multifaceted treatment approach
By Ashli O’Connell
As a child Dennis
Swanberg was the life of the party, but he couldn’t
hold his own in the classroom. “I read too fast and
didn’t understand what I had read by the time I was
done,” he says. “I couldn’t concentrate
long enough to comprehend anything. Everybody just thought
I was a goof-off. But I studied harder than any of my friends,
and I was not making it.”
The worst point
came when his third-grade teacher announced to the class
that he had done poorly on a state achievement test. “By
third grade, kids are starting to label each other as smart
or dumb,” he says. “I found my self-image beginning
Not knowing where
to turn for help, Swanberg began to compensate with his
greatest strengths: humor and sports. He went to college
on a football scholarship. Today Swanberg is an ordained
Southern Baptist minister, Christian comedian, television
host and author. Not until his own son began struggling
with similar problems did Swanberg learn he has Attention
Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
his family’s experience in a 2003 book, Why ADHD
Doesn’t Mean Disaster.
“Sometimes I wonder what would have become of me if
I had been uncoordinated or never set foot on an athletic
field,” he says.
ADHD is a neurobiological
abnormality affecting around 4 percent of school-age children.
The condition manifests itself through three behavioral
symptoms: inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. There
are two primary types — one with hyperactivity and
one without, formerly known as ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder).
The problem with
ADHD, ironically, is not that children can’t focus;
it’s that they pay attention to everything, according
to Dr. Lee Wetherbee, clinical director at EMERGE Ministries
in Akron, Ohio. “All the distractions in the room,
everything out the window — they have ideas popping
into their heads and they can’t screen out all the
noise,” he says. The disorder typically leads to problems
in the classroom and difficulty relating to other children
Though some have
dismissed the validity of ADHD, most doctors and mental-health
professionals validate the condition. “ADHD is the
most researched diagnosis of childhood,” says Wetherbee.
“If it didn’t exist, we would know it by now.
It is also a very complicated issue, and it’s difficult
to diagnose well.”
Parents of ADHD
children are often left with difficult questions about how
best to treat the condition. In some cases the answer is
medication, for others behavior modification techniques.
Regardless of the treatment chosen, experts agree that children
with ADHD need parents who are advocates for their education
as well as their physical, spiritual and emotional health.
The first step
for parents is to obtain an accurate diagnosis. Wetherbee
recommends consulting a pediatrician or psychologist with
specialized training. “There are a lot of things that
look like ADHD that aren’t,” he says. “Some
well-meaning people will check symptoms off a checklist
and jump to the conclusion that it’s ADHD.”
patients face a variety of treatment options shrouded by
controversy. The primary medications used in treating ADHD
are stimulant medications based on the generic methylphenidate
— the active ingredient in Ritalin. Some nonstimulant
medications are now available as well. Wetherbee recommends
looking at medication as only one part of a treatment plan
that includes increasing physical activity and soliciting
parent training and family counseling.
Dr. Keith Mather,
a pediatric hospitalist and a member of the Assemblies of
God HealthCare Ministries board, cautions parents not to
avoid medication based on rumors they have heard. Mather
says the real issue is determining whether side effects
are worse than potential benefits. And that can only be
determined on an individual basis.
The primary side
effects are appetite suppression and emotional instability.
There is also a concern that patients can become dependent
on the medication rather than developing discipline and
concentration skills. At the same time, failure to treat
a child may result in trouble with relationships with peers,
poor academic and job performance, increased incidence of
depression and an intense sense of failure.
In many cases,
medication isn’t necessary. Behavior modification
techniques work well, particularly with the nonhyperactive
cases. Often a different style of teaching will make all
the difference for an ADHD child. This is why experts recommend
thorough medical and psychological testing before a treatment
method is chosen.
It was a new
teaching method that rescued 15-year-old Josiah (last name
withheld). A shy and introverted child, Josiah’s academic
and social problems in school began in kindergarten. He
struggled to keep up academically and failed to connect
with peers. Teachers often called him a “daydreamer.”
years, Josiah’s parents attempted various solutions,
even moving to a new town so they could enroll him in a
smaller school district. Josiah’s teachers lightened
his workload and transferred him to smaller classes.
struggled. By the end of fourth grade, his mother says he
came home with migraine headaches every day and suffered
with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. “I was losing him physi-
cally,” says Laurie. “He was totally withdrawing,
and the school told me he was going to be one of those who
fell through the cracks.”
Laurie and her
husband, Tony, decided to try homeschooling. “When
I started working with him one on one and removed him from
the negativity of other students treating him like he was
stupid, his self-confidence absolutely soared,” Laurie
says. “I’ve been able to help him find his strengths
and work with him on his level. Not only is he now getting
his education, but we also got our son back.”
Christian parents must tap into the power of prayer in dealing
with an ADHD child.
can be tough children to raise,” says Wetherbee, who
has a son with the disorder. “They are also tough
children to be. They may be ostracized by their peers because
they can be annoying to be around and they may have a tough
time connecting with other kids.”
that parents should separate their child’s behavior
from their character. “Children with ADHD typically
have big hearts and really want to follow the rules,”
he says. “However, in their enthusiasm they may repeatedly
commit transgressions, but feel bad every time. Parents
have to get to know how their individual child learns and
functions best, then adapt to that. Lots of prayer and support
from other parents of children with ADHD is the key.”