A Harvard Doc Says My Son Doesn’t Have ADHD

Jerome Kagan, one of Harvard University’s dominant psychologists is making quite the rounds on the internet. In a 2012 interview, he shared a very controversial opinion regarding Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder — he believes it doesn’t exist. If you’d like to read his entire interview here, feel free, but let me spoil it for you: He believes we are over-medicating our children and ADHD, an invented disorder, could be dealt with through tutoring and paying more attention to our children.

Should I have started with the disclaimer that my oldest son is diagnosed with ADHD?  Probably. I think it matters because my point of view in raising a child with ADHD verses a psychologist who merely studies them may garner different results.

With that said, I do agree with quite a bit the good doctor stated in his interview. For instance, when asked about the difference in numbers between mentally ill children (aka kids with some sort of mental disorder attached to them) now and in the 1960s, Dr. Kagan replied:

“We have a 7-year-old child who is bored in school and disrupts classes. Back then, he was called lazy. Today, he is said to suffer from ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). That’s why the numbers have soared.”

However, he then goes on to say he believes ADHD to be an invented mental disorder.

“That’s correct; it is an invention. Every child who’s not doing well in school is sent to see a pediatrician, and the pediatrician says: “It’s ADHD; here’s Ritalin.” In fact, 90 percent of these 5.4 million kids don’t have an abnormal dopamine metabolism. The problem is, if a drug is available to doctors, they’ll make the corresponding diagnosis.”

Here’s where we disagree a bit. I completely believe our human race, as a whole, to be over medicated. I believe there have been man-made inventions which are preferred for instant reward. Headache? Pain reliever. Sore muscles? Muscle relaxer. Heart Burn? Antacid. You get the idea.  I also agree these “issues” are symptoms to something greater; more often than not, we don’t want to take time in discovering the cause of our symptoms–we just want the problem fixed. Now.

 

SEE MORE: Parenting ADHD: 6 Things I Wish I  Had Known

 

Essentially Dr. Kagan is saying this is exactly what happens with ADHD. He believes that doctors and pharmaceutical companies drive prescriptions. And they may.

But…

My doctor didn’t drive me to medicate my son.

In fact, my doctor preferred to try everything else before meds. Once on medication, he strongly advocated for the lowest possible dose.

Additionally, we spent many times in the office where our doc made sure it was very clear to my son that his meds would not solve all of his issues in school.

This doesn’t sound like a doctor being courted by a pharmaceutical company. And my monthly budget certainly didn’t want to add meds to the shopping list.

Are there families and children that are victim to greedy doctors and drug companies? Sadly, I believe there are. But for Dr. Kagan to make such a blanket statement regarding any and all children with this diagnosis is, well, dangerous.

Luckily he is just one doctor. One believer. One man. Forgive me if adding Harvard to the end of his name doesn’t impress me much.

Let me introduce you to Dr. Amen. The first thing I loved about Dr. Amen is he deals with disorders in children within his extended family (nephew) and his own daughters. I beg of you to watch the video below from its starting point to minute 37:15–about 5 minutes.

This man has been in the trenches and watched, lived with and loved children who have “abnormal” brain function 24 hours a day. This is a man whose opinion I value.

In watching many of his lectures, my biggest realization has been this: My ADHD son is not mentally ill. I will not refer to him as having a mental disorder or brain disorder.  What he does have is a brain that works differently than majority of humans.  Does this mean he’s abnormal? It does not. This means that instead of having blue eyes, he has brown. Instead of having freckles, he doesn’t have any. It means he functions differently from you and me.  Does everyone love studying frogs in the rain forest? Nope. Does loving to do that make them abnormal? Heck no. And maybe this is what Dr. Kagan is trying to say…but his wording simply doesn’t sit right with me. Rather than saying ADHD is an invention, let’s understand that ADHD is describing the way in which my son’s brain functions.

One more thing I will agree with Dr. Kagan about is that our current state of society and expectations makes it hard with someone (like my son) to function in the expected manner. Tutoring and more one-on-one time would help tremendously. It would resolve some of the “issues” those with this invented disorder have, but certainly not everything.

