Parents too often find themselves deciding to give a child Ritalin or Adderall out of clear and present worries about a student’s performance in school and overall well-being. But there is a general sense among many that it is best to be wary about giving children too medications or even any at all, precisely due to the side effects that Sroufe expresses concerns about, and to worries about a child becoming over-dependent on little pills from a bottle. Parents, teachers and therapists are, indeed, ever on the lookout for other ways to help children focus. These include diet and exercise and also an understanding of the sensory problems that can accompany an ADD/ADHD diagnosis. Small innovations such as changing the lighting in a room or allowing students to stand up while studying can make a huge difference.
My teenage son Charlie is on the moderate to severe end of the autism spectrum and takes a number of medications. Autism is understood to be a neurodevelopmental disorder today but once parents were blamed for causing it, by withdrawing emotionally from their young children and not bonding with them. Accordingly, I am wary of Sroufe’s emphasis on experience and environment as at the root of attention disorders, and all the more so as my husband Jim has ADHD (he’s been diagnosed by a number of professionals and is actually lecturing soon on this very topic). In the course of taking care of Charlie (who is only minimally verbal) and getting a better understanding of how his brain functioning is tied to his behaviors (Charlie does not have seizures but anti-epileptic medication helps him a lot), Jim has gotten a better sense of how he himself is “wired differently.” Exercise has been especially helpful for him (and for Charlie), as well as the understanding that, even when he appears not to be paying attention, he really is.
Yes, we need better solutions for ADD and ADHD than Ritalin and Adderall. But also necessary is a better understanding that some of us are “neurologically wired” in different ways and that this can indeed affect your early childhood development and how people respond to you.
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Photo by Jeff Karpala
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