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Biblical Answers for the Construct of ADHD

August 30, 2017

Many people in today’s society are desperate for answers concerning their children’s maladaptive behavior and destructive mindsets. Though many parents have come to believe that their children are abnormal and even diseased—accepting the ADHD construct as defining their children, there exists a better explanation of children’s undesirable moral behavior. This description is found in the Bible, the authority on human nature that is entirely sufficient to address all issues regarding the secular label of ADHD.

 

It is important to distinguish from the outset that there exist both physical and spiritual impairments to a child’s giving attention. In fact, the biblical pattern of attention includes the eyes, the ears, the spiritual heart (the mind), and the hands and feet (representing behavior).[1] Attention requires both physical and spiritual engagement. 

 

When I first meet with parents who are trying to discern why their child seems to not be able to pay attention or just refuses to do so, one of the first questions I ask is whether or not a physician has evaluated the child’s senses, specifically their eyes and ears, for defects, injury, or impairment. If a doctor has not checked their physical nature for problems, then I counsel them to first see a physician. This physical evaluation is important because if someone cannot hear or see, they cannot be expected to keep their attention focused, let alone focused correctly. Many children, for example, are diagnosed as having ADHD, when in fact they have sensory impairment that suggests Autism and not what theorists describe as ADHD. Autism, among other things, is a neurological condition that impairs the child’s ability to pay attention across all of the child’s life environments and not just some of them. On the other hand, the idea of ADHD—according to the DSM-5—is an idea that attempts to explain why children can pay attention in some settings while seemingly being unable to do so in other situations. Autism is a sensory problem and not a spiritual condition; it clearly is a physically- based obstacle to paying attention. Children who have valid neurological damage, sensory impairment, physical injuries or lack the ability to pay attention across all their life’s activities should be seen by a physician. 

 

But there is another element involved in attention. According to Scripture, if children can pay attention in some areas of life and not others, the child does not have an attention deficit but an interest deficit. This moral component to attention is what the DSM attempts to explain away in their construct of ADHD. In other words, the maladaptive behavior which reflects a heart that is not interested in paying attention is not biologically ill, but spiritually depraved. For example, many children labeled as ADHD claim that they cannot pay attention in a classroom, but they are able to fix their attention on video games, sports, or movies for hours upon end without losing concentration or being distracted. Desire, as Proverbs emphasizes, is a key element to not just paying attention, but paying attention rightly. When a child’s problem of attention and self-control is an interest deficit or misplaced focus—as the construct of ADHD describes—then the true problem is a heart issue and not a physical malady. For example, the three behaviors categorized as impulsivity in the DSM-5 allegedly identifying ADHD reflect self-centeredness and subsequent lack of control: “often blurts out an answer before questions have been completed,” “often interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g., butts into conversations, games or activities),” and “often has trouble waiting his or her turn.”[2] The Bible identifies these behaviors as foolishness and shameful: e.g., Proverbs 18:13 “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.”[3] What the DSM-5 calls impulsivity is better understood as a child’s natural self-centeredness/foolishness. The child’s mindsets and behaviors are real, but the way they are labeled, explained, and approached are antithetical. 

 

What these conflicting constructs illustrate is that how we view and approach our children reflects our underlying anthropology. Psychiatry dogmatically asserts the concept of ADHD based on the premise that children naturally pay attention rightly, naturally pose self-control, and naturally behave in non-foolish ways. In fact, the 18 behaviors that comprise the ADHD construct are understood by most psychologists and psychiatrists as normal human behavior. The reason that many people have accepted this new anthropology is that no standard of normal child-like behavior has been established by secularists from which to base a child’s deviances. They claim that any “persistent” or “ongoing” “significant impairment” should be considered as an abnormality or a disease entity.[4] This includes willful disobedience, which they label as Oppositional Defiance Disorder.  

 

Any attempt to define, approach, or help children with attention will inevitably be based on a person’s view of normal human nature. Even the secular psychologist, Russell Barkley—whom many consider to be the “guru” of ADHD—understands this reality: “Any theory of child psychopathological condition such as ADHD will ultimately have to be linked to larger theories of the nature of normal developmental psychological processes and the neuropsychological processes that comprise them”.[5] But psychiatric theory—based upon evolution, materialism, humanism, and determinism—is entirely opposed to God’s perfect description of children and normal human nature. 