 

SEE MORE: Don’t Give Up On Me Because I’m ADHD: A Letter From My Son

 

If we were in the 1800s, my son would most likely have been milking cows and doing hard labor starting at 4am. After chores were done, he’d be in a classroom with 20 less kids than today, for a shorter amount of time. His diet would be significantly different and then he’d be back outside until dark doing more chores or playing until his legs dropped dead. So yes, Dr. Kagan, our society is different now. Our lifestyles have changed in a way that is not friendly to those who need to keep busy and function in an “abnormal manner”. But guess what? The ADHD diagnosis allows my son to get the extra tutoring at school you say he so desperately needs; without this “made-up invention” he can’t get exceptions in school with his 504.  Instead he’d be stuck in a classroom of 32 kids drowning.

If you want to get to the root cause of over-diagnosing ADHD, I’m all for it. The first order of business isn’t to look at the kids who are struggling, but to look at the environment they are struggling in. This very well could be one of those moments where the problem isn’t them — it’s us.  Let’s find ways to understand those who struggle, how they work, and what we can do to help them be successful.

Until our entire society can change together instantaneously, please be understanding and respectful to those who actually have brains which function differently than the average person. These are the ones who need to be labeled ADHD;  they need extra help, even if that extra help includes labeling them with what Dr. Kagan would call a “made-up invention” so they can get medication, or therapy recommendations, or exceptions in school…and the list goes on.

I am okay with medical professionals labeling the way my son’s brain function as ADHD. It’s not made up. Dr. Amen’s lectures and thousands of brain scans have made it very clear that my son’s brain is special, unique and needs a little bit of help to fit in to our societal boxes.  I just hope everyone else out there who runs in to a kid (or mom, or co-worker, or spouse) with ADHD can fully understand this and love these wonderfully special people we call ADHD.

 

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Dear Anxiety, You Are Paralyzing.

The post A Harvard Doc Says My Son Doesn’t Have ADHD appeared first on TodaysMama.

Don’t Give Up On Me Because I’m ADHD: A Letter From My Son

My son was diagnosed with ADHD at 8 years old.  I knew something was different from the moment he was born.  As my first born, my pregnancy was met with story after story about how I should cherish the time in the hospital because the nurses can care for infant in the nursery allowing me some recovery time.  Or nap when the baby naps and make sure you are feeding them every 2 hours; sometimes you may even have to wake them up to eat! And so many more…

Can I just tell you how wrong every single person was about my newborn experience?  From the moment my son was born he would eat, nap for 45 minutes, wake up for 45 minutes, eat and repeat.  This did not change until he was 6 months old.  Sometimes at night I would get a 2-3 hour span, but if I had any light on (even in the next room), a car drove by, my husband breathed heavily or the TV glowing he would stay awake and do spin moves (at 1 week old) to see the TV or find the noise.  He also started walking around 10 months old and was climbing out of his crib at 11 months old.  He kept me just as busy (if not more) as he was.  I could tell by the look on other parent’s faces that my son was not the typical newborn or toddler.

Fast-forward eight years and it makes a lot more sense. My kiddo is just my busy-bee and once I understood him more, it was much easier to be patient with him.  It was also at this time that we made personal and family decision to place him on medication.  His ADHD was not only affecting his schoolwork, but it was affecting him socially.  He didn’t understand why kids had a hard time with him at recess or in class–and try figuring out a way to explain it! However, the first day he refused to return to school after an incident with “friends”, I knew we needed additional help.  Medicine was a blessing.  Simple as that.  A blessing for him, his education, his teachers, his friends, and most importantly…for him. I could actually follow a conversation with him for the first time in years. When I asked how he felt he quickly replied “My head doesn’t feel all buzzy any more!”.

