Attention Deficit Disorder: Is it ADD or Discipline?

I suspect that my six-year-old daughter has ADD. I have been silently watching for a couple of years, and now I feel that outside evaluation might be an option. However, I also feel that attention deficit disorder (ADD) is becoming a catchall diagnosis for children who lack only discipline. Before allowing any kind of drug therapy to be discussed, I want to be certain that behaviors I presume to be discipline-related are not ADD-related, and vice versa. I do not wish to label her and allow her the latitude that a diagnosis of ADD seems to afford.

Primarily, the school-related behaviors concern me. My daughter has difficulty following directions in class. The teacher has commented that every task has to be broken down into small steps, with the steps restated several times. She has to stay on my child to be sure that she completes a task. Secondly, my daughter can read, but for some reason writing is a problem. She recently had her first spelling test, and she got two right out of 10. If you ask her to verbally spell each word, however, she consistently gets eight right out of 10, although she cannot seem to spell the same word right each time tested. She does not seem to retain the information for very long. It is frustrating for her and me. She cries from frustration, which I am not helping by constantly working with her. She picks up that my frustration mounts with each incorrect answer. She can memorize things, such as Bible verses, like a champ. Ask her to write it, though, and she freezes.

She is, overall, a very bright, loving child. She loves to hug her teachers, our pastor and anyone else who is active in her life. She loves to draw and make storybooks out of pictures, but there are no words on her pages. Do you feel that an outside evaluation would be a good thing? She goes to a private school, and I do not wish for the school to evaluate her, as her privacy is an issue. I do not want her school record labeled ADD. Who would be my best source of information?

--Branigan
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Robert Schwebel

Clinical psychologist Robert Schwebel, PhD, has been in private practice for almost 30 years, counseling children, couples and... Read more

You sound like a devoted mother with a very bright daughter. You should be pleased she is reading, can memorize verse and spell out loud, and likes to hug. And she is only six years old!
Yes, you may be overanxious about this; you even say so yourself. Your daughter may be picking up your anxiety, which could affect her, for example, on a spelling test. I would not worry about her ability at age six to put knowledge on paper. If you relax and give her a chance to take her time and get used to academics, I would guess, she will do fine.

I agree that ADD is being overdiagnosed, and I share your concern about the extent of medication children are receiving. In this case, I suggest that you get some help for yourself, so you can relax and enjoy your daughter's accomplishments and so she can feel more comfortable about taking her time and letting her achievements happen. My guess is that if you spoke with other parents to get a sense of what is normal for this age, you would feel assured. Also, if your daughter were ADD, why would it be at school only and not at home? I hope this is reassuring.

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