Question: "How should a Christian view ADD and ADHD?"
Answer: ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) are terms which describe conditions associated with particular sets of behaviors. There are generally both physical and spiritual implications associated with those who have been diagnosed with either of these conditions. Much of the research and debate on this issue centers around the physical cause and potential cure or care for the conditions. However, in that the essence of the conditions involves behavior that the Bible addresses, it is very important for Christians to consider the spiritual impact on those diagnosed with ADD or ADHD.
ADD tends to describe those individuals wrestling with inattention. Inattention is described as possessing some or all of the following: often makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, work or other activities; often has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities; often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly; often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace; often has difficulty organizing tasks and activities; often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort; often loses things necessary for tasks or activities; is often easily distracted by extraneous stimuli; is often forgetful in daily activities.
ADHD tends to describe those individuals wrestling with inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. The individual may have some of the above characteristics along with some of the following: often fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in seat; often leaves seat in classroom or in other situations in which remaining seated is expected; often runs about or climbs excessively in situations in which it is inappropriate; often has difficulty playing or engaging in leisure activities quietly; is often "on the go" or often acts as if "driven by a motor"; often talks excessively; often blurts out answers before questions have been completed; often has difficulty awaiting turn; often interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g., butts into conversations or games).
Undoubtedly, there are various reasons why individuals are diagnosed with ADD or ADHD. However, in cases where the evidence rests primarily on the behavior of the individual, the Supreme Authority should be consulted. The Bible is not silent on many of the above behaviors.
The following are biblical teachings concerning the issue of attentiveness:
1. God recognizes that some tasks are hard, yet it is good for us to be faithful with our tasks – Proverbs 6:6-8; Colossians 3:23.
2. God recognizes that it is hard to stay focused, yet there are rewards for staying focused – Proverbs 12:11.
3. God recognizes that it is hard to develop priorities, yet there are rewards for making good choices – Proverbs 24:27.
4. God recognizes that it is hard to listen to instruction, yet there are rewards for listening to those who are teaching – Proverbs 7:24; James 1:19.
5. God recognizes that it is hard to remember things; that is why He tells us to develop reminders – Proverbs 6:20-21; Deuteronomy 6:6-8; 2 Peter 1:12-15.
The following are biblical teachings concerning the issue of self-control:
1. We typically do not exhibit self-control; it is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:23), as well as that which we add to our faith (2 Peter 1:6).
2. The Apostle Paul described bringing his body under control as a battle (1 Corinthians 9:27).
3. The Bible even encourages controlling the use of our words (Proverbs 10:19; Matthew 12:36).
4. We are encouraged that control of our lives begins with control over our minds (Proverbs 25:28; Philippians 4:8).
The following are biblical teachings concerning impulsivity:
1. God states that there are consequences to being hasty (Proverbs 21:5).
2. There is value in listening before speaking (James 1:19).
3. It is wise to listen to a matter before answering (Proverbs 18:13).
4. Patience and longsuffering (holding back passion) are signs of spiritual maturity (Galatians 5:22; James 1:2-4).
Typically, one focuses on the negative behavior without realizing that there are positive traits behind those behaviors. The day-dreamer or forgetful one tends to be quite imaginative. The impulsive one tends to have a burden to get things done. The hyperactive person tends to have ample energy that can be turned to benefit others. Therefore, it is important that such individuals be considered for what part they play in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:11-26).
The behaviors above are considered signs of wisdom and maturity, or the lack thereof. Therefore, it is the role of the church and parents to help redirect the attention and energy of individuals with ADD and ADHD. Disciplining such individuals will involve the following:
1) Helping the individual develop a servant’s heart. Many of the behaviors listed above reflect a rather selfish motive in life. Learning to serve others helps individuals push through unpleasant tasks and to be more patient (Philippians 2:3-4).
2) Helping the individuals control their own thinking. The Bible talks of renewing the mind (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:23). God instructs us to focus on eight attributes in Philippians 4:8. Those who wrestle with fantasy can be encouraged to think on those things that are true.
3) Helping the individuals to renew their minds as to what God teaches about their behaviors (note the above examples).
4) Helping the individuals to establish structure. The Bible describes the Christian life as being a “one another” experience. They met daily in the early church (Acts 2) and we are encouraged to motivate and encourage one another (Hebrews 10:24-25). Too often we give people a “pass” on their behaviors when what they need is help in changing them.
5) Helping the individuals by modeling proper behavior. Paul modeled for Timothy (2 Timothy 3:10-11). Undoubtedly, many individuals learn better by seeing than by hearing. It is extra work, but patiently helping such individuals turn the corner will have dividends in the long run.
6) By embracing the special place they fulfill in the body of Christ, we can tap into the gift they have to offer.
There are certainly other things that can help those diagnosed with ADD or ADHD. However, parents, pastors, and those who work with children and adults with ADD and/or ADHD should not be discouraged from utilizing the Word of God, which is profitable for teaching, reproving, correcting, and instructing (2 Timothy 3:16).
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