(Source)

As each school year approached, he knew that we would need to have conversations with his teachers about his behavior. You can only “island” a kid’s desk so many times before he realizes something is up.  Halfway through 6th grade we needed additional resources from the school and teachers to ensure he had a successful school year. We talked with our son a lot about what he wanted and felt he needed. It was during this time I asked him to write a letter explaining his ADHD and how he felt. I wanted to see his perspective.  Here is what he presented to me:

“I’m 11 years old and I have ADHD.  No, I don’t mean just A.D.D. ADHD is different because it isn’t just my brain that works faster–my body in general works and moves faster than most other kids.  I’ll admit that to some this can be seen as a blessing or a curse.  I say it is a blessing because it allows me to figure out problems, improve on other ideas and see things in other ways faster and more effectively than some. I have the energy to keep trying and trying and trying.  I would like you to know that some times (in my case) I don’t realize what I am doing and I need someone to snap me back in to reality. Things like tapping my pen on my desk, wandering around the room, or tearing up paper.  Also, a lot of the times, when I seem spaced out, like I don’t have a care in the world, it is actually those times when I don’t feel engaged in the activity or more simply — I AM BORED. I need to move and be involved as much as possible to keep my focus locked on. Please try and involve kids like me in the subject or game that is currently happening. Even if it takes a bit more work.  Whatever it is, just get our attention.

Next I would like you to know that if people think that ADHD means that ADHD kids are always bouncing off the walls and always not listening to anyone or anything, please understand that even when that happens, we are trying our very best. It can be really hard at times. Please try to get our attention and involve us in whatever it is that you’re doing.  Just put in some effort and it will all pay off. That’s what I would like you to know about ADHD and kids like me.”

 

adhd letter from son

What his letter taught me is this: I am trying and please don’t give up on me.

Simple as that.

I’m trying, guys. Please include me. I’m doing the best I can.

My heart hopes that I remember this on the tough days. My heart hopes that his teachers and friends can see and know this. If my ADHD son feels this way, I can almost guarantee someone else’s ADHD child does too. Let us all be a bit more patient and take the time to ask our child how they feel and what they need.  They’ll tell you every time.

 

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Parenting ADHD: 6 Things I Wish I Had Known

The #1 Thing to NEVER Say When Your Anxious Kid Has An Epic Meltdown

Have Kids That Struggle with Anxiety? These 4 Strategies Will Help

Have Kids That Struggle With Anxiety? These 4 Strategies Will Help

It’s hard being an anxious kid. You already have to worry about making friends and doing well in school, and then you add anxiety? It doesn’t seem fair. Kids spend all day in school being judged on their intelligence, but when you are stressed, you can literally lose IQ points. You start overthinking and overanalyzing why Jack was mean to you at recess or in the hallway and you can’t pay attention to your teacher. Or your mind goes blank and you can’t think about anything.

Sometimes it’s obvious your child is anxious – she’s nervous because it’s the first day of school or she has a big test. Sometimes, anxiety looks like other things, like a headache, upset stomach, perfectionism, or even anger, disruptive behavior, ADHD, or a learning disorder. If your child’s anxiety is affecting their grades, hindering them from going to school, or otherwise seriously hurting them, do seek professional help.

There are also some things you can do to help your anxious child:

 

Validate Feelings

Kids need to know that what they are feeling is real and valid. Once you validate their feelings and convince them you understand, you can then help them figure out how to calm down. To validate your child’s feelings, you can say:

  • I’m so sorry you are feeling so stressed.
  • What can I do to help?
  • Tell me about how you are feeling.
  • What do you need from me?

Avoid saying “Calm down.” Even though the situation would be made better if your child would calm down and you have your child’s best interests at heart when you say, “Calm down”, the phrase naturally invalidates your child’s feelings and typically results in an even less calm child.

 

Talk about Anxiety

Talk to your child about the science behind the anxiety. Even very young children can understand the basics of stress and kids love learning about their own brains. Talk to your child about the tension that builds up and how it can affect them. Help them notice the signs that they are becoming anxious – heart pounding, getting sweaty, feeling flushed. Then give them the strategies they can use to calm down, namely: BREATHE!

For a good video on anxiety and the brain, check out: Why Do We Lose Control of Our Emotions? By Kids Want to Know, on YouTube.

parenting anxious kids anxiety

 

Practice Being Calm

We need to practice calming down so that when we get anxious, we can effectively calm down in that stressful moment. So make working on self-calming techniques a daily habit, so that when your child is anxious, she can self-soothe.

