It’s pretty much a yearly tradition at the library once school starts that we have parents come in looking for books on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. They are usually worried and a bit scared. No one wants to think there is anything wrong with their child and the idea of them being put on medication is even more of a shock. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), also referred to as ADD or Attention Deficit Disorder, is generally referred to as a neurological or neurobehavioral disorder. Most of us associate it with hyperactive children who have trouble staying still and paying attention at school.
About 70 percent of the children who are treated with medication improve in behavior. Some groups claim that it does not really exist at all and that treatment of the disorder with medications such as Ritalin or Adderall is simply adults doping children up rather than working with them. A doctor I talked to said he started giving Ritalin to treat bed wetter’s when he was in the Navy in the late 1950’s. I cannot tell you how it exists or should be treated, but I can offer some first-hand observations. I believe I was and probably still am ADHD, but I grew up in a time when children were beaten with a paddle rather than being put on medication. It was different for my two nephews who were diagnosed as being ADHD when they started school.
If ADHD kids are like my nephews then they are as sweet as can be. They could drive us all crazy though. They were always in trouble and one was a bed wetter. The problems became serious when they started school. The lower grades in public school are probably the worse place for an ADHD child. It is a structured environment where they are surrounded by an overload of stimulus. There are other children to talk to, a teacher walking and talking in front of them, colorful pictures on the walls, and sounds, smells, and activities that puts their heads to spinning. Then they are expected to line up wherever they go, hold hands with their classmates, sit at a desk and be still, listen to the teacher’s instructions, and stay calm.
They were both put on Ritalin. It helped one of them, but the other developed tics and could not tolerate it. Their early school years were marked by bad grades and a lot of teacher conferences. I think the most important thing for kids at that age is emotional support. It is so easy for them to get discouraged and start to think of themselves as different or failures. They are tested constantly at school and low marks can destroy their self-confidence and cause self-esteem problems. Kids can be cruel to each other and are quick to pick out and on a child that is different. ADHD kids have problems with social skills. Their minds are racing so fast that they miss small social forms of communication and can soon find themselves being excluded from games. A child might approach one and attempt to make friends and end up being ignored simply because the ADHD kid is unable to focus or notice small social communications. Things we take for granted like eye to eye contact, a small smile, a light voice, or a friendly body movement can go right by them. The other child gets frustrated and soon moves on.
Things like holding hands with other kids or adults drive ADHD children nuts. My nephews constantly wanted to run off from their parents in crowds like at the mall. Staying with the group is a challenge for them. They can easily get lost by simply letting their energy drive them to keep going until they are lost. Games like softball are hard because it requires them to stand still in the batter’s box and focus. I have seen kids like that lose focus in the outfield and let a fly ball drop right beside them. Now games like basketball or football are right up their alley as they require a lot of running and energy. Again, a lot of it just comes down to support. Their parents, grandparents, and I were always at their games to cheer them on and pep them up when they needed it.
The early years were a struggle, but it paid off in the end. When they got to high school they actually began to excel. The high school environment was just what they liked. You changed classes on the hour, went to club meetings, worked on projects, moved around in the classroom, had class discussions. The boys we used to pray would pass every year in elementary school were making the honors roll in high school. They played football, ran track, joined clubs, played in the band, went to four proms a piece, and had a ball. All that energy finally found a place where it could be used. This happens to a lot of kids with ADHD when they get older. Some people say they grow out of it and I think they do improve as their bodies mature and change. Mostly though I think they just find their own way. They get to know themselves and what works and doesn’t work for them. They learn to make lists everyday so they don’t forget things. They exercise to burn off extra energy. They train themselves on what to be careful of by remembering what went wrong in the past. They find lifestyles and careers that match their special needs and gifts. The kid that could not stay still excels as a salesman or reporter when he becomes an adult with all that energy. ADHD adults often outwork everyone else because of their boundless energy. Today both my nephews are married and one is a graduate of ASU and is now a high school history teacher. The other is in Iraq in the Marine Corps.
Joel Reese, Local History Librarian
Iredell County Public Library
This article appeared in the Statesville Record and Landmark as “Growing older solves some ADHD woes” on Dec. 17, 2008