In a 2016 study conducted by the CDC over 6 million children have been diagnosed with ADHD. Children with ADHD often grapple with other challenges as well, including anxiety, depression, autism, Tourette's and behavior problems. If you are a parent struggling to help your child succeed through his/her ADHD, my ADHD Journey may be a great help to you.
How my ADHD Journey Began
My journey into ADHD research and becoming a strong advocate for children with ADHD was sparked by my own children’s ADHD challenges. My son, Reis, was born in 1989 during the time when ADHD was just beginning to be acknowledged. His ADHD traits began to surface in preschool—where he would rather be doing anything other than sitting in his chair.
Kindergarten was a nightmare. In addition to ADHD, Reis also had sensory sensitivity (also called sensory processing or integration disorder). If a child has this challenge, then overstimulation in the environment will trigger his “fight, flight, or shut-down” response. Reis’s classroom was overflowing with auditory and visual stimuli, which escalated his ADHD behaviors.
I sadly remember the first parent night when we came to see what our children had been doing. All around the room were success charts that showed stars that the students had received for achieving goals. We went to the first chart and looked next to Reis’ name, but the space was blank. No Star. We went to the next chart. No star. As we continued on looking at chart after chart with no star, Reis’ countenance began to fall. His little shoulders slumped, and a look of discouragement and disappointment crossed his face. Little did I know that this was the beginning of an entire 12-year school experience of academic challenges, frustrations, and stressors. And, little did I know of the countless hours and energy I would have to spend fighting for his success.
When Reis was in 3rd grade he had a very uncompassionate teacher. She was constantly yelling at him and punishing him for his ADHD. One day, after a particularly rough day at school, Reis and I were at the store when he started hollering that his feet hurt. He then plopped down and pulled off his shoes and socks. Across his feet and up his legs were purple spots about the size of pimples. When we got home, I found that the purple spots went all the way up to his waist. I took him to the doctor who found that Reis also had blood in his urine. The doctor diagnosed the condition as Henoch-Schönlein Purpura (HSP). HSP is a condition where blood capillaries burst, and he said that it was STRESS-INDUCED.
I took this information back to Reis’ teacher and asked to problem-solve to reduce the stress he was experiencing at school. Her response was, “Life is stress, he just needs to deal with it.” This was not an acceptable response so I went to the principal. He responded by saying, “We expect all of our students to perform two grade levels above their grade. If your son finds this stressful then maybe you should look for another school. Better yet, you should find another school district!” This response didn’t set well with me so I went to the school district to relay what the principal had said. They responded, “Not again.” A week later the principal resigned to pursue another career path (wise decision on his part).
When Reis was in 5th grade I learned about IEPs (Individualized Education Plans). Through my ADHD research, I know that students with ADHD can qualify for an IEP to provide them with special help, accommodations, and services. I requested testing for Reis. When they finished the testing they said he DIDN'T qualify. This was the first of many times I needed to help the educational system understand how a child with ADHD can qualify for an IEP. Through great persistence on my part, Reis did get his IEP. Little did I know that a child having an IEP, and the school actually "implementing" the IEP, were two different things.
From that point on, every year I met with Reis’s teachers to remind them about his IEP, and then spend countless hours and energy to follow through—making sure it was implemented. Unfortunately, even when they said it was, it did little to help him.
Reis was put in resource classes for some of his subjects and he frequently complained about it by saying, “I’m not stupid!Why do they act like I am stupid?” We tried several private schools, but they weren’t trained in dealing with ADHD either. Finally, in his senior year in High School, we were fortunate to have a special ed director who became Reis’s advocate. She had a son with ADHD and understood what Reis was going through. She helped us implement Reis’s IEP, and was with us every step of the way to his graduation.
Finally, I connected with a health specialist who, upon hearing Trevon’s symptoms, stated that he likely had a SEROTONIN deficiency. I immediately researched serotonin and learned that it is a neurotransmitter in the brain. Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals that communicate information. Serotonin affects sleep, concentration, and mood, among other things. Trevon had experienced sleep issues from infancy and definitely was having mood (rage) issues. I started giving Trevon serotonin and other specific supplements. Within four days, the flip-outs stopped. That was sixteen years ago, and since then, he has never had another flip-out.
It is important to note that until we took care of the chemical contributors to Trevon’s condition, all the behavioral techniques in the world were of little assistance. That is because when he was in a flip-out, he was so far gone emotionally that we couldn’t reach him. And he could not access any of the skills that I had taught him for dealing with his emotions. In addition to the flip-outs, Trevon also had a variety of ADHD characteristics that greatly improved by his taking serotonin and other specific supplements. Whenever he would miss doses of these supplements for a period of time, the ADHD characteristics would increase.
Would it Help Other's ADHD?
Shortly after I began to have success with minimizing my sons’ ADHD characteristics, I began doing lectures on ADHD. Parents implemented the protocol I was following with my children— and they also found success. In 2003, two of these parents, who knew I was an educator, asked me to start a private school for their sons who had ADHD and were failing academically. As a result, I opened Success Pointe—a private school for children with ADHD and other challenges. During that time, I created an educational program that dissolved traditional barriers to learning, and made learning come alive for students. I also created a multi-modal approach to minimizing ADHD challenges. During my seven years as an administrator at Success Pointe, we consistently experienced success in significantly increasing student outcomes—not only academically, but emotionally, socially, and behaviorally.
What I Learned
While researching serotonin, I also found that there were other neurotransmitters connected to ADHD. I have spent years since researching these and other factors that help minimize ADHD characteristics. I have learned that doing just one thing to minimize ADHD—such as taking specific supplements isn’t enough. That doesn’t mean that doing that one thing isn’t important—but it is only part of the “engine” for ADHD success. In other words, the components to ADHD success are comparable to an engine in a race car.
Say you want to win a big race, so you make sure that your car has a great transmission. But it needs more than that—it needs a carburetor, piston, flywheel, crankshaft, cooling system, starter, and so forth. Even if you have all of these, the engine won’t run well, or at all, without antifreeze, oil, and gasoline. And, if you have these, but the oil is dirty or you have bad gasoline, things won’t run smoothly. Even if everything under the hood is fine, if you have a faulty accelerator or brakes you will run into trouble. ADHD is similar.
Like with a car, there are multiple factors that need to be in place and running optimally to avoid the traits caused by ADHD. And, typically, an individual with more than mild ADHD has more than one ADHD contributor or intensifier that needs to be addressed. In addition to minimizing the physical and chemical contributors to ADHD characteristics, it is important to have the tools, knowledge, means, and skills to minimize ADHD challenges. Brain Zone’s approach to ADHD can help you turn ADHD stress into success. For more information, call 801-637-2736.