Saturday, 29 May 2010

I'm on my soapbox again...

I have been reading this week about how much is spent in the UK on prescriptions for ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), an amazing £31 million! It has been alleged that symptoms are not felt by the patients, (who are diagnosed by a checklist), but by the parents who are exasperated with trying to cope. Apparently, research says it mainly affects boys and is linked with lack of exercise and fresh air, lack of authority, too much junk food, TV and computer games and poor sleep. It has even been suggested that to hand out mind altering drugs is cheaper than 'talking therapies'.

Now, whilst I don't have children with ADHD, I do have extremely active boys who are up with the lark and don't stop all day! I have had times when I have serious doubted my abilities as a parent and I almost daily run out of energy. My eldest child could be described as enthusiastic, he is a human version of a springer spaniel puppy, and despite never wanting him to watch TV when he was younger, there were times when I would pray that it would capture his attention for more than five minutes so that I could actually get something done!

On his tenth day of being at school (he was aged four and two months), his teacher asked "if she could have a word" and said that he needed to calm down, learn to sit still and if he didn't he would have problems later on. I was shocked, I still am by this attitude, he was only just settling in and still doing half days, everything was new, and I can't sit still for more than 30 minutes, why did she expect him to? Her approach if the children were naughty, was to put a 'sad' face on the white board, a few of those and they missed play time, can you think of a worse punishment for an energetic boy? I wish I had the confidence to have challenged this approach, to have said to her not to exemplify bad behaviour, just reward good. My son said once "I don't want to be naughty", it broke my heart, "you aren't naughty, just misunderstood" I replied, feeling I had let him down, I was too busy worrying what other mums and teachers thought of us!

His teacher this year is amazing, she has enthusiasm in the bucketload, she knows all of her children and gets their attention using a quiet, patient voice. She knows young children need daily exercise, and she knows the power of a good topic that inspires and engages the whole class. My son has come on in leaps and bounds, maybe because of her, maybe because he is that little bit older too. But one thing is certain, like his father and me, he will never sit still for more than half an hour, ever!

Whilst I do sympathise with parents whose children have ADHD, I also know that when that teacher questioned my child, it led me to doubt him, there were many times that I thought of taking him to the doctors, I thought he was the only one that was lively, I thought he was different, I thought I was a bad parent. I only hope that through life he finds enough people that will inspire and engage him and keep his energy concentrated in the right direction, we need creative sparky imaginative people in this world as much as we need studious quiet thinkers. It is not him with a problem, it is the system that he is in, an underfunded 'one size fits all' education system and society that puts people in boxes.

With 750,000 children being treated with ADHD in the UK, surely we should be looking at how schools and teachers are able to support families and society as a whole, a tablet may not cure everything?

If you would like to read a different perspective, I have just really enjoyed reading this article, written by a parent with a son with Aspergers, it has the best guide to school politics I have ever read!


  1. Amen. And amen.

    Children are not tiny adults.

    (I think I spend half my life on a soapbox about the care of children...)

  2. Thank you for the link to the article. I have two autistic sons and I found it very interesting. My second autistic son was misdiagnosed as ADHD when he was young and put on drugs so that the school would take him. What a mistake. When we took him off because we believed that it wasn't the right thing for him, we had to sign a disclaimer and the school excluded him. It was a difficult time but we did get through it. He is now a charming, pleasant teenager with an excellent sense of humour. Obviously he is still autistic and has difficulties but it could be worse.

  3. Can I join you on you soapbox? This is one of my major bug bears and the one about autism as well. And I hate how teachers / health visitors / doctors can make you feel that you are doing something wrong. I also think that the notion society has that "parenthood should be easy, otherwise you are doing it wrong". I love being a mother, but there are days, when at 5pm I am so worn out from running around, pretend playing, answering 1 million why questions and faced with a huge mess in the kitchen because she helped me cook, that I just want to sit down and never ever get back up. It usually fades quite quickly.

    I had suggested to me that my daughter may be on the autistic spectrum. I had suggested to me that my daughter may become a bully victim because she had trouble standing up for herself. Since we raise her bilingual her speech was "delayed" and my GP suggested that maybe she wasn't cut out to learn two languages.

    Thanks for this post, always good to know that you are not the only one.

  4. I think it's completely unreasonable to expect small children to sit still and I remember those days with my own son - they would keep him in at playtimes to punish him but the running around time was exactly what he needed! I volunteer for a local parent support group and hear this from so many struggling parents, it's heartbreaking.
    My son and I have aspergers and having gone through the diagnostic process, I can tell you that the blame culture (too much tv, junk food etc) is a stigma that is hard to push past. While it may be true in some families (and I also think many are too quick to jump for an early diagnosis/medications), people just assume that if you're having these issues they are free to make judgements about your lifestyle, it's very hard to deal with.

  5. yes, yes, quadruple yes!

    and again - YES.

  6. I agree 100%-- I've worked as a Behavior Analyst not only in a crisis facility (where individuals with developmental disabilities were taken in order to "stabilize" before we transitioned them home) but also I worked a lot of "in-home" cases where I would go into the home (or school), observe what was going on, and then come back with behavior support suggestions--

    Before I left for a promotion, the number of cases we were going into schools for increased- we were working with individuals diagnosed with ADHD, Autism spectrum disorders, (one mother also came back with her own diagnosis for task avoidance disorder or something like that!!). The one case that stuck out was a little boy (about age 6) who the enire team (parent, case manager, and plethora of school professionals) were sure that he needed medication- but they couldn't figure out why of all the classes, he was only good for gym class!

