Monday, May 4, 2009

ADHD or The Energizer Bunnies Among Us....

There are people out there that believe ADD/ADHD (attention deficit disorder or with hyperactivity) doesn't exist. I've heard all the arguements/excuses on various forums, and I've had actual conversations with people about this very subject. So today I am going to blog about ADD/ADHD. I have some things to get off my chest....and Lord knows if I have something to say then I like to just get it out there.
First of all before I get started let me fill you in on my background for those of you who don't know...
1. I worked as a public school special education teacher for 17 years professionally. I had MANY students in my classroom over the years with the ADHD diagnosis. Both boys and girls. I have seen mild cases to the most severe imaginable.
2. I have researched ADD/ADHD over the years. I've read medical journals and textbooks,more books then I can even count, been in discussion groups and participated in seminars.
3. I married a man who has a mild case of ADD without the hyperactivity. He is a wonderful source of information about ADD because he is a very insightful person and is able to explain to me firsthand about his difficulties focusing. He is able to talk about the strategies that he has learned over the years to help him compensate.Talking with him gives me good perspective. My oldest son is a textbook case of ADHD, and let me just add...unless you live with someone who is truly ADHD please don't tell me it doesn't really exist because, and I mean no disrespect, you don't know what you're talking about. Book knowledge is a great thing---but personal daily experience with ADD/ADHD is a true learning experience.
4. I have listened to more then one doctor discuss ADHD as we discuss medication options for my oldest. Yes, he is on medication.

First of all, ADHD is a true medical condition. Research been done on the brains of ADD/ADHD people and it has been found that their brain (the actual gray matter) is different from the "typical" brain. The parts of the brain that control impulsivity and reaction don't look the same. Also the dopamine/serotonin levels in the brain of an ADHD person are lower then normal. So, medical research has shown that there are indeed differences. Differences don't mean bad or wrong....they just mean different.
Having a child with ADHD is in some ways is more difficult then say having a physically handicapped least from a societal point of view. Physical handicaps can be seen. Most people understand that a child who has to wear leg braces is going to have difficulty running in gym class. Accommodations can be made, but a child with ADHD who has great difficulty paying attention/focusing for more then a few minutes at a time, is expected to sit in a classroom and stay in his seat for a full 50 minute class period and then have a 5 minute break and do it all over again for most of the school day. They are square pegs in a round peg world.
I have had discussions with people about medicating children with ADHD. Now, let me just say this: each parent has to soul search and decide for themselves and their own children about medication. Severity of the condition also should be taken into account. My husband and I believe that medication is best for our son. He is a teenager and he is able to see for himself how the medication helps him. The medication he takes is a stimulant. It seems sort of odd that a drug that stimulates has the opposite affect on a child who is already overstimulated. This goes back to when I was talking about decreased levels of dopamine. Dopamine calms/and soothes us. If you don't have enough your body is "wired". The stimulant meds bring the dopamine up to a normal level so the person can function. A person who truly is ADHD cannot become dependent or addicted to the stimulant drugs because these drugs are not giving them "a high" like they would in a non-ADHD person. They are just making his chemical levels normal.
To people who are adamantly against medication for ADHD, why is that? (like I said it is a personal decision, but I've come across people who are very vocal about their non-meds opinion and believe it is THE ONLY WAY to go.) If your child had poor vision would you not get them glasses? Or would you tell them to just hold the book closer to see it or sit closer to the TV? Would you allow them to drive a car without glasses?
If your child was diabetic would you deny them their needed insulin--believing that their blood sugar levels would all balance out in the long run? NO. Well, I feel no different about my son and his medication.
Sure we can break things down to a more manageable level for him. We can have him make lists for himself of things he needs to complete. He uses watches and alarm clocks to try and stay on time. We have discussed how he will need to come up with life long strategies that will work for him and allow him to function in a productive manner. Medication is just one way we choose to help our child...and there is nothing wrong with that.

Being in the public school system for years I was privy to lots of different cases of children with various disabilities. Do I think that some teachers/parents wanted kids on meds because they thought the child would be easier to deal with? Yes. I know that to be true. Do I believe that some children are much more physically active then the typical child? Yes. BUT I have seen many TRUE cases of ADHD....children that without meds could not focus, could not sit still, could not keep from blurting out, could not keep their hands to themselves and off of others, their impulsivity got them in trouble and many times they didn't "think first" nor understand the consequences of their behavior. They just were unable to see it or just didn't realize.
Sadly, many times these children would become the pariahs of their classrooms because they got on their classmates nerves. High energy children can be tiring to all those around them.

Having said this, I want to also let it be known that ADHD is not all negative. For all the difficulties and problems that this particular diagnosis can bring there are also many positives. As parents it is our responsibility to show our children that they have gifts too. Many times ADHD children think outside of the box. Many times it is WAY OUTSIDE of the box. They look at things differently. They come up with solutions that we might have never even considered. They open our eyes to different possibilities.
These children have a tendency to be "happy go lucky" and are able to remain optimistic even when the game of life has them in the bottom of the ninth inning with two runs behind and no one on base. They rarely hold grudges and seemingly forget what they were upset about even 5 minutes ago. (a positive of that short attention span:) There are times when I wish I had even a quarter of the energy of my eldest son, not to mention his metabolism. He can eat like a pig...and not gain an ounce. Whatever calories he eats his body burns up within minutes. High energy, that is an understatement. More energy...more stuff to is always busy.

I recently saw Howie Mandel on a talk show. He was discussing his adult ADHD. He told stories of his years in school, going undiagnosed, not knowing why he felt "different". He was the class clown, got in trouble in school, didn't do well on his school work, had difficulty listening during conversations and he didn't understand why. He has a very interesting story and I would encourage everyone to take a look at his site, ADHDisreal.

So, yes I know ADHD does exist. The very nature of ADHD makes it a sometimes funny, sometimes crazy, sometimes infuriating, sometimes frustrating diagnosis. For everything I've said today there are exceptions to the rule. Grouping ADHD individuals is about as easy as herding a group of cats.


  1. no 5 has it, we reckon.
    i dont like labels though.
    it can be trying at best, but don't believe drugs are the way forward.

  2. Wonderful post! Like Mr. Mandel, I grew up with undiagnosed and untreated ADHD (technically the non-hyperactive type), and all I can say is all that you said was spot on. Why couldn't I have had a teacher like you back then?