I attended the second annual UVU ADHD Conference on Friday. I learned so much but my biggest take away was how important connection is to children and adults who have ADHD. They are so often totally misunderstood and isolated because they really approach life on a different frequency. When they make it through our system unscathed, they are capable of amazing super powers. But, too often, like Megamind, they decide it’s easier or better to be bad than dumb.
Dr. Ed Hallowell (DRIVEN TO DISTRACTION), best selling author, child and adult psychologist opened the conference with his well travelled experience and insights. He has ADHD and so do at least a couple of his children. He understands the issues from all sides and had many inspiring things to share. I missed the first half of his speech looking for parking but managed to hear what ended up being the most salient points.
First, people with ADHD have FERRARI ENGINES WITH BICYCLE BRAKES. They are intensely creative, smart and inventive, if only they could control their speed and not careen out of control.
Second, pharmaceuticals can be transformative when used correctly. The ONLY side effects anyone should ever tolerate is slight appetite suppression. IF there are ANY other side effects happening you’ve got the wrong chemical or possibly even the wrong diagnosis. And there are many options now. Find a highly referred and recommended doctor with experience. Do not wing it. Dr. Hallowell even went so far as to say that in 25 years medications will be a thing of the past because we will understand so much better how the many alternative interventions work.
Hallowell shared how Ritalin got it’s name. A doctor in the 1920s or so wanted to play tennis with his wife Rita but she couldn’t keep her head in the game. He created Rita-lin to help her out.
Third, EXERCISE and MEDITATION work. Do not underestimate their power to help the ADHD brain rewire and focus.
Fourth, he said to parents – STAY POSITIVE! Positive-Positive-Positive helps build the brakes of a race car brain. Explain to kids that they have special powers but it will take some work to strengthen those brakes so they can use their powers for good.
Finally, above and beyond any main stream or alternative therapies or interventions, the most important treatment is to boost CONNECTION and LOVE. When someone with ADHD feels connected at home, at school and in their personal relationships, they thrive. It’s when they don’t, that they get caught up in a negative spiral. It’s sadly quite easy for ADHD people to be misunderstood and rejected. Since they often lack the ability to internalize their own thought processes, they just adopt the negativity others project onto them as the truth. So sad.
I got to hear Ben Springer, PhD and social worker with ADHD kids. He was very upbeat and said he loves working with ADHD kids. He says they have weaker executive functions, that can absolutely be strengthened through therapies and interventions and yes, sometimes with medication.
Springer dispelled the common belief that stimulant drugs will lead to substance abuse or addiction. He suggested they decrease the future likelihood of addiction because the ADHD/ADD brain has a way to calm and focus without other more dangerous drugs. Medications can really transform a child or adult’s life when nothing else works.
Springer shared his “best sauce” book SMART BUT SCATTERED. He recommends chapter five (“the entire chapter is written in gold”) and that the informal assessment in chapter two is as good as any you will pay big bucks to get from a professional psychologist. Save your money for all the therapy and counseling and get the book. He said do NOT intervene with your child until you’ve read this book cover to cover.
I managed to slide into the second half of the presentation for Alternative Therapies for ADD/ADHD.
First, SAD DIET. They said the SAD (standard American Diet) has strong links to causation for ADHD expression and ADHD may even cause some people to choose exactly the foods they ought to avoid. We definitely see that with little man. He is often on the hunt for quickly converting sugar foods of one kind or another. I’ve never seen him rummaging for veggies.
Second, COGMED. We’ve tried Cogmed for our 9th grader who complained of working memory problems. She hated it. The games are very childish and repetitive (by design, I think). And while she didn’t technically finish, she now has straight As and seems more on top of her work load than last year. The speaker said that the studies and data are mixed on whether Cogmed delivers the goods. One thing is sure, Cogmed is expensive at $800-1500 for a year of training. My daughter also speculates that playing some types of video games may accomplish the same thing with greater demands on recall and memory in order to advance. She is a smart cookie.
Working memory is closely linked to ADHD and problems with executive function. So anything that could help improve that is closely watched.
LUMINOSITY, a Silicon Valley startup, does not have the prestigious psychology credentials but has shown more promising in studies of working memory improvements and it costs far less. Having played some of their games, it looks a bit more fun and has levels for the whole family.
Third, NEUROFEEDBACK. Also expensive and time consuming but a 70% (or higher) rate of improvement in double blind trials. If you can make the time to go twice a week for an hour for a year, at $90-150 a pop, you may see a real, permanent change in the brain waves that are most problematic for ADHD people.
I should note that someone in the audience asked who sponsored the studies these equipment manufacturers cite and the speakers did not know.
Finally, MINDFULNESS. Learning mindfulness has shown huge promise in ADHD research. The only trouble is getting people with ADHD/ADD to sit and do the work. They are often distracted by other things. But many have found that exercising attention in this way helps to build up the neurons (confirmed in MRIs) and even slows the aging process (chromosomes degrade more slowly). They recommended Jon Kabbat Zin’s “Mindfulness for Beginners” and PEBBLE FROM YOUR POCKET by Thich Nhat Hanh.