Here are a few ways to practice being calm:

  • Yoga
  • Meditation (use an app like Calm or Headspace) or Belly Breathing for younger kids. Use a stuffed animal and have them place it on their stomach. Watch it go up and down as you breathe.
  • Exercise. While meditation and yoga calm our racing bodies, exercise uses up that energy to calm us down.
  • Create a Relaxation Corner. When your child comes home after school, before starting homework, have a relaxation session. Read a book. Do a sudoku. Snuggle with a parent or a stuffed animal. Drink some hot chocolate or tea. Use the relaxation corner to reset after your long day.
  • Release Emotions: Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg suggests releasing emotions by “Blanking it out”: dance it out, cry it out, laugh it out, draw it out, rap it out, write it out, sing it out, drum it out – the possibilities go on. Use that abundance of energy to do something productive. Once you are able to release your emotions, you can move on because you start to deal with your feelings.

 

Provide Predictability and Reduce Uncertainty

Anxious children are often scared of uncertainty or change. They need predictability to feel safe and calm.

For instance, if your child gets anxious about school work, she may be worried about not being smart enough to complete the homework, so she goes blank and can’t answer any of the questions, even though you know she knows the answer. Help her avoid this stress by previewing the homework together first, then taking a break, giving her mind time to think about how to answer the questions without any pressure, and then going back to the homework. This technique takes away the scary, uncertainty of what the homework will entail and reduces the pressure.

The number one way that kids learn is by watching their parents and mimicking their behavior. So start practicing those daily self-calming rituals yourself. Be the calm person you want your child to be to help show them how they can overcome obstacles and stress more easily when they are calm and collected.

 

About Katherine Firestone 

Katherine had a hard time in school because she suffered from undiagnosed ADHD till her junior year of high school. What made her successful during this time was the support system she had around her. After college, she worked as a teacher, and saw that parents wanted to help their kids at home, but didn’t know what to do. She started the Fireborn Institute to give parents ideas on how to help because success at school is enhanced at home.  

 

About Fireborn Institute 

Fireborn Institute is a non-profit that provides parents with practical and easy-to-remember strategies to help their children in school. Through our lectures, podcasts & handouts, we coach parents on topics such as helping with homework or conquering a messy backpack. Our ultimate goal is to help parents help their kids thrive at school.

 

Resources:

Borba, M. (2016). UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World. New York, NY: Touchstone.

Ehmke, R. (n.d.) Anxiety in the Classroom. Child Mind Institute.

Ginsburg, K. (2015). Building resilience: Preparing children and adolescents to THRIVE. The Learning and the Brain Conference: Boston.

Minahan, J. (2015). Between a Rock and a Calm Place. The Learning and the Brain Conference: Boston.

Parenting ADHD: 6 Things I Wish I Had Known

My oldest has ADHD.  We hit eight years old and man did I need help parenting a child with ADHD.  I reached out to other moms but all shared a resounding “I’m just trying to survive” mentality. Parenting ADHD is difficult. Four years later, here are six things (from one struggling mom to another) that I wish I had known when parenting a child with ADHD.

Parenting ADHD Success

1. ENGAGE WITH THE SCHOOL

My hubby and I did not communicate with the school too much about our son and his ADHD. Conversations started to become more frequent than one would like in 2nd grade and by the time he was officially diagnosed in 3rd grade, we didn’t want to give teachers a pre-set idea of who/what he was. Bad idea. Before I knew better, I shared my concern about telling them he was ADHD with my close friend; their reply was, “Either they have the stigma of ADHD, or the stigma of the bad kid.”  Ugh! They were right.  

I became forced myself to be brave. I started the conversation with my son’s educators right from the start, sharing behaviors I knew would be distracting, my expectations of him in the classroom and concerns about his education and abilities.  You would be surprised what lines of communications this opens; and with parenting ADHD, communication is vital. This quickly places you and the educators on the same page and teaches them that you are open and an ally.  If this doesn’t happen — find a new teacher! Educators will make or break your child’s success in school.

2. SPEAK POSITIVELY ABOUT YOUR CHILD TO OTHERS

As we sat in our teacher’s meeting with two teachers, two counselors, one special education teacher, the hubs and me — totally not overwhelming, right? [Super Huge Eyeroll] I listened to an obviously frustrated teacher tell me all the things my son was doing that he shouldn’t be doing. Umm…yeah…I know. I get it. No, really. I super get this.  Uh-huh…yeah…right…yes, he does that…and that…and that…STOP TALKING! It was new to her and it is frustrating. However, she just kept rehashing everything he did wrong, repeatedly. We tried to give them some insight into our son but I could tell the frustrations were too raw. It’s important to realize that parenting ADHD includes including others in the process. 

