Early childhood experiences and their possible role in the creation of childhood disorders such as ADHD and so on

I wrote briefly yesterday about the hugely dysfunctional families with which I worked some years ago. The children of these families all had various problems and these were caused, or at the very least greatly exacerbated, by the way that they were raised. It was not until I had been thinking about the common factors in these families that I noticed an eerie similarity to the way that some home educators recommend that children be treated in childhood.

A lot of the things which afflict children, ranging from dyslexia to ADHD, are not random bolts from the blue. These syndromes are all too often associated with common factors in early childhood. Take ADHD, for example. The impulsiveness, sleep disturbances and other features of attention deficit are often noted in children who have no sort of consistent parental discipline in their lives. It is also connected with kids who do not have regular and age appropriate bedtimes. In other words, if a child’s wishes are never thwarted and he is allowed to do what he likes; he is far more likely to grow up displaying low levels of ability to control his behaviour and more liable to grow angry if his immediate wishes are frustrated. If his internal body clock has not been properly set by regular bedtimes, then he might end up being frantically active at midnight and very sleepy during school the next day. This is one example; there are many others. The way that parents raise their children has an impact upon the type of disorders with which they later present. A chaotic and disorganised lifestyle is often coupled with problems like ADHD.

Of course the trend these days is to pretend that children’s problems are like illnesses which have struck for no apparent reason; certainly nothing to do with parenting. Anybody who works with kids knows that this is nonsense. Now the sort of chaotic families with whom I worked would allow their children to stay up to all hours. This was part of their lifestyle. They would go visiting friends until one or two in the morning and took the kids with them. The result would be that the kids would not get enough sleep and their body rhythms would become screwed up. They would always be tired during the day, but wide awake at night. Even at home, the concept of ’bedtime’ was unknown. They would sit up with their parents until they fell asleep on the sofa and then be put to bed when the parents themselves went to bed, perhaps at two in the morning. Discipline was frequently non-existent. The child ate on demand, was very often allowed to do anything at all, as long as it did not irritate the parents.

It is not hard to see how this kind of lifestyle caused problems when the child began school. The kid would be unable to follow instructions and sit still for story time. Nobody had ever made him sit still quietly; of course he would have trouble starting now. He would fall asleep during lessons and be unable to obey simple requests. If he couldn’t get his way, he would scream and become aggressive. Many of these kids were diagnosed with ADHD as a consequence.

The treatment to which these children were subjected had no underlying ideological rationale. Their parents simply carried on their own lives and left the children to their own devices; expecting them to fit in with the parents’ lives. It is odd though how similar themes emerge in some home educated children. Some home educating parents refuse to enforce a bedtime. They allow their children to decide what they should do, when and what they should eat. There is minimal or wholly non-existent discipline and structure. One cannot help but wonder whether the high number of home educated children with special educational needs of the ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia type could be a by-product of certain kinds of parenting. In other words, do they end up being home educated because certain syndromes strike their children at random or are the disorders themselves precipitated by the style of upbringing? I shall explore this thesis further over the next few days.


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