(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 examine the definitive test for Hyperactivity. Here's the hyperactive part of the Diagnostic Test from the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Metal Disorders and some explanations that might help to understand the personality type.
Six or more of the following symptoms of hyperactivity - have persisted for at least six months to a degree that is maladaptive/ inconsistent with developmental level.
________ Often fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in seat.
A hyperactive personality is uncomfortable sitting or lying down unless he intends to go to sleep. As a natural part of his personality namely energy, the hyperactive is always at his best when he is on his feet or moving. Standing enables him to feel the power of energy, and that's important to the personality.
Many hyperactives actually feel threatened in a seated position. Sitting sends blood pressure up and causes the skin to crawl - which makes a child fidget and squirm. In a prolonged sit, a hyperactive will begin to ache; muscles will actually hurt a lot.
Most adult hyperactives have trouble at places like the opera, symphonies or a long productions because after the first 45 minutes, we want to scream we are so uncomfortable; we hurt. Muscle cramps and restless leg can get so bad tears or anger come easily.
Making a child sit for seven hours every day and hurt is not only cruel, it could be considered discriminatory. To say someone who fidgets because they are in pain is mentally ill is a crime of ignorance.
________ Often leaves seat in classroom or in other situations in which remaining seated is expected.
Believe me - he's running for his life - his real life - his life of the body. Can you
imagine what Davy Crockett would do if pinned down for more than a few minutes?
As a guest lecturer in a college classroom, I switched out the usual arrangement by instructing the class to do deep knee bends for most of the class time. By putting the needs of the hyperactive kids first - his need to move, the lesson was clearly explained to those who found deep knee bends a chore. Who was the disabled this time? Does that mean the uncomfortable client can be construed as mentally ill?
_________ Often runs about or climbs excessively in situations in which it is inappropriate (in adolescents or adults, may be limited to subjective feelings of restlessness).
No true hyperactive believes that any kind of motion is excessive or inappropriate. Look
at the example of Theodore Roosevelt. One of his favorite games was called "bats." Just before meeting with foreign dignitaries, he would take some friend to the basement of the White House where they would go at each other with baseball bats. It was in one such exchange that he lost an eye (the sight). Then it was rip upstairs to the meeting and then out for a quick 25 mile hike. Even surgery was done on the go. He had a bone scraped sans anesthetic between meetings. Mentally ill?
_________ Often has difficulty playing or engaging in leisure activities quietly.
Answer from the hyperactive? "I'll be quiet when I'm dead." To a hyperactive personality leisure activities and quiet can't be in the same description. Most hyperactives don't know what quiet is much less could they define leisure the same way average people do. My husband calls me the nosiest person in the world. It's bang crash all day long. Leisure is doing, and doing often means noise and noise never bothers a true hyperactive - we don't even hear it.
_________ Is often "on the go" or often acts as if "driven by a motor."
This is the best description there is to define a hyperactive, but hardly a reason to tag someone as mentally ill. The motor is the experience of life soaring with unbounded energy. And that motor is fueled by large quantities of food eaten quickly in order to go. Hyperactives eat three times what other people eat and they will eat more varieties of food because they eat to go. They will move, think, do and produce three times what others can simply because they have this motor that rarely turns off. Hyperactives won't nap, but when they do sleep, they will sleep as if they are dead with their eyes half open.
_________ Often talks excessively.
Verbal is part of the life of the mind. When a hyperactive is thinking, he often does it out loud. If you get in the way - oh well. Energy doesn't die at the lip.