Wednesday, April 17, 2013

DIAGNOSING ADHD: Looking for Distractibility, Hyperactivity and Impulsivity that are “Significantly Different” from their Peers AND Cause Impairment.

This inconvenient variability of symptoms noted in our last blog also makes it difficult to determine if the behaviors see are different from our child’s age and sex-matched classmates.  In a scientific study this would be the control or healthy comparison group.  We know from experience that all five year boys often behave differently from each other and even more remarkably from five year old girls.  Even the same child, especially our ADHD, child reacts differently from day to day or even hour to hour.  The strep throat in our febrile patient acts much more reasonably by maintaining the high temperature, sore throat, headache and stomach ache symptoms so that the diagnosis can be made and treatment begun. Persistence, severity and impairment have accomplished their mission.  But not so with ADHD.
           Furthermore we parents have a limited perspective on comparative behaviors of children.  We have only one (thankfully) 5 year old ADHD boy at home, not 10 or 20 (can you imagine?).  Our frame of reference is severely limited to my other children or less well known cousins, nephews or acquaintances. Experienced teachers, however, have spent long hours with boys and girls of the same age often for many years in different settings.  They are reliable observers who may agree that all the boys in their class are a little rowdy and restless but seem to be settling down nicely as the year goes by. These boys are responding to the teachers instruction as well as the examples and unstated expectations of their classmates to follow the rules – sit in your seat, raise your hand, stay in line, no hitting or calling names. They are becoming civilized.
           To our surprise and dismay the teacher may call us for a conference in November, or worse March, to tell us that our child   is different from his peers.  He is not at the expected level of academic success or social skills and in danger of retention. After our initial, defensive mechanism reflex of denial (not my son!) has gone we begin recognize and accept in our heart of hearts the accuracy of their assessment.  These are our exceptional children who are by definition both generally and specifically different from their peers. The most discouraging part is that we also know they have great but unrealized potential.
     The last historical criteria for judging behaviors characteristic of ADHD answers the question “So what?”.  The type of symptoms present is irrelevant unless it causes harm or impairs your child in some way. After all this is America, the land of the free.  Everyone is allowed to be themselves because everyone has different unique characteristics.  We vigorously celebrate this diversity because it has made us strong.  From a religious standpoint we are taught in church that the body of believers is made up of heads, hearts, feet and hands all working in harmony with gifts differing.  Some of us can sit still longer than others, some of us tend to listen better and react quicker, some are louder and more persistent, some are on the go from morning to night, some need to be told over and over and still don’t seem to ever get it.  But it is not a problem, a disorder or diagnosis until it hurts, the pain in failing grades and failing relationships.
          Parents understand this because is the reason they have come to my office. They have finally reached the end of their rope, a point where the pain is so great they have to take action.  This is how we all make decisions about when to seek medical assistance.  If I awaken with a slight sore throat but feel pretty good after a shower, some breakfast and a couple of Tylenol, I am grabbing my briefcase and keys and soldiering on to work.  But if I can hardly swallow and my head is killing me and I feel hot and cold at the same time I am instead pitifully pleading with my wife to drive me to the Emergency Room as fast as possible. I am in distress and pro-actively am seeking relief.

Next Blog: Turning Pain into Gain (transforming impairments into goals)

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