The Most Complex Ecosystem In The Universe: Your Child's Brain

This article is in the August 2008 edition of The Healing Path, based in Northern Colorado. My son was diagnosed with mild ADHD when he was 10 years old, which has sent me searching for information to support his development. I’m impressed by the local network of practitioners tackling this insidious and increasingly diagnosed impairment.

Child Psychiatrist Dr. Scott Shannon spoke to a standing-room-only crowd at the Fort Collins Lincoln Center in January, offering his perspective on trends in diagnosis of children’s psychological symptoms. The event was a presentation of Learning Disorders Solutions Network of Northern Colorado.

A storm of factors has precipitated rampant diagnosis of behavioral disorders in American youth, according to Shannon. Statistics indicate American children have the most psychiatric problems, are prescribed the most psychoactive medicines, and exhibit the most symptoms of severe stress.

Shannon maintains that a prevalent thought among those working with children’s behavior issues today is that there’s a biochemical problem in every brain, and a biochemical solution for every brain. “It’s just not the case,” he said, as he cautioned against the error of arrogance. “Brain biochemistry and pathology get too much emphasis,” he said.

“1.6 million kids are on 2 or more psychoactive medicines with no evidence that it is safe or effective,” Shannon put forth. He spoke with reverence about the complexity of a child’s brain, and suggested that the medical community’s understanding of it remains infinitely small. “A child’s brain is the most complex ecosystem in the universe,” he said.

He asserted that environmental influence on a child’s brain is more important than inherited genetics — brain development is reliant on early relationships. Of mental disorders, autism and schizophrenia have the most genetic influence, yet that influence is only 50%, he said. Even these serious disorders could remain asymptomatic if all relationship and environmental elements of a child’s life were favorable, he suggested.

Adderall treats symptoms of ADHD the way aspirin treats a headache, with cause and prevention being ignored, Shannon said. “Fifty percent of ADHD kids have a learning disability that won’t be solved by a prescription… We have to sort it out by examining the ecological system.”