"Living with ADD"

I

            We knew something was a little different about our son when, in kindergarten, he ran into his classroom after recess one day, sprang head-first into the air and belly-slid across all 20 desktops grouped in the middle of the room.

            Rather than being upset, his teacher, a very sweet young lady with patience beyond her years, related this incident to us with a combination of amused awe and motherly concern.

            Had we considered that our son might have ADD?

            I was familiar with the concept of Attention Deficit Disorder from my work as a journalist, and I had already made up my mind that no child of mine was going to be labeled as such and drugged into zombie-like oblivion.

            ADD, I had determined with absolutely no working knowledge of the condition, was a trashcan diagnosis for a slew of behavioral problems caused by lazy parents who couldn't control their kids.

            The whole notion of a brain disorder among hundreds of thousands of American schoolchildren was a conspiracy by the Pharmaceutical-Educational Complex (What can I say?  I'm a child of the '60s) to make life easier for the nation's classroom teachers and mega-bucks for the drug manufacturers. 

            My then-wife and I carefully controlled our children's TV-viewing habits, reminded them endlessly to say "please" and "thank you" and raised a holy fuss if they dared to interrupt adult conversation.

            So what else was needed to solve any child-rearing problem?

            We let our son's impulsive behavior slide for the next three years -- on through our separation and divorce, on through a series of under-achieving report cards rife with check marks for bad behavior -- until one chilly day in October.

            While I was watching my older daughter's soccer game, teeth chattering in the wind, I heard a commotion coming from behind me, where there happened to be a large pond on the park grounds.

            I had one of those instant, gut-wrenching premonitions all parents have -- usually when it's too late.

            By the time I arrived on the scene, my son already had returned to shore, sopping wet and shivering violently from the cold, after having dog-paddled half the distance of the pond.

            He had been chasing after a duck, he told me.

            All right, I told God, you've got my attention. Bring on the drugs.

            It took a year or two to find the right psychiatrist and to get right the right medication and dosage for my son, but it has made all the difference in his life and ours.  It isn't a miracle cure, for sure, and, yes, it's no substitute for discipline and endless training in taking responsibility.

            But now in sixth grade, my son is getting mostly As and Bs, does his homework without supervision and, best of all, I haven't been to an emergency parent-teacher conference in nearly a year.

            With medication, my son is less impulsive, but he is still fearless and independent. I see in him the stubborn courage of his grandfather, who was part of the Hungarian uprising against the Communists in 1956.

             If you suspect your child may have ADD, there's a book you have to read. (Oprah recommends it, too, so you have no choice.) It's called "Healing ADD," by Dr. Daniel G. Amen, the physician who first conducted brain scans to prove the existence of the disorder.

             I'm convinced there is nothing new about ADD other than its label. It has existed for thousands of years in children in varying degrees. But in earlier times, ADD kids dropped out of school, went to work on farms and in trades or ran away to circuses and the military. Many were no doubt killed by their impulsive behaviors.

             Today, with the help of medication, their road to productive lives is a little less bumpy. And they don't have to chase every duck they see into a pond.

              Mr. Mom's Bottom Line: If it quacks like a duck and it walks like a duck, it's a duck, not a conspiracy.

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