Column: Research reveals answers about ADD/HD

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 18, 2006

By John Woodruff, Guest Columnist

Having read Mr. Lloyd Palmer’s letter to the editor in Monday’s paper, I took a look at past newspapers until I found the relevant past letters. I also looked at the Generation Rescue Web site as well. Having ADD/ADHD myself, I wanted to respond to his claims about Ritalin and ADD/ADHD as well as to Ms. Eileen Tolzmann.

Mr. Palmer is correct in being very concerned about the mercury in vaccines. The incidence of autism, since the 1970s, has jumped from about 1 in 10,000 to roughly 1 in 170. That’s an increase of almost 6,000 percent! I also agree with his suggestion that ADD/ADHD is not a disease, but for different reasons.

What I question is the Web site’s inclusion of ADD/ADHD in the autism spectrum of diseases. Aspergers is related to autism, but I doubt ADD/HD has as strong a connection. While some cases might be explained by mercury poisoning, ADD/ADHD is typically thought to be genetic. I will look into an ADD/HD and mercury connection more closely &045; but right now I doubt it is as strong as the Web site suggests. I don’t believe that the majority of children with ADD/ADHD &045; which is 5 to 15 percent of all children depending on the study you read &045; suffer from mercury-related ADD/ADHD, especially when heredity is the most common cause.

I have read countless studies on ADHD, and the fact that it exists and is debilitating cannot be denied; the numbers are just too grim. One recent study found that 35 percent of those with undiagnosed ADD/HD drop out of high school. Another study found that a total of 5 percent of those diagnosed With ADD/HD actually graduated from college with a degree! I believe this 5 percent has improved since those numbers were released, but I’m not sure how much better it has gotten.

Regardless of its origin, what is certain is that the brain structure and chemistry of someone with ADD/ADHD is different than a &8220;normal&8221; brain. Dr. Daniel Amen has done countless brain scans that have shown this (amenclinic.com, and numerous books). Dr. Amen has also shown that stimulants like Ritalin and Adderal work.

As for stimulant abuse, many studies have shown that children with ADD/HD taking stimulants are actually less likely to abuse those drugs than other children; they hate the side effects. In fact, the most frequent abusers of prescription stimulants are the friends and acquaintances of the children prescribed the medicine!

Roughly one-third have been approached by their friends to try their medicine. Also, Dr. Amen mentioned in one of his books how these same medical stimulants were given to former drug users to help them stay clean, and eliminated their need to use cocaine based drugs.

While ADD/HD is problematic, and can be a living nightmare while trapped in the school system, it is not a disease. It is a disorder.

However, ADD/HD kids don’t fit into the standard mold of a &8220;good student&8221; held by the majority of the school systems across the country &045; at grade school, high schools and even at the college level. The education system forces ADD/HD students to work the hardest through their weakest areas, the areas of &8220;executive control&8221; &045; that is, focus and task management.

Years and years of failures caused by this systemic mismatch build up and can wreak havoc on someone’s self-worth. The worst part is that the schools blame the child for the failures without looking at their part in their failure to teach effectively. Many of the ADD/HD child’s strongest traits and abilities get overlooked due to this, traits that are very much needed for this country to thrive &045; for example, creativity. Inquisitiveness, curiosity and a love of learning are other ones that get drowned in the system.

This is the fatal, tragic flaw of the school system, and it leaves many with ADD/HD broken through adulthood. The school system needs to be held accountable for this. These students are left to figure out this key distinction on their own; the space between their limitations and the unrealistic expectations of the system. This is the true key to successful lifelong coping with ADD/HD &045; to forgiving yourself for shortcomings, and to letting go of associated guilt.

There are also more immediate ways to cope with the school system. 504 Accommodations are a good start &045; I used them in high school, and have also been using them in college but they’re far from perfect. 504 Accommodations, covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act, force high schools and colleges by law to accommodate children and young adults diagnosed with ADD/HD and other learning disabilities. Such accommodations include extended time on homework and papers, and more time to take tests. They are typically more of a shield to protect the ADD/HD child from further harm from the system than a solution to the education problem caused by the system itself. Some believe that these accommodations simply give the school system a way to abdicate responsibility for the problem rather than look at ways to change the system to truly progress.

The same can be said about the medications. I have been on stimulants ever since I started having problems in an advanced math program I started in seventh grade. All I can say is that they work. They’re hands down an absolute miracle; I noticed a difference in my ability to concentrate with my first dose. Who cares about the origin of ADD/HD, or whether the government/system is trying to &8220;mellow out/keep the kids in line?&8221; Whatever the case, for kids with true ADD/HD the stimulants help them deal with the system they’re stuck in. That’s all that truly matters!

There are numerous books written to help people tackle ADD/HD effectively. One of the first I read was &8220;Driven to Distraction,&8221; by Dr. Edward Hallowell and Dr. John Ratey, and their recent follow-up book &8220;Answers to Distraction&8221; is another. &8220;Women with Attention Deficit Disorder&8221;, by Dr. Sari Solden, is also good, as is &8220;You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid, or Crazy?&8221; by Kate Kelly and Peggy Ramundo.

As I mentioned earlier, there are numerous books written by Dr. Daniel Amen as well, including &8220;Healing ADD&8221; and &8220;Change Your Brain, Change Your Life,&8221; which covers neurological disorders beyond ADD/HD. I encourage anyone with questions about ADD/HD to seek out resources such as these and learn as much as possible. It will help you understand and respect what someone with ADD/HD goes through, and have an idea of what they need to be successful.

(John Woodruff is a graduate of Albert Lea High School from the class of 2000. He was diagnosed with ADHD in second grade.)