by Michelle Donaghey
“Would you please look at me? Did you hear what I just told you?”
It seemed every time that I talked to my son, Patrick, he just did not listen. And not the typical child tune-out behavior, but a kind of spaced-out looking and listening type I just did not understand until his teacher told me she thought he had an attention deficit disorder.
Instead of immediately running to a specialist, I waited for a change. He was in first grade when I first learned of ADD. At that time, I immediately thought of the ADD drug, Ritalin, and thought there would be “no way” I would put him on medication. Instead, I tried a natural approach I read about called the”Feingold Diet.” The additive free diet did not allow ANY sort of dyes or preservatives or wheat and is totally natural- try it for a week and you will find it nearly impossible- it didn’t work for Patrick either. In fact according to CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) dozens of studies published in journals over the past 15 years have not found support of this diet. So, I put ADD out of my mind and ignored any sort of problems occurring at school and home. Patrick is now in the third grade and I am finally going to have him evaluated by a professional after dragging my heels thinking he would outgrow this somehow.
AD/HD are learning disorders that are not caused by any problems in parenting, something I originally thought. There are three subtypes of AD/HD- also something I did not know. Many parents think that children do not have problems because they are not hyperactive.
Characteristics of children who are primarily inattentive obtained from the CHADD Information and Resource Guide include:
- Failing to give close attention to details or making careless mistakes, difficulty sustaining attention, not appearing to listen, difficulty with organization, struggle to follow through on instructions, avoids tasks requiring sustained mental effort, losing things, easily distracted and forgetful in daily activities.
- Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive AD/HD types often:
– Fidget with hands or feet or squirm in chair, difficulty remaining seated, runs about or climbs excessively, difficulty in engaging in activities quietly, acts as if driven by a motor, talks excessively, blurts out answers before questions are completed, difficulty in waiting or taking turns, interrupts of intrudes upon others.
The combined type takes both sets of inattention and hyperactive criteria.
Since Patrick was in kindergarten and even before school he exhibited many of the characteristics of the “primarily inattentive types” of behavior, which is I thought he would outgrow. Now I know better.
Children who have such symptoms should be evaluated. I have learned that a child who displays symptoms may have other psychiatric disorders such as conduct disorder, anxiety disorder or manic-depressive disorder. Without an evaluation and or treatment, children can fall behind in schoolwork and friendships may suffer notes the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
There really is no single test to diagnose AD/HD. The first step in Patrick’s case has been to have an ACTeRS test completed at school by both the teacher and the nurse. This test rated Patrick’s behaviors in four areas from almost never to almost always including his attention, (Does he work well independently? This was answered as “almost never) hyperactivity, social skills and oppositional (this area evaluates such things as whether or not he defies authority, or is mean to others).
It is suggested by the National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities that evaluations should include at least one of a child’s teachers, a school administrator, the parents/guardians and other qualified professionals such as speech therapists or school psychologists. I was involved in completing an ACTeRS evaluation that was compared to the teacher’s and nurse’s evaluation. I have the many of these tests completed over the past four years which I plan to take to a psychiatrist and neurologist. I have also had thorough physicals done including a hearing and vision test to rule out any problems that could have been caused.
Some parents believe that a physical and a standardized test are enough to warrant medication and no further evaluation. I am not one of those parents- I do not believe in a “quick fix.” But I am not ruling out medication, either.
In fact, I have learned that between 70-80 percent of children who have ADHD respond positively with pyschostimulant medications which change the levels of transmitter systems in the brain. Ritalin is the most well-known medication. Others include Adderall and Dexedrine. These medications often cause a decrease in impulsivity and an increase in attention. The most common side effects are mild and short term, including reductions in appetite. Sometimes antidepressants are used in some cases such as dopamine.
But using them alone without behavioral intervention can be a mistake, often growing up with low self esteems and underachievement at school. “Taken alone, however, medication is often not enough to help,” notes CHADD’s Fact Sheet- Medication Management of Children and Adults.
As a parent of a possible AD/HD child, I try to make sure that Patrick has structure to his life most of the time- set hours for bedtime, routines, designated spots in the house for his school items- that streamline life and help Patrick feel more confident. I learned from CHADD that treating AD/HD should be done “multimodally”- that is, it should include parent training, behavioral intervention strategies, individual and family counseling and medication when required.
Some of the specific things that I do include:
Providing clear and consistent directions and limits.
- Identifying strength’s and weaknesses and focusing on the strengths.
- Setting aside time for him alone as a “special time” even if it is just to talk.
While I do not know yet what the future holds in regard to medication and or special outside help, I have learned that our local CHADD chapter is still in existence and is ready to help and to answer my questions when I need it. CHADD, Children of Hyperactive Attention Deficit Disorders, is a group that provides support for those who have children that have disorders- they often meet in social settings for special events such as an ice cream social I attended around three years ago at our elementary school. I would urge anyone who even has a slight indication their child has a learning disorder to contact them and their local doctor and teachers and school administration as soon as possible.
Helpful websites and books
Learning To Slow Down and Pay Attention (booklet) by Kathleen G. Nadeau, Ph.D. and Ellen B. Dixon, Ph.D. – I was given this booklet from the school nurse. It is written to a child with ADHD- it helps a child to identify problems and explains how parents, doctors and teachers can help.
National Attention Deficit Disorder Association
Some Tips for Living with ADD
with permission from Peter Jacksa, Ph.D.
Immediate Past President: National Attention Deficit Disorder Association
National ADDA Board of Directors
Parenting Editor: ADDitude Magazine
- If there are concerns that you or someone might have ADD, the first step is to have an evaluation done by a qualified health professional- a pediatrician, psychologist, psychiatrist, neurologist or any type of professional who is well informed about ADD and can perform a comprehensive evaluation. It is perfectly fine to ask questions about the person’s level of expertise in working with people with ADD.
- Keep in mind the ADD is not something that can be “cured” and usually it does not “just go away” – think of it is something that needs to be managed and treated over time, probably many years, and possibly over the person’s entire lifetime.
- Seek the treatment and methods and support which works best for YOU. Many, (but not all) people with ADD can benefit greatly from medication- but it needs to be the medication which works for THEM, at the dosage which is most effective for them.
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