I love to read the NY Times in the morning. Do not think of that simple sentence as a total endorsement. It can sometimes be like loving the smell of Napalm in the morning. BOOM! This morning was such an occasion, although it did not smell like victory.

Anyway back to why I spit up my coffee this time. (What a waste of good coffee.) Tuesday is a sort of science day for the Times when, from time to time, someone writes about wellness. The Headline on the article cut out of the paper by my wife, (a practicing psychologist for decades) read “Exercise The Mind To Treat Attention Deficits”. A good source for her, thought I, and I started to read. As I often work with schools that have a larger than understood percentage of students (by far male) who have been diagnosed, I felt it a good read for me as well. I also have to work with many many adults who seem to have undiagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder (the adult version of ADHD…Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) so I thought I’d get some useful tips.

Here is the enticing lede:

“Which will it be — the berries or the chocolate dessert? Homework or the Xbox? Finish that memo, or roam Facebook?

Such quotidian decisions test a mental ability called cognitive control, the capacity to maintain focus on an important choice while ignoring other impulses. Poor planning, wandering attention and trouble inhibiting impulses all signify lapses in cognitive control. Now a growing stream of research suggests that strengthening this mental muscle, usually with exercises in so-called mindfulness, may help children and adults cope with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and its adult equivalent, attention deficit disorder.

The studies come amid growing disenchantment with the first-line treatment for these conditions: drugs.”

This is something I have read a lot on and have have believed for quite a while after witnessing so many over diagnosed and over drugged students over the last 18 years of my 38 year career in teaching, so I read on.

“In 2007, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, published a study finding that the incidence of A.D.H.D. among teenagers in Finland, along with difficulties in cognitive functioning and related emotional disorders like depression, were virtually identical to rates among teenagers in the United States. The real difference? Most adolescents with A.D.H.D. in the United States were taking medication; most in Finland were not.

‘It raises questions about using medication as a first line of treatment,’ said Susan Smalley, a behavior geneticist at U.C.L.A. and the lead author.”

Most in Finland were not! I have read a few things about Finnish education, notably Pasi Sahlberg’s “Finnish Lesson” so I knew that there is a systematic approach in their education system that lowers the diagnoses and drug treatment for ADHD among their adolescent population. Each student starts formal school at the age of 7 and receives what we in the U.S. would call an I.E.P. – – Individualized Education Program (not a drug or a treatment called Intravenous Exorcistic Pemoline). however, in the U.S. an I.E.P. is only used for those students already diagnosed with some kind of learning disability. Every Finnish student at receives his or her own I.E.P. after initial diagnostics to see  how they learn best and therefore what areas with which they would need more assistance. In some cases, that would be what this article calls:

“mindfulness: teaching people to monitor their thoughts and feelings without judgments or other reactivity. Rather than simply being carried away from a chosen focus, they notice that their attention has wandered, and renew their concentration.”

For the most part the article discusses the benefit of this technique plus Cognitive Therapy over the use of drugs that in adolescents and adults seem to lose effectiveness after three years, especially since many students “outgrow” the hyperactivity part of ADHD by age 20.

The problem as I see it is that it doesn’t address the issue that the reference to Finland would lead one to address, that is that there is a much lower rate of ADHD among adolescents period. Why, one would ask? Could it be the system? Could it be the IEPs all students get with the wrap around assistance to develop coping mechanisms like the use of “Mental Muscle”?

Excuse me while I wipe up the coffee. I must have gotten… oh look a squirrel…distracted!

For the full NYT story: