The antidote to ADHD isn’t Ritalin, it’s play: let’s make recess the first class of the day!

For anyone reading today’s NYT article on the ADHD “epidemic” (sidenote: the only epidemic is in the eyes of the diagnosticians and, worse, the school administrators who ensure that normal boys look hyperactive by sticking them in classrooms at 8am every morning), it wasn’t hard to notice someone conspicuously absent: Jaak Panksepp.

If you haven’t read Panksepp’s most recent article on the normal evolutionary function of attentional shifting, and on the necessity of reorganizing our grade schools to make recess the first class of the day, read it now: Panksepp, ADHD and Play.pdf

The real tragedy here is that we are stuck with a system of education that came of age when most children were engaged in huge amounts of physical activity every day (walking to and from school, doing chores around the house, playing physical games rather then electronic ones). No adjustment has been made for this. Reasonable proposals – such as to educated girls and boys separately in the mornings, giving boys play first and study later, and then merging them in the afternoon – go missing entirely.  If we’re going to change the way we treat our kids, we have to begin by giving them age-appropriate outlets for the normal mammalian urge to shift attention rapidly and frequently in the pursuit of social experience. Or, as Panksepp calls it, play.

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