TV ADDs to Student Woes; Teachers Say More Viewing Affects Brain

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 27, 2003 | Go to article overview

TV ADDs to Student Woes; Teachers Say More Viewing Affects Brain


Byline: Stephanie K. Taylor, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Kim Dahlem remembers an elementary school student diagnosed with attention deficit disorder who had to be escorted to class each morning because he was nonfunctional before his Ritalin took effect. But he's not the only child who has difficulty concentrating, says Mrs. Dahlem, who is preschool special-education coordinator for Morgan County schools in Alabama and has worked in the education profession for 18 years.

"It's harder for children to concentrate," she says.

"Children have to be amused all the time," said Lee Hausner, a clinical psychologist who served as senior psychologist for the Beverly Hills Unified School District for 16 years.

Many educators voice similar complaints. Not only are more and more children being diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD), but teachers say there is an overall decline in students' ability to sit still and pay attention in class.

Why? TV-induced brain damage, say some scholars.

"We can say with confidence that excessive television viewing causes neurological damage," says Gloria DeGaetano, a veteran teacher and chief executive officer of the Parent Coaching Institute LLC, an educational training organization based in Bellevue, Wash.

"TV watching causes the brain to slow down, producing a constant pattern of low-frequency brain waves consistent with ADD behavior," says Ms. DeGaetano, author of several books on media and parenting. "Television viewing may be the number one culprit of the cause of ADD."

The tendency toward "quick-cut" editing - in which scenes and images shift rapidly - makes modern TV shows more stimulating.

"Watch a television show today and look at how the images have to change to keep a child's attention," says Mrs. Hausner.

And these days, it's harder for the educational system to keep up, as teachers work to adapt teaching methods for children who just can't sit still.

Mrs. Dahlem has seen the traditional classroom - with its straight rows of desks - evolve to the "cooperative teaching" method, where children in groups of four and five work together to complete a certain project.

"And I would certainly say that the decrease in the ability to concentrate has played a role in why this method is used," says Mrs. Dahlem. "The classroom has changed from straight desk lines to table-top work."

The number of children diagnosed with ADD has risen sharply in recent years. One national survey of physician diagnoses in the office practice revealed a 100 percent increase in diagnoses from 1990 to 1993, from approximately 1 million to 2 million cases.

The fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) defines ADD as "a persistent and frequent pattern of developmentally inappropriate inattention and impulsivity, with or without hyperactivity," marked by signs of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior.

Some educators and researchers warn that America is facing an epidemic of declining attention. But David Rabiner, senior research scientist at Duke University, says it is uncertain whether the increase of ADD reflects a real epidemic. …

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