Commentary: Hyperactivity

(Editor's Note: Our child development commentator, Judy Lyden, has worked with very young children for over thirty years. She's been a preschool teacher for over twenty. She co-owns the Garden School, an early childhood academic center, with Edith St. Louis. )

Every year I write at least one column on hyperactivity. Over the years of writing lovingly on this subject, I've been condemned, scorned, and praised to the skies. I've won the respect of many physicians, and been the bane of many psychologists existences and I've even lost a psychologist friend who I asked to read a few chapters of a book I was working on. I haven't heard from him since.

Hyperactivity is the "bread and butter disease" said the instruction manual for opening a psychological clinic. Full of tests and guides and resources, I read nearly the entire manual with great interest.

Of course I took the hyperactivity DSM IV test and scored 100%. My children all took the test one Christmas vacation several years ago and the lowest score was 95%. My husband scored 0.

There have been great debates about hyperactivity since it became the dump all disease. And the great question, "What do we do about it?" has provoked many a tear, many a harsh word and a lot of condemnation. The question I've always asked is "Why do anything at all?"

Here are two profiles of hyperactive personalities:

Boston is fifteen. He's the captain of the swim team. He's earning his Eagle Scout rank. Boston has a small lawn mowing business going in the neighborhood and manages several lawns. He is always seen bringing in the groceries of the elderly couple down the street from his home. Boston is an amateur scientist and is building a nuclear accelerator in his room at night. He has read all of Dostoyevsky, has become reading proficient in German, and has mastered all the high school math classes. He helps his mother in the family business and helps care for his younger siblings. Needless to say, Boston is always busy.

Foxy is twelve. Foxy has been to the principal's office fourteen times in the past week. Foxy has picked three fights in school in the last month. She has failing marks in school, can't keep her room clean, makes a mess just about anywhere she goes, can't finish a book, can't remember her homework, can't sit at the dinner table without knocking something over. Foxy picks at things like wall paper and paint. She is uncomfortable in most clothes and is constantly pulling at them. She is fidgety in church, bored just about anywhere and thinks most people don't like her. Her hair is a mess, her clothes are usually wrinkled and stained and she laughs at all the wrong times.

Both of these children are hyperactive and the difference is direction.

The young man is a directed hyperactive and the girl is non-directed. How does one happen and one fail to happen?

It's a matter of example. Hyperactivity seems to come from one parent who is and one parent who is not. In childhood, hyperactive children gravitate toward the like parent. They will often model "how to" from the parent. If a parent is directed, the child will also be directed. If the parent is non directed, there's little hope the child will develop good habits and hone natural exceptional skills.

The parent is the primary educator of the child.  A personality type, like hyperactivity, and it is a personality type, is inherited. "She's like her father; he's like his mother is something we all say and not without meaning or purpose.

Training is a matter of direction. Someone well directed will direct his children to super fast, multi task, super achievements and will expect a child to excel as a matter of course. On the other hand a non-directed adult who has nothing together in life will be the model for the Foxys of the world.

Next week: Myths about hyperactivity.