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It Takes a Village to Raise a Child, But Remember You're the Mayor

Posted: 09/30/2013 5:41 pm

"He seems to drift out of focus," one teacher said.
"He's very disorganized," added another.
"He doesn't follow directions," complained a third.
"He has ADD," concluded the psychologist.

Certainly Andrew has yet to reach his academic potential. As an open-minded and loving parent, my primary concern was never academic, but rather that Andrew didn't fit in with the other children.

This began way before the ADD diagnosis. Phone calls from the principal started in kindergarten, and we did the best we could. I thought we had "graduated" from psychologists, psychiatrists and therapies when Andrew was 10, but a couple of years later, a doctor concluded that Andrew suffers from clinical depression. "I could have told you that," muttered Andrew.

How long did he suffer needlessly? I'll never know. At least the medication helped, and our lives began anew. Months later, since Andrew's teachers continued to complain, we agreed to consider the ADD diagnosis again. Perhaps a "little something to help him concentrate" might be useful.

I will not share with you the painful disaster of the first medication; truthfully, I would not wish such suffering on anyone. The second medication seemed to help for a while, but then Andrew stopped taking it. We did not push him to continue.

By ninth grade, we were at our wits' end with school. Andrew was not failing, but he kept falling behind. "I had a term paper due?" "The teacher says I haven't handed in 10 math assignments." "I'm just bored; there is no Honours class for that."

I am now going to reveal the miracle cure.

This cure turned my spacey, disorganized, mess of a student into a motivated, dedicated scholar who at least hands in his homework and who even *gasp* studies without being asked. Are you ready? Here it is: we moved.

That's right! No new medication, no tutoring, no therapy, no yelling or strict new regimens. We moved to a place where he fits in, we let him choose the school he attends, and now he has a reason to pay attention, study, and do well: he enjoys life.

Andrew may always be on medication for depression, but righting a chemical imbalance does not make life fun: it makes life bearable. Therapy helps you understand yourself and others, but it does not find you friends to whom you can relate, if you are not meeting any like-minded people. Moving turned out to be the life-altering, miracle cure.

Please do not misunderstand me; I'm not telling people to pack up and move, and then their problems will go away. I'm just saying, it seems to be working for us.

It works because while depression was the underlying problem, it was not the only problem. It works because even though all of the teachers, psychoeducational evaluators, and psychiatrists told us that ADD was preventing him from success in school, they just may have been wrong.

An educator recently recommended a book called "The Dyslexic Advantage." As it happens, Andrew is dyslexic. (He compensated so early, none of his teachers or testers ever caught on, but we always knew.) The book points out that dyslexics often suffer from attention challenges that mimic the symptoms of Inattentive ADHD. It makes me wonder, how many dyslexic children receive the wrong diagnosis and treatment recommendations?

The more I read, the more I came to believe that Andrew's struggles with school had nothing to do with ADD at all, but rather a combination of dyslexia and plain, old-fashioned inertia. Certainly, he has learning differences. Regardless, who performs their best when they are truly unhappy?

I remain forever grateful to all of the professionals who worked with my son; we never could have gotten so far without them. Nevertheless, the fine-tuning had to be done ourselves, because we know our son better than any professional ever could.

My recommendation to parents everywhere is to educate themselves. By all means, consult professionals, but remember that you are the expert when it comes to your child. If a diagnosis or treatment doesn't feel right to you, explore options! Read books and articles, talk to people, find support groups, and seek out second opinions. It takes a village to care for a child, but you must be the mayor of that village.

No one ever said that being a parent is easy; it certainly has not been easy for me. Still, I stand firm on my position that it is the best, most fulfilling and rewarding job on the planet. My qualifications? Love, dedication, patience, research, and maybe even a little luck. I wish all of these things for you.

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  • Candy

    Candy is loaded with sugar and artificial colours, which is a bad combination when it comes to children with ADHD who often need to <a href="http://www.everydayhealth.com/adhd/adhd-diet.aspx" target="_hplink">follow an ADHD diet</a>. Both of these components have been shown to promote ADHD symptoms in studies. “With the high content of sugar and artificial colouring, candy is a huge contributor to ADHD,” says Howard Peiper, author of <i>The ADD and ADHD Diet</i>.

  • Soda

    If you have ADHD, <a href="http://www.everydayhealth.com/photogallery/soda-alternatives.aspx" target="_hplink">consider eliminating soda</a>. These sweet drinks often have many of the same sugars and sweeteners that make candy a bad idea for kids on the ADHD diet. Soda also has other ingredients that can help worsen ADHD symptoms, such as high-fructose corn syrup and caffeine. “Excessive sugar and caffeine intake both cause symptoms of hyperactivity and easy distractibility,” says Dr. Barnhill.

  • Cake Mixes And Frostings

    Cake mix and frosting contain the <a href="http://www.everydayhealth.com/healthy-recipes/sugar.aspx" target="_hplink">high amounts of sugar</a> and artificial colours that can lead to hyperactivity and other ADHD symptoms. Naheed Ali, MD, ADHD expert and the author of <i>Diabetes and You: A Comprehensive, Holistic Approach</i>, adds that these products are often also loaded with several artificial sweeteners. “When frosting and cake mix contain artificial sweeteners, they increase the risk of ADHD symptoms more than natural sweeteners would,” he says.

  • Energy Drinks

    <a href="http://www.everydayhealth.com/kids-health/news/energy-drinks-bad-choice-for-kids.aspx" target="_hplink">Energy drinks</a> are becoming increasingly popular among kids, especially teens. Unfortunately, they also have a veritable treasure trove of ingredients that can worsen ADHD symptoms: sugar, artificial sweeteners, artificial colors, caffeine, and other stimulants. “Energy drinks are high on the list of things that cause teens to display behaviors mimicking ADHD,” says Barnhill. They have no place in a healthy ADHD diet.

  • Frozen Fruits And Vegetables

    Most fruits and vegetables are healthy choices for an ADHD diet, but some frozen varieties can contain artificial colours, so check all labels carefully. Barnhill says these can cause ADHD symptoms for another reason as well. “Foods treated with organophosphates for insect control have been shown to cause neurologic-based behavioral problems that mimic ADHD and many other behavior problems,” he says.

  • Fish And Other Seafood

    Dr. Ali says that eating fish and other seafood with trace amounts of mercury <a href="http://www.everydayhealth.com/adhd/adhd-symptoms.aspx" target="_hplink">can cause ADHD symptoms</a> in the long term. Some of the worst culprits are shark, king mackerel, swordfish, and tilefish. “Mercury, like cellulose, is extremely hard to digest and can accumulate in the brain over time,” explains Ali. “This can lead to hyperactivity.” Talk to your doctor or ADHD nutritionist about the best types of fish to include in your ADHD diet.

  • Other Food Sensitivities

    According to a recent study, many children with food sensitivities can <a href="http://www.everydayhealth.com/emotional-health/adhd/index.aspx" target="_hplink">exhibit ADHD symptoms</a> after they are exposed to certain foods. Based on the results of the research, some of the common foods that can cause ADHD reactions include milk, chocolate, soy, wheat, eggs, beans, corn, tomatoes, grapes, and oranges. If you suspect a food sensitivity may be contributing to your child’s ADHD symptoms, talk to your doctor about the possibility of trying an elimination diet.