Rearing children may well be the most difficult and most rewarding task of a lifetime. To nurture a child from birth to adulthood is no easy task, but if that child arrives with ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), the difficulty is compounded. The first obstacle comes in recognizing the disorder and finding help for the child. That is just the beginning. Societal biases lurk around every corner.
Not only have I spent my career in education, a field that deals with ADHD children everyday, but I have also dealt with the problem in my family. It all started for us when our second child, Jakey, had trouble finishing his homework in second grade. His teacher called.
“Jakey is obviously a bright child,” she told me, “but something is keeping him from finishing his work. We need to check this out.”
I’ve always been grateful to that teacher. After extensive testing and what seemed like years of waiting, his test results came back, showing a high IQ and ADD. He did not have the hyperactivity aspect of the disorder. Our doctor put him on Ritalin, which at the time was about the only drug available, and gave us a list of tips for working with him.
“It doesn’t matter how smart he is if he can’t concentrate long enough to learn,” the doctor told us.
Ritalin worked miracles for Jakey. As I learned more and more about ADD, I saw signs of it in other family members. The most common symptoms according to CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) are as follows: fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes; has problems sustaining attention; appears to daydream; doesn’t appear to listen even with eye contact; can’t follow through on instructions; has no organizational skills and is messy; loses things constantly; is easily distracted; and forgetful. Granted, every one of us has some or all of these problems sometimes, and for that reason, ADHD is hard to diagnose. What teenaged boy isn’t messy? Who doesn’t drift off when forced to study something boring?
As we investigated, we discovered that the disorder usually is passed through the male genes, and males are most prone to it. My husband, Larry, says he has apologized to all our sons. Now some of the grandsons have it. Through the years we have learned to handle the condition. Some people outgrow it, some learn to cope with it, and others take it on into adulthood. No one knows the cause for this neurological disorder; there is no cure, but management techniques exist. For example, instead of telling an ADD child to go take out the trash, do his home work, and brush his teeth, it works much better to say, “Take out the trash and come back and tell me when you’ve finished.” He then has only one task to focus on. When he returns, he gets the next task.
When children are doing homework, parents should remove as many distractions as possible. No parent should ever let an ADHD child convince him that he works better with the television or music on. If you suspect that your child has ADHD, or some form of it, see a healthcare professional that you trust. There are new drugs on the market, but sometimes drugs aren’t needed. Medicating the child should never be the solution if some other one works. It depends on the situation. ADHD is frequently misdiagnosed and has gotten much bad press because of it.
Beware of ignorance, also. I had a teacher-yes, a teacher-say to me once, “I don’t believe in ADD. I expect all my students to do their work and follow my rules.” Obviously he believed in the one-size-fits-all education, and I’m telling you that it doesn’t work.
We hear pejorative comments from people like Neal Boortz, the radio talk show commentator, who calls ADHD a “phony disease.” Obviously, Mr. Boortz doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He’s never struggled with homework with Jakey. He’s obviously never loved an ADHD child. When the night falls at the end of each day, and we tuck our ADD children in their beds, we—not Boortz or some teacher—are responsible for preparing them for their futures. There is help available. We must be their advocates.