Science & Society I – ADHD, making a "syndrome" out of everything, and looking for quick fixes to problems that didn’t used to exist.

Note from November 2007: This was originally posted on a blog of mine that was hosted on Blogger. I’ve since imported that blog over here to C Good’s Things on WordPress.

This post could also go on my engineering blog, but I decided to put it on this blog since this is mainly a rant about people being dumb about human nature.

The article inspiring this is “ADHD patients play video games as part of treatment”, by Susan Jenks, dated March 9, 2006, appearing in USA Today,

The article is about a system called Smart Brain Games, which has a video game tied into a brain wave sensor. When someone with ADHD plays the video game and their brain waves become characteristic of someone with ADHD who is zoning out, the game pauses, and the person has to refocus. By providing this biofeedback, the game helps the game player learn how to focus.

Actually, that is not a bad idea for something to try. And I am saying this as someone who likes to play video games and is, quite frankly, tired of the efforts to demonize them. There are some out there are that are over the top and entirely beyond the bounds of good taste, but I don’t want to see HALO or Age of Mythology legislated back to the age of Pong just because someone got upset by Grand Theft Auto and wants the local state legislature to take care of the problem, because that’s easier than the person in question doing a darned thing themselves.

However, here is the part that kills me:
But some researchers remain cautious.
“It’s still controversial,” says Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Schneider Children’s Hospital in New Hyde Park, N.Y.
He says studies have yet to show video game play with a neuro-feedback component has either a short-term or long-term benefit, despite parents’ desire to explore other options in the wake of recent concerns about Ritalin and other stimulants used to treat ADHD.
They need to ask, “Does it help, and is it the best treatment available?” says Adesman, a spokesman for Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, a non-profit education, advocacy and support group in Maryland.
The concern, he adds, is parents might abandon mainstay treatments — a combination of pharmacological and educational interventions that have been tested and proved over time.

While I don’t want to make light of ADHD (at least not too much) in people that really have it, I wonder how many kids have been diagnosed with ADHD, dosed until they’re barely coherent, and run through more “educational interventions” than most people can readily imagine, just because that was easier for everyone involved than the alternative, which was the parents teaching the kid how to stay disciplined and pay attention, and the kid making the effort to learn discipline?

Surprisingly, Henry Owens, the clinical psychologist whose Melbourne, Florida, practice is at the center of the article, comes across as a fairly balanced guy. Here are some key quotes:
Owens, however, says some patients have been using the video game system, developed by the San Diego company CyberLearning Technology, in combination with medications, while others want to try the non-drug alternative first, before turning to drug therapy.
If the situation is not life-threatening or debilitating, I really don’t see a problem with someone wanting to try biofeedback before they dose themselves with prescription drugs. Also:

. . . [Owens] advises against playing more than 20 minutes a day for children younger than 10, and no more than a half-hour daily for everyone else.

And while the company makes the system available directly to consumers — and it is compatible with any Sony off-the-shelf video game — Owens says that without an initial evaluation with an electroencephalogram or EEG, to map brain activity, “how would you know what’s being treated?”

“Because this is so new and such a commitment,” he says, “we don’t want parents to do it lightly.”

. . .

Although he has not worked with the video game system, Thomas Peake, another Melbourne clinical psychologist, supports the concept “in the right hands.”

“If it’s done right, these things, in and of themselves, can be quite helpful,” Peake says. “And kids are used to playing games and like them.”

He says he used to do biofeedback to help patients control pain and has seen it used in major medical centers to help speed recovery in stroke patients.

Most people off the street would not know how to use these devices, however,” he cautions. “But, to me, the principle is a good one.”

And while Lindsay Greco, a co-founder of CyberLearning who is quoted in the article, sounds vaugely fruity in some of the quotes, I do have to give the company credit for only going through licensed providers and recommending that people with a diagnosis of ADHD seek assistance from providers in figuring out how best to use the system.

But I still wonder how many parents (and kids) look for quick fixes first, and only consider hard work and self-discipline as the very last option.

(And no, I am not Ms. Self-Discipline myself. But I try that first, instead of running off to get doped up every time I am feeling down or having trouble focusing.)

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