    Ha! Go figure, right?

    That was the one thing I always said, "Ignore what you don't want, and LOAD IT ON THICK with what you do want. Punishment does not work. You have to teach replacement behavior-- tell them what you want. Objectify the behavior-- otherwise, kids like your little boy do come home feeling "Naughty"- and it either kills their self esteem or it does the opposite, gives them a badge of honor to live up to!

    I wish there were more parents like you out there, getting on soapboxes demanding that people just understand what it is like to be a child!


  7. Oh VERY good for you!!! Love your soapbox. I am always amazed at how folk expect children to behave absolutely perfectly while they don't necessarily themselves. A child must sit perfectly quietly at a meeting but adults can scratch in their bags for cough drops, remember to turn their mobile off half way through, cough, splutter, rip a page out of their notebook... but woe betide the child that breathes. In a restaurant kids must sit perfectly and silently while adults can guffaw their way through dinner, call the waiters constantly and let's not get into the etiquette of flying - drug the kids so that the adults can clamber over you countless time to stretch their legs, go to the bathroom whatever...Laugh out loud at the movie they watch, drop their drink, call for more... but children must not budge. I think I should stop already - you have apparently unleashed my soapbox too!!!! I am just so tired of adults expecting kids to behave better than they do and if they don't the kids get labeled with a behavioral problem... I have a feeling if their is a problem with almost every child we meet then the problem may well be with the adults that are labeling them.

  8. Oh Emma, how you remind me of myself a few years ago. I too have two wonderful boys whom I love dearly and for whom I would sell my soul to provide them with the best childhood possible. I too judged those parents whose children were drugged with Ritalin, tut-tutting at their parenting skills and motives.

    My two boys have always been healthy but my youngest son has not always been happy. Until two years ago he had never been happy at school as he was unable to interact with his peers and unable to partake in the work other children were doing (differentiated work is great but it can make children aware of and sensitive about their abilities.)

    Home life was better for him -both boys have always had plenty of exercise and we have never owned a television - time has always been spent with friends and family crafting, walking the dog, sailing, hiking ,camping, picnicking, caring for the boys' chickens, and generally 'playing out'. Basically, I would say we share many common values with regard to raising a family.

    Three years ago an educational psychologist concluded (incorrectly) that my eight year old son had a low IQ and that was the reason he had not learnt to read or write, why he appeared vacant, and why he didn't interact with his peers. He was never any trouble at home or at school, he was always quiet, calm and simply appeared to have his head in the clouds.

    To cut a long story short, a year later this doting 'earth-mother' - who's first port of call has always been homeopathy - was persuaded to see if Ritalin might help her son. I was aghast and very, very against the idea (particularly as we believed my son's difficulties stemmed from having a low IQ not ADHD), and when the medication made no difference nobody was more delighted than my ignorant self.

    However, after discussion with my son's doctors it was decided to increase his dose fractionally before abandoning the idea completely. It was at this point I had to eat a huge portion of humble pie -with the correct dose my son learnt to read and write with amazing speed and he learnt what it felt like to concentrate - and no matter how interactive and multi-sensory teaching is, there comes a point where some level of concentration is required. He learnt how to interact with others and most of all, he was able to hold on to information long enough to transfer it from short term memory to long term memory, allowing him to manipulate and build-on previously learned information. He began to learn things by osmosis, as his peers had been doing for years. As a result I have a completely different child today - happy, confident, fun, bright and eager for knowledge. He has many friends and a fantastic sense of humour - quite a contrast to the boy I had two years ago.

    I think you might find that the Daily Mail does tend to sensationalise a story sometimes, so my plea here is that those who stand on their soap boxes consider carefully their influence on caring parents who might be discouraged from simply trialling medication and consequently depriving their child of the many enjoyments of childhood. My ignorance and values, coupled with pressure from other well-meaning parents, almost caused me to dismiss medication out-of-hand and I truly believe that without medication my son would be a quiter, more timid, lonely and unhappy child today. And a real benefit of me having to eat humble pie over this matter is that I no longer model such judgmental behaviour and my children are less judgmental of others as a result.


  9. Thank you all for your comments, and thank you Sarah for your last comment, a very important message indeed, that needed to be said to add balance and perspective. My soapbox is more about how active children, like mine, are deemed to have problems, I would never wish to prevent medical help being sought for any child who needed it. ;0)

  10. Emma, as you know, Evie is a very active child too and I've had many a day thinking I was a crap parent. I've just been reading 'Raising Your Spirited Child', finally after years of meaning to.
    It's fantastic. I got mine for 1p on Amazon and I REALLY receommend it to anyone who has a very active child, especially if like us, one is an extravert (Evie) and the other is an introvert (me). It has explained SO much to me, including aspects of my own upbringing and already this weekend we've been reaping the benefits.
    Our kids are not 'different' and we're not crap parents.
    Can't wait to see what happens when our kids collide (probably literally)next week! x


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