At lunch I met several other teachers and parents from our school all there to learn more about ADHD/ADD to help their children and students. One parent mentioned a “Smart Pen” for dysgraphia, a common problem for ADHD/ADD brains. There is a HIGH incidence of comorbidity with other learning challenges, especially forms of Dyslexia. The Smart Pen allows a student to record an entire auditory lecture while taking notes and then easily return through the notes and replay exactly the place in the lecture where they may not have taken the best notes.
Another parent talked about classroom aids such as a “T” stool that lets kids with high motor needs balance as they sit and listen to class instruction or lecture. One Special Ed teacher said that ADHD brains need to move in order to trigger Dopamine release. They literally cannot sit still or it hurts their brains! Other aids mentioned were play doh, molding sand, a squishy seat or ball and gum.
When a student has an IEP (Individual Education Plan) or a 504, they are allowed whatever interventions needed in the classroom.
Heidi Ross is a coach for children with ADHD at a local long term care facility. She showed a video of MEGAMIND, a funny children’s movie from a few years back. I was not a big fan of it initially but the clip shows very clearly an ADHD child set up. Little Megamind wants to fit in but does everything just a bit too over the top. The teacher and other kids do not recognize his talents behind all the smoke and destruction and eventually he decides it’s easier to be bad than dumb.
She talked about all the main protocols to treatment; medications, accommodations, stress relief, sports/exercise, teaching modalities to engage the ADHD brain and strategies to direct the abundance of energy and stay engaged even with boring material (whittling, drawing, note taking). She described coaching kids and how important it is to set achievable goals (that the student self identifies), motivate and train and praise. She said sometimes we criticize before we understand. It’s important as parents, teachers and coaches to ask “Tell me about it” and really listen. Many times, people are just not listening and cannot fathom how the ADHD brain thinks or presents ideas.
Melanie Hatch of CHADD spoke about living with ADHD herself and raising her children with ADHD. Her colorful, repetitive slides were perhaps a clue that she is used to finding creative ways to deliver information. She shared the ADHD Child’s Bill of Rights, something she helped author for CHADD.
ADHD CHILD’S BILL OF RIGHTS.
1. Help me focus. Teach me through sense of touch. I need hands on and body movement.
2. I need to know what comes next. Give me a structured environment where there is dependable routine. Give me advanced warning if there will be changes.
3. Wait for me. I’m still thinking. Please allow me to go at my own pace. If I rush, I feel confused and upset.
4. I’m stuck! I can’t do it! Please help me problem solve. I need to know the detours, when the road is blocked.
5. Is it right? I need to know now! Please give me rich, immediate feedback on how I’m doing.
6. I didn’t forget. I didn’t hear it in the first place. I need directions one step at a time.
7. I didn’t know I wasn’t in my seat. Please remind me to stop, think, and then act.
8. Am I almost done now? Please give me short work periods and short term goals.
9. What? Don’t say you already told me. Just say it again. Tell me again in different words.
10. I know, it’s all wrong, isn’t it? Please give me praise for partial success. Reward me for self improvement, not just perfection.
11. Why do I always get yelled at? Please catch me doing something right and praise me for positive behavior.
Hatch said many parents of ADHD kids are also ADHD or ADD (given the strong genetic correlation. In those cases, helping a child with ADHD can require serious help. It’s very hard for someone who is consistently inconsistent to be consistent with someone else who is consistently inconsistent.
She asked how many parents in the audience felt blame or shame for their child’s ADHD. Many raised their hands or nodded. ADHD/ADD children are far more challenging than non-ADHD/ADD kids. Be gentle with yourself. ADHD kids often make their parents into super parents. She also said that some parents have difficulty loving their ADHD children unconditionally because they are so tough. And maternal depression is not uncommon. Get support! Do not feel you are alone in this journey!
Hatched listed her many solutions and advice:
1. Consistency is key.
2. Follow through with clear, immediate consequences (stay positive, use time outs sparingly).
3. Have House Rules that are clear and well known.
4. Clarify expectations. Break tasks into small steps & even photograph the expected results.
5. Use enforceable statements without anger, lectures, threats or warnings.
6. Delay consequences as you think and plan. Don’t react impulsively when angry.
7. Maintain a sense of humor.
8. Give encouragement when a child is doing something well. Praise should out number reprimands 20 to 1!
9. Ignore mild inappropriate behavior. She always says, if it could hurt you (or others) physically, emotionally or spiritually, we will have a say.
10. Keep a disability perspective. Very often ADHD/ADD brains are 30% behind in development emotionally and socially.
11. Listen with empathy. Ask them to “tell me more.”
12. Pick your battles.
13. Plan ahead for problem situations.
14. Take time for you.
15. Avoid personalizing the child’s behavior.
16. Practice forgiveness daily.
17. Medications can be helpful but are not a cure all. This is a lifespan disorder that can get better with the right interventions and love.
Mrs. Hatch said that ADHD, when left untreated, leads to self esteem and behavior problems and all kinds of parenting issues. It is important to recognize the probable signs and act accordingly. She recommended parenting training classes as the typical parenting tips and strategies are usually not enough for and ADD/ADHD child.
My biggest take away from the conference is that a healthy, flexible and supportive lifestyle is best for ADD/ADHD people. The confines and pressure of our current school/work system is really inhospitable. Everything recommended for ADD/ADHD is good for everyone.
Here is an amazing song, dedicated to my sweet little babies…