How To Help Children With ADD
As I work with children of many different ages, I am seeing a common trend of children being diagnosed with either Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Attention Deficit Disorder(ADD). Regardless of what a child is labeled as, it can drastically affect the academic and social life for a child.
Children with ADD have a hard time focusing on one task at a time. One moment the child could be focusing on a math problem and the next minute they could be running in circles for no reason at all. It is especially apparent when children are trying to complete tasks that they do not enjoy doing. Some claim it is a matter of discipline and some suggest it is a chemical imbalance in the brain. Other experts suggest that ADD may be caused by poor diets that are full of processed chemicals. The truth is that it is a combination of all the above.
Is Ritalin Or Other Medications The Answer To Cure ADD?
The direct answer is no. I did not form this opinion from reading books or observing other kids who were diagnosed with ADD. I know what it is like to have ADD because I was diagnosed with ADD in high school. I will get more into the subject of ADD medications later.
The Pathway To Being Labeled With ADD
I grew up in a normal middle class family with a loving mother and father. I struggled tremendously in school, especially in the grades 2-5. Getting a D was an achievement for me. My parents helped me study and complete homework assignments. However, I had a very hard time focusing on my schoolwork on my own. It would take me two to three hours to complete an assignment that should of only took a half hour. Shamefully, I was addicted to daydreaming. This allowed me to succeed in the creative aspects of life, but it did not help me learn the basics of important matters that were discussed in school.
In third grade, my parents made me see a counselor to help me find a way to improve my study habits. I even had a CAT scan of my brain to see if I my brain was growing properly. The results showed that I was completely normal. I even followed an organic diet to determine if I was highly allergic to a certain chemical. After one or two months, my parents took me off the diet as I showed no progress and it became too expensive.
Around that age, I remember feeling like I did not fit in with anyone. Simply put, I was a skinny dork. I had no self confidence and I feel that only made matters worse. In 4th grade, I got involved in an earth group that helped me grow socially and develop an interest.
I began to feel more confident in myself. Even though I was constantly being teased for being an uncoordinated athlete, I joined the basketball and baseball team. I was horrible to say the least. However, I finally found something that interested me. By the end of the basketball season, I scored a total of two points. I will not even mention the results of my baseball season. I began to feel an emotion that I never felt before. The determination to prove everyone wrong.
That summer I dedicated myself to improving my athletic ability by practicing and exercising. I would wake up at 8 a.m. and practice basketball until it was too dark for me to see the basketball hoop. I also joined a basketball camp that was ran by a local high school coach. All the players were two to three years older than me and were 50-100 lbs heavier than me. I wanted to quit at first just like I did when my homework was too difficult.
However, I completed the three week camp and I even received praise from the coach for ignoring the size disadvantage and showing potential. This might seem strange to some, but this embarrassing experience had a huge impact on my life. I finally realized that life is never going to be easy and that a little determination and discipline can help me reach my goals. Simply put, my self confidence and attitude completely changed.
After I completed the basketball tryouts in 6th grade, I was the starting point guard. I went from a worthless bench warmer to starting and playing one of the most important positions in basketball. While I still was an average player at my school, I had so much pride in improving myself. I went from being a pathetic follower to being an active leader on my team.
Most importantly, my grades improved dramatically. I was a solid B student and I actually started to enjoy school. I felt more comfortable with myself and finally felt like I fit in. Instead of being the kid that everyone wanted to bully, I was the one picking football teams at recess.
Just when my family and I thought I had beat my academic problems, it was time for me to go to high school. I decided on attending the best high school in our local town. This school was a college prep high school (*will go unnamed). The sports teams were just as tough as the teachers. After only one quarter, I was struggling to get C’s. To focus on my studies, I decided to not tryout for the basketball team. At the end of the first semester, I had a GPA of 1.45.
One afternoon, my counselor scheduled an appointment to see me to discuss my poor grades. After I told him that I had a hard time focusing on my schoolwork, he suggested I see my family doctor about treating me for Attention Deficit Disorder. After only five minutes with my doctor, I was officially diagnosed with ADD and was given a prescription for Ritalin.
Ritalin For ADD Treatment
I immediately felt the effects of Ritalin. It kind of feels like there is something inside my brain forcing me to be more attentive. It allowed me to be more productive and actually finish things on time. However, I still found myself being preoccupied with other things while I studied. For example, I remember sitting at my desk trying to study for a history test. As I was reading, I realized that my desk was dusty and unorganized. Usually this would never bother me. Before I realized it, I spent one hour cleaning my desk. It helped me pay closer attention to details, but it still did not fix my discipline problem. I never liked to study and it seems I always got distracted into doing something else. Something that was irrelevant to the task at hand; studying.
