Every so often, I will run across an article in the news featuring some pundit suggesting that Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a sham concocted by a psychiatrists and drug manufacturers with a vested financial interest in keeping folks medicated. Many times these articles bemoan the medicating of our kids, believing that kids are receiving treatment not because they are struggling to handle the tasks of life, but rather as a means to create compliant zombies who bend to our will. “This is just another case of the retreat of personal responsibility,” these so called experts will write. “This is a way to justify bad behavior and bad parenting,” they pontificate.
There are many times when I find myself resonating with these themes. It does seem like we are the medication generation. It is startling to read the statistics regarding the medication use of kids. There are most likely persons for whom a diagnosis has been given that is based less in science and more in frustration.
But I live in a household where ADHD is a reality, and it affects every part of our lives.
We first began to become aware of ADHD as a part of our family when one of our kids was in third grade. The teacher called to report that our daughter would spend inordinate amounts of time mulling over a hair that she found on her desk, or would get fixated on the details of a task and be unable to complete the project. We remembered a previous teacher telling us that she gave up on our daughter ever sitting still without fidgeting, telling her that she could stand at her desk to do her work if sitting was too hard. As parents who have a better than average experience and knowledge of psychological issues (two pastors see a lot of pathological behavior in the course of their work) we were hesitant to jump on the ADHD bandwagon. However, when our daughter came home after a program at school on ADHD and said, “That is exactly how I feel…” we decided it was time to seek some guidance.
Many folks simply go to their primary care doc and layout the symptoms, allowing the doc to then come up with a quick drug fix to try and deal with the problem. Our skepticism was such that we decided to go all out, and we met with a child psychiatrist as well as having our daughter undergo a round of psycho-educational testing that we are still paying for. The experts agreed, and we began to experience the wonder that is the art of attempting to find the right medicine that balances the impact of the ADHD in the child with a set of side effects that are far from desirable.
Over time, Kay and I have come to see that the roots of our daughters issues are embedded within us. As we think about our childhoods and how we approach life today both of us can see signs of the disorder in our lives. Our daughter comes by her challenge honestly as the child of two persons for whom chaos can often rule.
The challenges show up in many ways. Last night, for example, our daughter came home with a project for her social studies class. “Plan a trip to a Latin American country,” the instructions said. “You have $5,000. Tell about what it will take to get there, and what you will do while you are there.”
It’s a wonderful project, right? It shows a teacher working creatively, drawing on the right side of the brain to help kids better learn geography and cultural anthropology. What could be wrong with a project like this?
Well, for a person with ADHD, a project like this is hell.
Simply because there are too many options. One of the realities of the disorder is that it difficult to process the varieties of information and distill it quickly into a synthesized project. When options are left too wide open the person with ADHD quickly becomes overwhelmed with the possibilities before them, leading them to paralysis. We’ve seen it happen again and again.
All of this is amplified for the kid or adult who is primarily driven by right brained creativity but (do the disorder) is missing the connection to the left brained logic and rationality. It also seems like the right brain spirals out of control, where any and all possibilities seem both possible and interesting, leading to an inability to make rational decisions.
ADHD is often associated with impulsivity, and that certainly shows up from time to time. However the more debilitating part of the syndrome is the paralysis that comes from being overwhelmed by the incoming information.
Yes, ADHD is a diagnosis that is a little too popular these days. However, for those families living with the reality, it is far from a simple character flaw. It make life tough.