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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

What is ADHD?

There are many opinions about ADHD, one of them being that ADHD is not a medical disability. There are a lot of people who feel that parents are simply using it as an excuse to not discipline their children. Where this could be the case in some instances, it unfortunately, in the majority of cases is not. ADHD is real.

ADHD stands for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, and is a developmental disorder of self control. Challenges relating to attention span, impulse control and activity levels are all part and parcel of this disorder.

It is not, as you might have been hoping, a temporary state that your child will grow out of. It is not caused by your 'failure' as a parent, or lack of discipline.

It would be easier as a parent to deal with a physical manifestation of a disability because there would be no mistaking a problem. With ADHD, there is no such manifestation. These children look completely normal. There is no outward sign there is anything wrong, but there is.

Many psychologists and medical professionals believe there is an imperfection in the brain that causes the constant movement and 'bad' behaviours that people find so unbearable in these children.

The fact that you are reading this suggests that you are very familiar with with the way others react to your child's behaviours. Meaning, they erroneously assume your 'little Alice' needs more discipline, and view your attempts at parenting as permissive or careless to say the least.

I have heard on more than one occasion, "Can't you do something about your son?" Unfortunately, I am! When I answer that my son has ADHD/ODD, Anxiety Disorder and some Post Traumatic Stress, they more often than not react judgmentally. They see the 'ADHD label' as an excuse by me to avoid the responsibility of parenting my child, or worse yet, of making my son into a victim who is not accountable for his actions.

None of which is true.

It's exceedingly frustrating dealing with the hypocritical and judgmental responses. Not only do they see my son's behaviour negatively, they believe he is 'normal' (due to no physical manifestations of a disorder) and blame me for his actions. Either that, or they offer their 'worldly wisdom' that my son will 'grow out of it'.

Even my own doctor has said the same things to me. "Don't worry, it could just be a phase he is going through." or "I'm sure he will grow out of it, just hang in there." Where this might be true with some milder forms of ADHD, there is no way this will happen with my son. I have been 'hanging on' now for 11 years!

Here are a few statistics for you.
5 - 8%, or more than 2.5 million school age children have ADHD. Put in perspective, that translates to one or two kids with ADHD in EVERY classroom throughout the U.S./Canada. Up to 30 - 50% of these kids will be held back a grade (at least once) As many as 35% drop out of high school altogether. For half of these kids, social relationships are seriously messed up, and for over 60%, their consistent defiant behaviour leads to resentment from siblings and peers, which in turn means more frequent punishments and a greater potential for delinquency and/or substance abuse when they are older.

ADHD is one of the most common childhood disorders the medical professionals are aware of, and one of the most misunderstood.

Here are a few more stats for you.
Over 20% of kids with ADHD have set serious fires in their communities, over 30% have stolen, 40% smoke and drink earlier, and more than 25% are expelled from high school due to serious misconduct.

In their first 5 years of driving, adolescents with an ADHD diagnosis have almost 4 times as many accidents, are more likely to cause bodily harm, and have 3 times as many speeding tickets as kids without ADHD.

Raising a child with ADHD is not for the faint-hearted. I can personally tell you this roller coaster ride is a white knuckle experience that I would gladly do almost anything not to be on.

ADHD is a disorder that needs to be taken seriously. I have been living, learning, and dealing with this for the last 11 years, and the one constant I have noticed is the lack of education regarding this disability. And I'm not only speaking about your child's teachers, neighbours, friends, family and peers. I'm talking about you as parents.

In order to help your child deal with, work through, and overcome this disability, you need to educate yourselves on the complete spectrum of this disorder. In most cases you are their only advocate, friend, adviser, and support. Your child needs you to understand what is going on with them so they don't fall through the cracks and become another statistic.

I'm not saying this is an easy task. Trust me, I would love not to have to take on this additional responsibility. I would love to have a career and carefree holidays in a tropical paradise with no worries except whether my luggage arrives the same time I do. But if I don't do this for my son, who will? Certainly not his teachers, doctors, counselors, family members or friends. And he doesn't have the focus, drive or interest to do it himself, (being the nature of the disability) so that leaves me, and I can't let him down.

So please bear with me as I help my son through helping you. Hopefully you will at the very least, know that you are not alone in your struggles.


  1. Hello. My husband and I have raised a son with ADHD (he did not meet the criteria for ODD). We have a total of 7 children (Jeremy, the one iwth ADHD -28, a son 27, a son 19, a daughter 19, a son 13, a daughter in Heaven - would be 10 and a 7 year old daughter). We have 4 adopted children and 3 biological. We have done foster care on and off (off times due to needing a break and more time to devote to our own children) for 25 years. We currently have a 4 year old boy that meets ALL the criteria for ODD. My question is, as I can not find anything regarding this, is....he seems to be able to turn his behaviors off to a large degree when other places. He has had a pretty big episode at church now (he has been going with us for 9 months now and feels safe there) We had him in respite last week and it was no surprise to me that they did not see any behaviors. He seems to put them on for us only (for the most part). If he doesn't get his way he screams, hits, kicks, throws, bangs on things, destroys things, etc. If you say one thing, he will say the exact opposite. If you ask him if he wants peanut butter and jelly he will say no, he wants mac n cheese, if you make mac n cheese he will say he wants pb&j (just an example). This is ongoing. How is it that he can turn it off when somewhere new. He also doesn't appear to do this at his visits, which are supervised. We are wondering if it is because he has a fear of his bio parents (there was extreme domestic violence in the home, in which he was literally being pulled apart in a tug o war and the police were called and dad arrested).Is this true ODD if they can turn it on one place and off another? Thanks Lynette - nettibug60@sbcglobal.net

  2. Hi-
    It's fairly common for ODD kids to behave just fine with others for short periods of time. The nature of the disorder is that the behaviors usually emerge around authority figures. Kid's don't consciously turn their behaviors on or off. Most negative behavior emerges when a child becomes frustrated and can't tolerate the overload. If your child has witnessed severe domestic violence, he may be suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which is often confused with ODD as these kids are over reactive, hyperalert to any criticism, have trouble taking feedback and can become aggressive when they feel overwhelmed. I would highly recommend a screening for PTSD as this could be exacerbating any symptoms and also needs to be treated in a specific manner. I hope this information is helpful to you. I truly admire what you do.