Concept of the Month -- February 2011

An Attention Deficit Disorder is not Predisposing to Criminality

I have interviewed numerous youngsters whose misconduct has been explained partially on the basis of their having an attention disorder. Parents assert that their son or daughter repeatedly get into trouble because they grow easily bored, donít listen, fail to follow directions and behave impulsively. In short, because they are unable to pay attention, they do not do what they are supposed to do.

In many instances, this view was supported by teachers who daily find that these youngsters donít complete tasks, have trouble sitting still, agitate others and, otherwise, cause trouble. Sometimes, it was the teachers who counseled parents to have their child evaluated professionally to see if they suffer from having an attention disorder.

No specific test exists for establishing the presence of an attention disorder. Behavioral observation and obtaining a history provide the bases for such a diagnosis. Well-meaning physicians prescribe medication to these youngsters on the basis of the description that is offered of their behavior.

Among children who do poorly academically and are involved in antisocial behavior (fights, thefts, truancy, etc.), medication has no effect. There is no pill that transforms a chronically misbehaving child into an attentive, self-disciplined, achievement motivated human being. What I find significant is that a child who fails to pay attention in school may sit for hours in front of a computer concentrating upon games or focusing on other activities that he enjoys. He chooses not to attend to endeavors that he finds boring or not to his liking.

I am not suggesting that attention disorders do not exist. I have interviewed boys and girls who desire to excel at school but have difficulty focusing despite their efforts to do so. Some of these youngsters are helped by taking medication. The point is that they are motivated to do well to begin with. School achievement matters.

In evaluating the existence of an attention disorder, one must develop an in-depth understanding of the personality of the child. Many adult offenders whom I have evaluated took medicine, when they were younger, for an alleged attention deficit disorder. Nonetheless, they continued to manifest the same thinking patterns that result in lack of achievement, personal instability, and injury to others. Obviously, the diagnosis of attention disorder was wrong to begin with.

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