By the next meeting my husband and I consciously chose to make sure the team we were meeting with knew all the amazing cool things about my son. He is a whiz in science, he loves helping people, he is hilarious, he is amusingly sarcastic, and so much more! We watched their conversations about our real-life-son, not just the frustrating student, change before our eyes. This frustrated teacher started complimenting my son at school on his science scores and laughing with him.  Don’t forget: they see hundreds of kids a day. Chances are your ADHD child is getting under their skin. Change their mindset from obnoxious pupil to a real human-child that has feelings and is amazing.  Make. Them. See.

Parenting ADHD Help

 

SEE MORE:  4 Ways to Measure Kids’ Success That Have NOTHING To Do With Grades

 

3. EMOTIONS RUN DEEP

ADHD kids feel. They feel emotion deep in their soul and sometimes you would never know.  Understood.org says, “Kids with ADHD don’t have different emotions from most of their peers. They feel hurt, anger, sadness, discouragement, laziness and worry just like everyone else does. What is different for many kids with ADHD is that these feelings seem to be more frequent and intense. They also seem to last longer. And they get in the way of everyday life.”

Take the time to ask your child about their feelings, with open-ended questions. Pay attention to their body language and demeanor. Once their emotions overflow, sometimes it is hard to have a logical conversation with them. Have patience and understanding; acknowledge their feelings and try to redirect the negative emotions when possible. Parenting ADHD is about listening and engaging with your child.

4. SHAMING: DON’T DO IT

Most of us in the trenches of ADHD never intend to shame our child. We are overwhelmed and frustrated; our tongues drip a little looser than we’d like.  Shaming can be as innocent as saying, “Your 5-year-old little brother has his shoes on, why on earth don’t you?”. This makes them feel less than and you are essentially comparing their behaviors. Comparison brings nothing but hurt feelings and resentment.

We also had to engage a strict hand with the non-ADHD siblings. We started noticing them saying things like, “You’re being so crazy!! Go take your pill!”. This will not fly in our house and we put our foot down hard when we hear it. Shaming is never a useful tool in parenting, but when it involves a child with ADHD, it can make a child already prone to depression and anxiety feel more shamed and inadequate. Parenting ADHD is about awareness of everyone involved: parent, child and siblings.

5. LYING WILL HAPPEN

It is going to happen…a lot. You cannot realistically punish them every single time they lie (yes, it happens that much). Prepare yourself for this quirk and decide how it will be handled.  If the lie is significant (depending on any number of factors) a consequence follows. However, if it is a little thing here or there, we express our disappointment that they lied and it is not acceptable and move on. We finally hit a stride where a lie comes out and is quickly followed up with the truth and an apology. It’s only taken 4+ years of pulling my hair out. [insert more patience here]

 

SEE MORE:  How It Really Feels Being The Mom Of A Bullied Kid

 

Parenting ADHD Advice

6. GIVE THEM OPPORTUNITIES TO SUCCEED

This is huge!! ADHD kids are insanely intelligent, smart, creative, funny, loveable and the list goes on. Sometimes their impulses get the better of them. If you think you’re frustrated, just imagine being them. Take EVERY SINGLE CHANCE to point out their successes and moments that make you proud. Did they hang their backpack up right after school? Make sure you say “Hey…thanks for getting your backpack put away. That was super helpful.” The small thank-you will do wonders for their self-esteem and remind you how fantastic your child is. Know they are a great pancake chef? Ask them to make the family breakfast! School and life are hard. They have a lot more hurdles than the average child; give them a chance to do things right and be rewarded.

Parenting ADHD comes with extra trials, but we learn so much if we take the time to understand our ADHD child and how to help them be successful. These six things are the first items I think of when people ask me about parenting ADHD. I wish I would have known these from the start, but I’m learning and still making mistakes too. Hopefully my mistakes can give you a leg up when parenting your child with ADHD. They’re some of the raddest people I know.


Looking for additional resources? A few of my favorite ADHD websites are:

http://www.additudemag.com

http://www.understood.org

https://add.org/

Parenting ADHD with Love

 

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