Emotional Dysregulation to Emotional Intelligence: A New Approach for ADD/ADHD

By Ian Kennedy

We fortunately get to see a lot of children at our center, and over the years they have always been some of the most joyful experiences to work with. Unfortunately, many of these children have ADD/ADHD or other learning issues. There is a plethora of research and theories about the cause of such disorders, many of which place “blame” on genetic factors. Recently, a theory suggests that ADD/ADHD characteristics like "tuning out" or the inability to focus or pay attention, including poor impulse control, are neither a disease nor an inheritable syndrome.They are, in fact, a coping mechanism. 

When an adult is under stress, two options are available to relieve it. They can remove themself from the environment that is a cause of the pressure, or fight back. Our natural stress response is fight or flight. What is the consequence, if perhaps, one cannot fight back or flee? One becomes stuck and they freeze. What does the brain do when it can neither deal with stress through fight or flight? The brain disconnects. It disconnects from the stressful moment. It loses the ability to focus and the ability for critical thinking. The person will become jittery and fidgety and tune out their surroundings. They will appear to suffer from ADD/ADHD.

Like most early-onset neurological imbalances, it starts in the home. Home is the first place a child will learn to tune-out when their environment becomes stressful. Children often internalize pressure, and when combined with a dominant Theta brainwave state in early childhood, tuning out and lacking focus on the external world looks like ADD/ADHD. What is happening is the brain is finding solutions for coping with stress that it can not escape. 

Ultimately, children first feel the stress of their parents. These early experiences have a lot to do with brain development in early childhood. 

When a child is encouraged to play, explore, and express themselves, the mind functions at its best. The child will naturally tune-out if the early environment is not supportive or joyful, or has high emotional stress. If the parent or guardian deals with stress well and has cooperative and loving relationships, the child will naturally thrive. Diet and toxic loads can't be discounted either, nor can allergies that can contribute to such behavioral issues. That being said, I have seen that the problems associated with ADD/ADHD seem to be how the child deals with inescapable stress. As parents, we must remember that home stress goes to school, and school stress comes back home. 

It has become apparent that John D. Rockefeller was greatly responsible for establishing the current learning system; he created the General Education Board (G.E.B.) for $129 million back in 1903. The G.E.B provided significant funding for schools across the nation and was very influential in shaping the current school system of education. He said we needed the educational system to "produce workers, not thinkers." He and Andrew Carnegie applied this same concept to medicine and medical schools regarding the financial need for long-term patients, instead of promoting healthy diets and exercise that might keep people healthy without the need for pharmaceuticals.

Once children go off to school, they are under new stress, and the old compensation mechanism for dealing with stress kicks in. Now it appears that they can't concentrate or listen in class. Children spend six or seven hours under artificial conditions in schools, emphasizing memorization instead of learning how to learn. The old model of read, memorize and repeat is outdated. Albert Einstein was famous for saying “Never remember that which you can look up,” and today, we can look up anything at the touch of a phone or computer screen.

Some schools today, such as the Acton schools, encourage children to discover how they learn and what they find interesting. Many classes are outdoors, and the children take responsibility for success and failure. These schools lack assigned seats. There is no forced memorization and no social indoctrination. They offer cooperation, expression of ideas, and learning from mistakes. Decompressing school experiences must become a focal point in future educational settings.   

 ADD/ADHD later in life becomes a holdover coping skill that is no longer supportive in life. What is the remedy? What can heal the brain and remove the trauma response that keeps us disconnected? First, recognizing that it is a coping response brings it from an unconscious reaction to a level of conscious awareness. Second, creating a flexible and supportive environment and schedule will also lessen stress—such as taking breaks and shifting the mind from active Beta waves to Alpha or Theta brainwaves through conscious breathing and relaxation techniques. 

 Perhaps, with a change in environment and a shift in focus from academic excellence to emotional intelligence, self-discovery, and self-expression, we can begin fostering an enthusiastic passion for learning and see the symptoms of ADD/ADHD drop off dramatically. Removing ADD/ADHD as a diagnosis helps lessen the stigma that can come with the label of a learning disability. Understanding that ADD/ADHD is a child's natural compensation for stress gives room for other avenues to be investigated and techniques to help equip children with ways to deal with the pressure from home and their learning experiences. 

So, look at the relationships that are held, see if they are ones based on the extracting of joy or the giving of joy to the other. Dig into the unspoken rules that frame the relationship and work to reestablish the relationship in unselfishness and service to the other.  

See if they are relationships of expectation and assumption or if they are of growth and support. When we put others before ourselves and their joy and wellbeing above our own the relationship will not only grow and flourish but will also be deeper and more true and rewarding than once believed possible.