 

The construct of ADHD does not represent a description of some children or a definition of a genuine disease, but it does represent an imprecise theory of anthropology. It views humanity as strong, evolving, and morally good. But what if the description of a child’s wrong mindsets and behaviors found in the DSM-5 as ADHD actually describe what it means to be a normal child rather than one who is diseased or abnormal? What if, as Scripture clearly declares, humanity is by nature frail, deceived, and foolish, and what if children naturally struggle to give attention rightly? People’s foundational view of mankind will ultimately determine how they view their children’s unwanted and destructive mindsets and behavior.

 

The reason that psychiatry has failed to help children is not merely because they lack valid etiologies or biological markers; rather it is because they have started with the wrong foundational view of mankind. They have exchanged the tried and true wisdom of God and replaced it with humanistic theory.

 

The Bible does fully provide valid and practical answer to the secular construct of ADHD, and these answers can be easily found if one begins with right anthropology. Scripture describes all children as naturally struggling to pay attention in a beneficial way. Proverbs 22:15, for example, declares that foolishness is bound in a child’s heart. It is not something that goes wrong, it is wrong from the start. Struggling with giving attention rightly is an intricate part of our fallen condition and something that Proverbs states needs to be corrected.[6] Instead of paying attention to worthy things, children by nature listen to their own deceived hearts and pursue their own depraved desires. They are paying attention, but it is to their own deceitful way. Proverbs also warns that following this natural course will lead the child into destructive behavior and maladaptive patterns of living; this is the way that naturally seems right unto man but ends in destruction (Proverbs 14:12). Likewise, Proverbs reveals that the expected fruit of a foolish heart is foolish behavior. The more foolish the heart, in fact, the more a child will behave foolishly. Scripture even compares the fool who returns to his folly as a dog returning to its vomit (Proverbs 26:11). Bad behavior should be expected from misplaced attention, but bad behavior is not indication of a disease but of the naturally foolish heart.

 

 

A great part of parenting, then, according to Proverbs, is not just teaching wisdom, but teaching the value of wisdom; it is implanting in our children’s hearts right desires that lead them on the right path and toward right lifestyle choices. Interestingly enough, the DSM-5 recognizes that if a child is under close supervision, finds an environment interesting, or there is a great enough reward for paying attention, the behaviors which are considered criteria for ADHD magically disappear.[7] This recognition exposes the true nature of the psychiatric disorder of ADHD to be a humanistic/materialistic explanation of a child’s spiritual nature and not a valid physical disease.  

 

The secular construct of ADHD works because people have bought into the idea that children rightly pay attention from birth. Instead of realizing that foolishness is bound in the heart of every child, we have bought into the evolutionary thinking that human nature is normally good, strong, and advancing toward a superhuman race. Children today are not expected to make 4.0s in school, they are expected to make 5.5 GPAs while taking Advanced Placement courses and college credits. This stress and the unrealistic expectations placed on our children have further caused mental turmoil, and many children have simply lost interest. In truth, we as a nation have disregarded what God says is the normal human condition and replaced it with Darwinian ideas of normalcy. When children struggle to pay attention, and they naturally will, our society has chosen to interpret this human frailty as evidence of something biologically wrong with children instead of accepting the child’s normal fallen condition. 

 

Interestingly enough, psychostimulants do not provide a remedy to inattention; instead, they provide an evolutionary tool to take people beyond their normal—yet often undefined by secularists—mental states. This goal is what is known as transcendence—“taking people beyond their normal human states.” By offering “mind-altering” drugs to our children, secularists are promoting a type of humanistic sanctification that, in truth, is an attempt to advance evolutionary theory by making the weak stronger and denying the true frail and depraved human condition—what is truly normal. This is also why psychostimulants are some of the most abused drugs in the world, since they provide performance enhancement to anyone who takes them.  

