On a Sunday afternoon my wife and I did something rather rare for us. We dropped the kids off at my mom’s and drove down to the Caldwell Theatre Company in Boca Raton, FL to watch Distracted, a play by Lisa Loomer. We weren’t sure what to expect as we hadn’t seen a play in years. We had the sense that this play would have some personal meaning for us, but we did not know how it would manifest itself on stage.
Let’s just say that within the first 30 seconds of the play tears started welling up in our eyes. Why? Our oldest son who is nine has ADHD (Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). He is a brilliant, creative, funny and generally happy kid. Happy go lucky is really a good way to describe him. His tennis coach has to remind him to “run” not “skip” when going after a ball. Not a care in the world and purely free is his normal mode.
These are the positive attributes of ADHD. The negative attributes include impulsivity, hyper-activity (mostly found in males), lack of focus, little respect for others “space”, challenged socially, etc. In our post-industrial world, where the foundation for structure and compliance is built into the fabric of our society, people possessing ADHD are labeled misfits, undisciplined or impulsive.
I happen to think that ADHD is a blessing and a gift. I have mild ADD (the “Hyperactive” part tends to fade away with age) and as a child I was simply labeled “hyperactive”. There wasn’t a widely known diagnosis for ADD or ADHD in the Seventies. I can relate to my son’s actions – most of the time! However the impulsive vocalization (e.g. yelling) and bouncing off the walls drives me as crazy as anyone else.
So there we are at the theater, the curtain opens to a modern living room filled with all of the distractions in our world today, including cell phones, Tevo, video games, etc. The mother of this nine-year old boy is trying to have some meditation time when she hears her son screaming in the background, along with phone ringing and other distractions. The emotion hit me when I heard the kids voice because he was stressing over going to school. Why? Because they were going to have a fire drill that day and the sound of the alarm freaks this kid out. My son doesn’t have a phobia about fire drills, but we are so often challenged my the smallest things that he seems to obsess over.
Small things become mountains for those with ADHD. This is one of the strange paradoxes of the condition. It is challenging for people with ADHD to focus on the task at hand, but they have bursts of hyper-focus on certain things. No one knows exactly why. In his book Delivered from Distraction, Dr. Edward M. Hallow discusses a number of the strange paradoxes of this condition. This book is a must read for anyone interested in learning about the wonderful and confusing world of ADHD/ADD.
As the play unfolds, my wife and I saw our lives flash before our eyes. The parallels to our reality and what was unfolding on the screen was uncanny. It starts with complaints to the parents from those of authority about this restless and undisciplined child. The parents spend a fair amount of time in denial until after a number of psychological evaluations the diagnosis comes back “ADHD”. Then you go through the treatments.
The first comment parents usually make is “I am not drugging my kid”. So the family on stage went through many of the same homeopathic steps that we did in an attempt to normalize their nine-year old boy. The teacher continues to send home reports saying that he is disruptive, doesn’t give kids there space and the universal zinger “he has some much potential but can’t seem to apply himself”. Growing up I heard those words over and over again!
They finally give in and try the medication (the same medication my son takes periodically) and it works great! At least for the teacher. She now has a compliant, focused and quiet student. The kid now “fits into the system created by our Industrial Age past”. The parents are happy to – at least initially until the side effects begin to set in. These include symptoms such as a lack of appetite, nervous impulses (e.g. teeth gnashing, nail biting), a withdrawn state, no desire for physical activities and radical mood swings. The boy rebels “I don’t want to take my medicine today!” My wife and I have heard the exact same objection from our little nine-year old many times and it’s the reason we are in an on again, off again cycle with medication.
The parents in an attempt to try anything begin to experiment with more radical holistic approaches which include a boarding school for children with ADHD. This also includes some radical diet modification. The list of things the boy can’t eat mirrors the diet my son is on: no wheat, no corn, no soy, no dairy, no fish, no turkey, no peanut butter. Do you know how hard it is to find something a kid will eat with all of those “NOs”? Every starch he consumes now is made of rice or potatoes. The only meat the kid can eat is chicken, beef and pork.
Dr. Hallowell and CHADD (Children and Adults with ADHD) believe that effective treatment in children and teens requires a comprehensive approach. The best outcomes are achieved when multiple interventions work together as a comprehensive treatment. The play didn’t offer any answers because there is no cure. But the message was clear that love and attention are what children with ADHD really need, because its an attention deficit that their life lacks in our world of hyper-distraction.