For a psychologist who treats children and adolescents, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), is an everyday concern. Recent statistics indicate that as many as 50% of children currently presented for mental health services may be affected by attentional problems. Moreover, ADD can be a difficult disorder to accurately diagnose and to effectively treat. Other childhood problems may impair functioning in only a few areas. However, ADD involves an inherited neurological defect that has the potential to hinder growth and development in all areas of life. My goal, for all ADD children that I treat, is to help them not simply survive their disorder, but to thrive, in spite of it.
Healthy development, in spite of ADD, involves several steps. The first is to understand that ADD is a biologically determined difficulty. Current medical technology allows us to take pictures of the brain. These images document diminished blood flow and reduced electrical activity in the frontal lobe of persons diagnosed with ADD. This disorder is not the result of poor child rearing practices or a child who simply insists on being naughty. Many parents spend so much time blaming themselves or their child, they have little energy left to cope with the disorder itself. Being clear on the origins of ADD helps to minimize unnecessary and unproductive guilt.
A second way children with ADD thrive is when they receive the maximum of health care resources, not the minimum. A thorough assessment of the child’s symptoms, behavior and functioning is needed. Moreover, such assessment needs to take place over multiple settings and situations, not in a five minute behavior sample in a physician’s office. It is also quite common for children with ADD to have additional diagnosis, e.g., learning disabilities. In addition to making sure the diagnosis of ADD is accurate, any additional disorders need to be identified and treated as well. Lastly, parents need to search for a physician who is invested in ADD patients and who is willing to do long term tinkering with their medications. Children change and grow and so do their medication needs.
A third area to look at is educational resources. All children with ADD need some special consideration, e.g., being able to take medication at school. Many ADD children, however, will require the maximum amount of special accommodations in order to thrive. These special helps include, but are not limited to, such things as resource room time, tutoring, front row seating, oral testing, text books on tape, homework charts and positive behavior contracts. Unfortunately, many schools, even good ones, will not automatically provide special help. Parents may have to become strong and assertive advocates to obtain needed accommodations for their child.
The fourth way in which ADD children can succeed is through parenting which accepts their handicap, and yet tries to maximize their potential. Parents must recognize, for example, that ADD may delay your child’s developmental growth by as much as 30%. A child may be nine years old chronologically, but function as a six or seven year old in reality. Expectations for that child will need to be adjusted accordingly. I frequently tell parents, “God has assigned you a long term, high maintenance project. The road can be rough, but the reward great.” One way for parents to make it down that “rough road” is to join a support group for families coping with ADD. This can help parents understand their child better as well as obtain much needed support for themselves. A church-based ADD support group and/or the local chapter of CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder) is usually a good place to start. In addition, bookstores, public libraries, the internet and ADD organizations all have a wealth of information and resources for helping children with ADD in the areas noted above. Understanding and utilizing this information can help both parent and child to thrive.
In closing, what kind of rewards might godly parents seeking to raise godly “special needs” children expect? All children are vulnerable, and in need of care, and ADD children even more so. In one of my favorite passages, Matthew 25, Jesus gives us an idea of how He views our acts of service to those who need our help. Although the passage focuses specifically on needy, persecuted believers living close to the time of Christ’s return, I believe there is a more general principle taught as well. Jesus states that the lovingkindness and care believers show to others, more needy and vulnerable than themselves, He considers as if done to Him. “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these…ye have done it unto Me.” Take heart, parents of ADD children, Christ Himself is in charge of the ledger books on this one!