Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Just stop it

I received an email this week, a piece of crap illustrating several "scenarios" and the 1957 reaction and 2009 reaction - supposedly showing how overbearing and stupid we've become. Many of the examples are ridiculous and unnecessarily inflammatory.

Included was this little gem:
Scenario 3:

Jeffrey will not be still in class, he disrupts other students.

1957 - Jeffrey sent to the Principal's office and given a good paddling by the Principal. He then returns to class, sits still and does not disrupt class again.

2009 -
Jeffrey is given huge doses of Ritalin. He becomes a zombie. He is then tested for ADD. The school gets extra money from the state because Jeffrey has a disability.

This little missive caught me in the wrong week. This was from a friend and a teacher and I did not feel I could let this go. My response:

I am the wife, daughter, sister, friend, and mother of people with ADD. It is real. Paddling does not relieve the symptoms. I've sure been tempted with Caragh, but it had so little effect on my brother.

The statement made about medication was factually incorrect, as you cannot medicate a child until there is a diagnosis of ADD/ADHD. The diagnosis is made with a behavioral evaluation completed by the parents and the child's teacher and a discussion with the physician. Drug choices are made after a complete history is taken, including conditions surrounding pregnancy and birth of the child. A prescription is written for 30 days and we are required to return to the doctor for each new prescription so the doctor can review several physical factors and behavioral markers before giving us another 30 days of pills (ours last longer because we don't medicate her on the weekends). Because the drugs are stimulants and highly regulated, we will have to physically pick up a prescription and drive it over to the pharmacy for the foreseeable future.

And while it may be true that schools receive extra money because of a child with ADD (I don't really know), I doubt it would be simply from a diagnosis of ADD/ADHD. I believe parents would need to file an IEP with the school for accommodations before the school would be eligible for additional funds. They wouldn't really know about the diagnosis otherwise.

Additional funding, if it is received as the result of an IEP, may be due to the accommodations used to assist the child's attention and reduce the need for medication or the dosage needed. My daughter has a cushion on her chair that allows her to wiggle her butt around a bit and get some energy out, rather than constantly chewing on her clothing as she used to do. We will also be working on an IEP that allows her to have a weighted lap blanket in class with fidget items buried inside it. It will keep her hands busy and her brain stimulated without her being able to see it, which is a huge distraction for her. Studies have shown that weighted blankets, vests, or neck rolls can help children with attention problems or sensory issues, although I'm not really clear why. These things are provided by the school to improve the success of the student, but therapy items are often not cheap (I've researched them). Our school is also working to install microphone and speaker systems in every classroom because they have been shown to assist in learning for all students. The district is funding this for all schools and all classrooms over the next several years, but our school is starting the installation in classrooms where the need is greatest. I certainly hope they are using some of the special education funding, including funding for IEP plans, to help with the cost.

I am so grateful for the options my daughter has today to help her overcome her ADD in the classroom, where it is most debilitating. My brother was labeled as a trouble-maker early on, although we started to discover he was a classic case of ADD just before he died. He was very smart, probably smarter than me in a lot of ways, but he was disruptive in class, had difficulty finishing his work or focusing on tasks, and had trouble with spelling and handwriting. Some of these made it look like he was stupid and I think he certainly felt that way. He certainly felt "different," as he once told me he smoked pot because it slowed his brain down and made him feel like he thought other people must feel. I can't even imagine what he might have achieved if he was evaluated for ADD and given appropriate accommodations.

And this is the difference between now and 1957. I can't imagine what kids in 1957 with ADD went through when they literally COULD NOT pay attention. Apparently they were beaten for it. As late as the 80s, Eric was shamed and dismissed because of ADD. He absolutely hated school and dropped out in the 10th grade. Fast forward to 2011 and Caragh, his neice, is diagnosed in kindergarten, medicated early so we can work on her dosage before school gets more intense, and her love of school and herself is still intact. She truly loves learning and feels good about herself and now that I understand the challenges we face, I will not allow that to be beaten out of her. But I will have to advocate for her at every turn until she learns to advocate for herself because of the opinions out there about the way her brain works and taking medication for it.

There is still a huge stigma attached to ADD/ADHD and an even bigger one for treating it with medication. Emails like this are one of the reasons my daughter will continue to face judgements from her peers, teachers, and other parents for taking medication. Judgements like this are one of the things that made it so difficult for us to even put her on medication, which she absolutely needs. Many people think it should be manageable through natural remedies and that taking drugs is just the easy way out - I certainly felt that way because. While dietary changes and natural remedies certainly can help and are worth a try, they don't help every kid enough to go without medication.

I refuse to call ADD/ADHD a disorder. It's not as if the brain doesn't work, it just works differently than the majority of the population and schools and teaching methods were built by the majority for the majority. There is some excellent research about the evolution of the ADD/ADHD brain and why it exists, if you're interested. There is also quite a bit of research showing that a very large percentage of CEOs have ADD/ADHD. New studies show that people with ADD/ADHD are both highly intelligent and also often very socially intuitive - they have an ability to read people in a way others can't. If they are properly supported, they often achieve great things. Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein most likely had ADD/ADHD - neither finished school. My grandfather Charlie Schnetzler, who attended MIT and Oxford and worked for NASA for 40 years, also suspected he had ADD (and I'm quite sure Rob has it). His eulogies, delivered both by family and by colleagues from Goddard Space Center, centered not on his intelligence (which was a given) but on his ability to put people at ease, build consensus, and talk to anyone young or old as if they were the only person in the room that mattered.

Please think before reinforcing this kind of stereotype regarding ADD. Many of the people I love have a brain that works this way and it's been a privilege and an education to know them. Flippant statements like the one below only make their lives and mine harder and move us farther away from understanding rather than closer together.