My grades improved slightly and my GPA went up to 1.9. However, it was clear that my problem could not be solved completely by Ritalin. I improved my grades slightly each year of high school and I graduated with a 2.5. The important thing to note is that I stopped taking Ritalin after my sophomore year.
I believe the reason I was able to improve my grades was because I learned how to play the electric bass and I became an amateur race car driver. I think it is extremely important for someone to have a hobby of some type that grabs their interest. It is in our human nature to be adventurous. Hobbies help us to grow socially and mentally.
To end this personal story, I continued to learn more about music, racing and life in general throughout college. I am proud to say that I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree with a GPA of 3.35 in 2009. Not too bad for a struggling student.
As I approach my 28th birthday, I still struggle with my attention span. However, I try to use my discipline to reach my goals. That is why I feel Ritalin or any other ADD medication is not the answer to dealing with ADD in children and even adults. It only masks the problem.
What Can Parents Do To Help Their Child With ADD
As I mentioned earlier, the debate of the cause of ADD is continuing. If your child is having a hard time concentrating in school, here are some steps to take to combat ADD symptoms.
1. Watch their diet.
Diets that are high in carbs, sugar, fats, caffeine, fructose and processed foods are almost like poison to a child with ADD. In fact, everyone should avoid these items. Try to eat natural or organic foods. It has been proven that eating foods high in sugar can cause adverse reactions in your body, including your brain. Establish a balanced diet that is focused on vegetables, fruits, wheat and food high in protein.
Have your child get some exercise. It reduces stress and keeps your mind and body healthy. Encourage your child to be involved in sports.
Make sure that your child gets 8-9 hours of sleep every night. Letting your child stay up to watch a game is a sure way to make ADD symptoms worse. Just think, how do you feel after you only get five hours of sleep? How difficult is it to concentrate?
4. The mental game.
As parents, make sure you believe in your child. Confidence is a major part of the growth process in a child’s life. Make some compromises with your child. Hold them to standards that they can reach. If you set certain standards too high, your child will feel defeated and it may make things even worse. Give your child one chore at time. If they are able to consistently complete the chores as requested, add more chores after time. Use positive reinforcement when it is appropriate!
Children with ADD need STRUCTURE. I capitalized structure because I cannot emphasize it enough. ADD often causes children to be very unorganized. That is why parents need to help their child develop good organization habits. Follow routines for all your child’s daily activities.
6. Keep Your Child Busy:
Children with ADD/ADHD need to be kept busy. I can attest that having a hobby or some type of interest is important to combating ADD. People with ADD get bored very easily. Encouraging your child to be involved in sports, crafts or music will keep their brain juices flowing. After all, your mind needs some exercise too! The one positive aspect is that people with ADD are often great at multitasking!
7. ADD Medications:
Ritalin and Adderall: While it is important to never ignore the symptoms of ADD, use medications only as a last resort to helping your child deal with ADD. It is important to note that ADD medications such as Ritalin is a form of speed. It can cause an increase in heart rate and it also can be addictive for some people. From my experience, Ritalin did increase my heart rate slightly and it did decrease my appetite. I did take Adderall for a short period of time, but I did not like the way it made my body feel. Lastly, if you feel you must put your child on an ADD medication, use a sustained released type. Most sustained released versions last up to eight hours and do not seem to affect the heart rate as much. Once again, that is from my experience. Everyone’s body is different so your child may react differently.
Lastly, I will make this rant short. Remember that doctor’s are persuaded to proscribe their patients. They may even get financial gains from it. Most doctors will proscribe medication before trying to actually solve the problem. It is a major problem in America. Please think for yourself before you follow your doctors advice.
For a more detailed guide to dealing with ADD/ADHD, read this article.
To conclude this blog about ADD, I recommend to all the parents out there to help your child build good organizational habits. Make sure your child has a balanced diet and make sure they get 8-9 hours of sleep. Let them dream. However, make them actually put their dreams into action. If someone has no aspirations in life, chances are they will have no drive to succeed at anything. Encourage your child to go out and play. We only have one chance at childhood! Make your child understand that failure is nothing to be afraid of. In our life, we may have to try things multiple times to get it right. However, we will eventually find a pathway to success. Often along that journey we will discover new things about ourself. Things that help us build confidence and discover interests that might even turn into rewarding careers. Good luck!