Some Thoughts on ADHD

When I taught school in the late 1970's, children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) were called hyperactive. At that time it was not known that ADHD also impacted how a child learned. Our knowledge of this disorder has come so far. Unfortunately, that knowledge has not been widely disseminated. I have met people who think

  1. ADHD is an excuse for bad behavior, lazy children, or bad parenting.
  2. Giving a hyperactive child medication will solve all the problems.
  3. Medication will turn the child into a "zombie".
  4. Medication will inhibit the child's creative abilities.

As a mother of a child diagnosed with ADHD, it was important to determine which, if any of the above statements were true.

Number 1: ADHD is an excuse: FALSE. Through brain imaging studies, ADHD has been proven to be a neurobiological disorder. The brain of children with ADHD develops slowly and, in some cases, differently than the brain of children without ADHD. Unfortunately, brain imaging is not yet reliable to use as a diagnostic technique. ADHD is still diagnosed via a checklist of symptoms. Remember, that just because something can not yet be objectively diagnosed, it doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

Number 2: Medication will solve the problem: FALSE. Because ADHD is caused by the development of the brain, giving a child medication helps with ADHD symptoms; it is not a solution. Studies have shown that medication will help with attention and maybe memory, but it does not help with impulse control, planning, or organizing. These deficits can cause real issues in school, especially in later grades when children are asked to take more responsibility for their work.

Numbers 3 & 4: Turning the child into a "zombie" & Inhibiting the child's creative abilities via medication: DEPENDS. These concerns can be real depending upon the medications given, the dosage, the time of day, and the child's reaction to those medications. For this reason, it is key to go to a child psychiatrist for diagnosis and treatment. It is also key to go to the best psychiatrist your budget will allow. A representative for a drug company told me that being a psychiatrist is part scientist and part artist. Talk to other parents to find a psychiatrist that can be both scientist and artist. Also, a good psychiatrist will listen to you and your child, and can talk to you in terms that you understand. It may cost a little more, but the outcome is worth it!

As for understanding and living with a child with ADHD, I have found the following chart helpful. For example, the data shows that 72% of children with ADHD argue with their parents while only 21% without ADHD argue with their parents.

You can find the data for this chart in Dr. Martin L Kutscher's book "Kids in the Syndrome Mix". Another good data point comes from Susan C. Pinsky's book "Organizing Solutions for People with Attention Deficit Disorder," which states

The attention-able need to overcome inertia and motivate themselves only once to begin their shower; people with ADD many have to motivate themselves four, five or six times. They may start for the shower, only to find themselves back in the bedroom because they were distracted while fetching a clean towel from the hall linen cupboard; they may again start for the shower, only to end up in the kitchen, where they wandered after traipsing to the basement to rummage among the economy-sized supplies for a pack of soap bars. Again and again they must exercise the self-discipline to start for that shower, knowing full well that there is some chance they will again be frustratingly sidetracked.

This data helps to remind me that my child does not operate like other children. It also helped me to explain to his teachers that what my child did was related to his disorder, not to my parenting style or their teaching style. It can also help to explain why reminders from teachers and parents are not luxuries, they are necessary for the successful performance of the child.