I vividly remember, in my early twenties, thinking I knew so much, having a feeling of superiority over many.
I remember sitting with my now husband, listening to a news report about a teacher in Tennessee who gave her entire class Ritalin to keep them “doped” in an attempt to increase their learning. I remember being outraged that a person charged with the education of our youth would resort to something like that. I also remember saying that there is no such thing as ADHD, that it is just how kids are, and that parents don’t know how to control their children. (My wasn’t I smug in my naivety…. I didn’t have kids of my own, and would not for at least seven years.)
Fast forward to the present day, where we not only have a child, but are having to deal with the reality of an ADHD diagnosis for her. I have had to learn a lot about ADHD in a very short period of time, eat a lot of “humble pie”, and learn to be an advocate for her in a world that many (like I did when I was younger) still do not believe that ADHD is real.
(Believe me, if you were in my house last night, you would know that ADHD is a reality.)
Because of her diagnosis, and me being me, I embarked on a journey to learn as much as I can about ADHD. In the short period of time since she was diagnosed, I have learned so much about ADHD and how it works, and want to take just a minute to talk about just what it is that I have learned….
(okay… here comes the scientist in me….)
I learned that the area of the brain that controls attention and concentration is the frontal cortex, and when it is activated, children are more able to block out distractions and focus on their work. It is also the area that governs impulse control (for those that have a child in their life with ADHD, you know that is a huge part of ADHD). So just how does the frontal cortex become activated? There are cells in the brain that release a chemical called dopamine, a neurotransmitter, which is then adsorbed by surrounding cells, thus activating them. When the frontal cortex is activated appropriately, attention, concentration, impulse control increases. That is how the cells in the brain works…. activate cells, get a response. What is interesting about ADHD is that there have been some recent studies of the brains of ADHD children which show that their brains reabsorb about 70% of the dopamine that is secreted. In addition, there are 16% less dopamine receptors in the frontal cortex of ADHD children.
So, what does that mean?
The area of the brain that says, “Hey! You need to be focusing on your work, and not Jimmy Bob over there balancing a pencil on his nose!” or, “Wait a minute. Do you really want to say/do such a mean thing.” is not talking to itself as well as it could be!
I learned that the medications, that I poo pooed when I was younger (because, really if it is a made up disease, then why need medication for it) works to block dopamine uptake in the brain (stimulants), thus allowing for more dopamine to be present, and improving attention/concentration/impulse control. I learned that, while it is not fully known how the non-stimulant medication works, it is thought that they work on norepinephrine in a similar fashion.
I learned that medication to control ADHD is trial and error.
I learned that there is such a thing as a “pharmaceutical bubble point”, where medication that worked yesterday no longer works.
I learned that behavior modification can only go so far.
I learned that diet plays a role in ADHD control. (Notice that I did not say it is a cure for ADHD. It is not a cure. Controlling the diet, by assuring that children are getting the appropriate amount of fuel for their bodies, makes them work more effectively.)
I learned that there is a genetic component to ADHD. (And now that I know it, can see it in my hubs, in our early marriage, and how he reacts to this day…. poor guy!)
I learned that there is no cure for ADHD.
I learned that ADHD makes children say and do things they never would under normal circumstances.
I learned that the emotional fall-out from an ADHD induced tantrum can be crippling for the parent and child.
I learned that my daughter hates herself when she loses control.
I learned that, above all, I have to just hold her and reassure her I love her no matter what she says or does. (Even when she is spewing the most hurtful, hateful things at me.)
I learned that below all the ADHD stuff, these kids really do want to do the right things.
I learned that the hubs and I need to work together (i.e be on the same page) with just how we react to her.
I learned that counseling for her is crucial for her self image, and for her to realize that she is not “bad”.
I learned that there will be emotional battles fought because of ADHD (with the child, with “well meaning” people, and with those that have no idea what life is like with ADHD but feel that they need to make their opinion known.)
I learned that it is a real disease.
I learned that we have to attack it with everything we have, or lose her to it.
I learned to never give up on her, and that she is capable of AMAZING things.