The Link Between Play and ADHD

The link between Play and ADHD

The link between Play and ADHD

In this week’s Success Newsletter, I would like to reveal the link between ADHD and play.

First a quick update:

“Why do men want women to cook for them?”
Is it because they simply want to be treated like king? Is it because they believe they are superior, and that cooking and the kitchen is only the domain of a woman? Watch the video of my insights on the TV show “The Daily Buzz” – part of the series of “Get Motivated”  and read my full article here.

Now, let’s talk about the link between “play” and ADHD.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders (ADHD) is summed up as difficulty staying focused and paying attention, difficulty controlling behavior (impulsivity), and hyperactivity (over-activity).

The number of diagnoses of ADHD in children has risen by 66 percent since the year 2000. Boys are 2 – 4 times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with ADHD.

More than 10 million children in the US are chronically medicated with psychostimulants. This is the highest rate of any country in the world and the long-term biological and psychological effects of these drugs have not been adequately studied.

And a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that ADHD is the leading and most common mental health issue in children ages 3-17 – with 7 percent of kids receiving a diagnosis. Click here to read more.

Why is there such an extraordinarily high and alarming rate of children being diagnosed with ADHD?

Is ADHD a biological disorder or a cultural illness?

The cause of ADHD may be linked to the lack of satiating of the human neurological drive to “play” and to the lack of attention from dad.

Jaak Panksepp is an American psychologist, psychobiologist, neuroscientist and Emeritus Professor of the Department of Psychology at Bowling Green State University. Panksepp has identified PLAY as one of the seven networks of emotion in the brain; he believes that we have an instinct to play.

There are various forms of play – physical play, social play, exploratory play and object play.

“…our children from their earliest years must take part in all the more lawful forms of play, for if they are not surrounded by such an atmosphere they can never grow up to be well conducted and virtuous citizens.” – Plato, circa 360 BC (The Republic – Section IV)

“Kids who had little opportunity for play are more likely to become anti-social, criminally prone adults” – Dr. Jaak Panksepp, 2007.

According to Dr. Panksepp, abundant play facilitates social brain maturation –  maturation of the frontal lobe of the brain which results in the ability to regulate children’s impulsive primary-process emotional urges – “allowing us to ‘stop, look, listen & feel’” while enhancing the capacity for “self-reflection, imagination, empathy and creative/play.”

If the urge to play is a neurological drive – an insistent emotional motivation – then a lack of play will result in increased restlessness, hyperactivity and a decreased ability to focus. In other words, children can’t sit still in class or even at home if their primary need and urge to play isn’t being met or satiated.

The question still remains why are so many children, today more than ever before, being diagnosed with ADHD and why is that number growing exponentially? Are children playing less than they did a decade ago?

Technology today – in all its forms – video games, Facebook, Instagram, messaging, online games and the internet in general create an extraordinary opportunity for children to connect but not physically interact or play. (It’s children and teens who made Instagram famous because it represents a form of play and laughter, albeit far short of real play and exchange between children.)

Children need physical and social interaction. Boys, above girls, need constant physical play and physical interaction. Children also need to explore their physical world and they need to play games and interact with their parents.

Dr. Peter Breggin, author of “Medication Madness – a psychiatrist exposes the dangers of mood-altering medications” believes that in some cases, children diagnosed with ADHD may simply be suffering from the lack of discipline at home.  He also adds “I’ve actually coined the term DADD, Dad Attention Deficit Disorder because that’s what the kid is suffering from.” Read more here.

“Despite years of psychiatric research, most of what gets diagnosed as ADHD may be little more than natural variability of brain maturation that results partly from genetic factors and partly from the social environments we have created.” – Dr. Jaak Panskepp.

One of the “social environments we have created” is what Dr. Breggin has identified as a lack of attention from dad, as well as a lack of involvement by dad.

In almost every ADHD case that I have seen with clients, the children have a dad that is either physically, emotionally or psychologically absent.

Although, it might not yet have been quantified via research, it is most obvious that dads do not physically play with children as often as in past decades; children spend more time with technology than they do playing games outside with dad or even other children for that matter.

Again, children need to physically play and interact in real life with each other. Children need physical touch along with laughter; laughter is the clearest signal that natural play urges are being engaged.

“It’s become appallingly clear that our technology has surpassed our humanity” – Jeff Goldblum in the role of physics teacher Donald Ripley in the 1995 movie “Powder.” (NB. This statement has incorrectly been attributed to Albert Einstein, but there is no evidence that Einstein ever said those words.)

The following factors are depriving and robbing children of the opportunity to play – negatively impacting their maturation and in the long term leading to depressive disorders:

  1. Society is becoming more and more politically correct
  2. Physical play is at times considered as bad behavior
  3. Parents, particularly mothers, are acting as helicopters hovering over children, fearful that they might get a scratch from playing; parents are continuing to trap children in cotton wool which also creates anxiety. Read my article “The dangers of cotton wooling your children” and “Dads hug your sons”.
  4. Parents are agreeing to medicate children as young as 3 – these psychostimulants reduce the urge to play or interact socially

The answer is simple although, admittedly, not easy for all parents, particularly single parents: encourage your children to play and laugh; play with them and play with them outside. Encourage your children to express themselves, to explore and expand rather than to shrink and be controlled like robots. Encourage your children to play adventurously. Finally, recall how much you longed to play and have fun when you were a child; your children want the same!

If you would like further scientific research on the link between Play and ADHD, read the scientific paper by Jaak Panksepp PhD “Can PLAY Diminish ADHD and Facilitate the Construction of the Social Brain?”

Learn about the risk of addiction for people living with ADHD – A guide to ADHD and addiction by Oliver at ADT Healthcare. 

UPDATE: Dr Keith Conners who spearheaded the legitimization of ADHD told a conference of doctors in December 2013, that he is alarmed by the statistics that reveal that the diagnosis had been made in 15 percent of high school-age children, and that the number of children on medication for the disorder had soared to 3.5 million from 600,000 in 1990. He questioned the rising rates of diagnosis and called them “a national disaster of dangerous proportions.”

“The numbers make it look like an epidemic. Well, it’s not. It’s preposterous,” Dr. Conners, a psychologist and professor emeritus at Duke University, said in a subsequent interview. “This is a concoction to justify the giving out of medication at unprecedented and unjustifiable levels.”  Dr. Conners blames fellow doctors and pharmaceuticals for false diagnoses: Read more here.

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I wish you the best and remind you “Believe in yourself -You deserve the best!”

Patrick Wanis Ph.D.
Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert & SRTT Therapist

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