 

As we previously noted, Scripture establishes both physical and spiritual aspects of paying attention rightly. The normal human spiritual condition is to pay attention to one’s own self, to destructive pursuits, and to produce maladaptive behavior, but there can also be physical causes to impaired attention that must be considered. For example, children born with down syndrome or autism will struggle paying attention rightly. Not only is their spiritual heart depraved as is all of ours, but they also have physical defects/impairments that confound giving attention. Physical therapy that strengthens the physical nature through repetition is known to improve valid physical impairments to attention, and many autistic children can even develop to the point of functioning in society. With that being said, The American Psychiatric Association’s “psychiatric bible”, the DSM-5, admits that no biological markers exist for ADHD. [8] The construct of ADHD does not describe a child’s valid physical problem with their eyes, ears, brains, or chemicals; rather it is an attempt to explain a child’s normal human condition within an evolutionary framework. If valid physical impairments are identified as causative for a child’s problem of paying attention, then—according to the DSM-5—the child does not have ADHD. 

 

Though the mindsets and behaviors found in the DSM-5 are not biologically caused as psychiatrists speculate, not giving attention correctly can cause physical impairments. Brain scans regularly show a decrease in brain volume when children are not paying attention rightly. Often this effect is interpreted as an etiology by biological psychiatrists, and some physicians are incorrectly using fMRIs and EEGS to diagnose the construct of ADHD. But the DSM-5 attests that this is wrong,[9] and Scripture explains these biological changes as effects rather than causes. Proverbs 4: 20-22 state, “My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart. For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh.” Not paying attention to God’s wisdom—offered by parents and teachers—will negatively affect both the physical and spiritual natures of a child.  

 

Life’s circumstances and environments can also influence one’s ability to pay attention, but there is a difference in asserting that environments cause inattention and understanding that experiences can and often do influence our spiritual nature. Experiences such as a child’s lack of sleep, parents’ divorce, or abuse will inevitably produce mental turmoil and further disrupt a child’s attention. A child who is focused on the pain and hurt he is enduring from his parent’s fighting will understandably struggle to pay attention to a teacher’s lesson on math. His parents’ relationship and his own future, in his mind, are rightly more important than whether or not 2 + 2 = 4. Yet teachers can incorrectly perceive a child’s lack of attention, especially when the child is carrying a heavy burden for a length of time, as a biological disease or even defiance. What is really occurring is that people give their attention to what they value most.   

 

Another common struggle that many children face today which can influence their giving attention rightly is lack of sleep. Many studies reveal that lack of sleep can be one of the most impairing circumstances in people’s lives. Sadly, psychostimulants—which are prescribed to allegedly treat ADHD—are widely understood to disturb sleep and to physically impair attention. They also shrink the prefrontal lobes of the consumer where the brain processes visual and auditory information. Though lack of sleep does not cause immoral/bad behavior, it can influence children negatively and impair their senses. 

 

This article is not a thorough discussion on the psychiatric construct of ADHD. It is hopefully, however, a starting point for people to return to God’s definition and descriptions of our children. If parents understand that children are by nature mentally prone to struggle with giving attention, then the construct of ADHD—one which has no empirical evidence to support it—ceases to be a good explanation for inattention. For more information and further study, please see Dr. Berger’s books The Truth About ADHD: Genuine Hope and Biblical Answers, Teaching a Child to Pay Attention: Proverbs 4:20-27, and Mental Illness: The Necessity for Dependence (Taylors, SC: Alethia International Publications, 2016). 

 

 

Citations and Notes:

 

[1] See Daniel R. Berger II, Teaching a Child to Pay Attention: Proverbs 4:20-27 (Taylors, SC: Alethia  International Publications, 2015).

[2] American Psychiatric Association, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed. (Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing, 2013), 60.

[3] The English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible is used throughout this article unless    otherwise noted.

[4] American Psychiatric Association, DSM-5, 61.

[5] Russell A. Barkley, ADHD and the Nature of Self-Control (New York: Guilford, 2005), vii-  viii. Hereafter referred to as NoSC. 

[6] Daniel R. Berger II, The Truth About ADHD: Genuine Hope and Biblical Answers (Taylors, SC:       Alethia International Publications, 2015), 126-47.

[7] American Psychiatric Association, DSM-5, 61.

[8] American Psychiatric Association, DSM-5, 61.

[9] “No biological marker is diagnostic for ADHD” (American Psychiatric Association, DSM-5, 61).

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