call me annoying, and I believed them. I couldn’t regulate the volume of my voice, my impulsive tendencies, and my constant fidgeting. Slowly, school turned into a constant struggle for survival. I needed to focus in class, but I couldn’t. I sacrificed sleep to maintain high grades. 

Nobody makes it to age 16 unaware that they are colorblind. If you are deaf in one ear, you will know by the second grade. State-mandated testing catches these disabilities at a young age. So why was I not diagnosed with Attention Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) until my junior year of high school? Mental differences should receive the same testing and treatment as physical ones do.

According to a study from the National Institutes of Health, certain factors decrease a child’s chance of an ADHD diagnosis, such as “engaging in learning-related behaviors (eg, being attentive), displaying greater academic achievement, and not having health insurance.” The boy falling out of his chair next to me was easily recognized. He was a disruption and therefore immediately flagged for review. Smart, respectful, and outgoing, I was easy to miss. 

When I finally went to my doctor expecting help, I found none. She told me I needed a teacher recommendation. When I gave one of my teachers the screening form, he looked me dead in the eye and declared, “students with A’s don’t have ADHD. I will not fill this out.” Apparently, my fight to stay afloat was too successful. Don’t bother with the life raft; help only comes after you drown.

The problem is, many adults simply do not know what ADHD looks like. A diagnosis requires thorough observations of a child’s behavior. However, when those conducting the observations have zero qualifications, how is a child meant to receive the help they need? 

While psychological tests cannot diagnose ADHD on their own, they are useful tools to indicate potential cases. The Test of Variables of Attention measures a child’s ability to retain focus and attention, and only lasts 21.6 minutes for children over six years old. If every public school sat their first graders down in a room and made them take this test, possible cases could be flagged for further evaluation. 

I don’t blame my teachers; they simply didn’t know what to look for. However, the system needs to change. I fell through the cracks – and suffered the consequences. There are holes in the screen that we need to patch up. I spent years hating myself, wondering what was wrong with me, when all I was missing was a diagnosis. 

(Sources: NIH, CDC, Drake Institute)

Categories: Opinion, Web Exclusive

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