Commentary: The Myths of Hyperactivity - Tri-State News, Weather & Sports

Commentary: The Myths of 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. )

By: Judy Lyden

Let's look at some of the myths of hyperactivity. I can't tell you how many times I want to either laugh or cry when someone laments having a mentally disabled child - a child who is hyperactive. A child who is medicated to a state of stupefaction, and who with his parents' sympathy is in the process of "normalizing" poor beast, poor unhappy inferior nut case.

Let's dispel some myths. 

First, there's the myth that hyperactivity is a mental disorder.

If hyperactivity is a mental disorder, then so is being artistic or athletic or genius or musical. Hyperactivity is a personality type, and one which has given the world some of its finest moments. Guess who was hyperactive? Here's a list:

Columbus, Alexander the Great, St. Paul, Joan of Arc, Johnny Appleseed, Marco Polo, Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Theodore Roosevelt, Lewis and Clark, Geronimo, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Lancelot - if he existed - the Wright brothers, Van Gogh, and the list goes on.

How do I know? Look at their lives. Look at what they produced in comparison to other people. Look at the energy, the divine energy. Look at the one good description the DSM IV test offers: "Seems to move as if powered by a machine."

Theodore Roosevelt was notorious for taking little 28 mile hikes across half frozen streams and up cliffs - just before dinner -  with heads of state from visiting nations. The State Department was afraid he was going to kill someone with his jaunts, and Teddy suffered from horrible asthma and chronic dysentery. When he came into the Oval Office, he would leap over chairs - sound familiar?

Hyperactives are powered by the need to move, to explore, to produce at high speed. It's the personality.

Second, there's the myth that medication can "repair" a hyperactive "patient."

Would you medicate an artist so he or she couldn't paint? Would you medicate a musician so he or she couldn't play? Would you medicate an athlete so he or she would "enjoy quiet leisure activities?" No, but we medicate the hyperactive because most people don't understand human energy and being around people with ten times the energy we have is just plain annoying - so instead of promoting and encouraging the activity, we try to squash it like a bug.

Problem is you can't medicate away someone's personality no matter how much you shrink the brain pan.

Third, there's the myth that being hyperactive is somehow an inferior existence.

How would you like to leap from your bed every morning feeling like you've just swallowed a tank of jolt? How would you like to be able to take the stairs three at a time every time up and down even at age sixty? How would you like to be able to do your work twice as fast, be able to accomplish three times as much as the next person and when you go home with the last thing on your mind sitting down? You have the energy to play soccer in the afternoon, go to dinner and a show, and then brainstorm for another three hours and be able to get up at 4:00 never skipping a beat?

I had a wonderful and dear monk friend years ago who was hyperactive. He only slept two hours a day - one in the wee hours and one in the late afternoon if he had to. Otherwise he was plowing fields, working in the vineyard, writing chemistry exams, teaching college science, running a college, counseling students, saying Mass, working at NASA and reading someone's PhD dissertation - all at the same time.

The one thing hyperactive people do have trouble with is with ordinary speed. Hyperactives are usually bored to death with ordinary agendas, work schedules and time frames. The world is often moving at 33 when they are on 45.

Fourth, that hyperactive people aren't happy.

And I repeat: Columbus, Alexander the Great, St. Paul, Joan of Arc, Johnny Appleseed, Marco Polo, Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Theodore Roosevelt, Lewis and Clark, Geronimo, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Lancelot - if he existed - the Wright brothers, Van Gogh, Patton, the Crocodile Hunter, Houdini, and the list goes on.

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