THE ADD ANSWER - Excerpts
Attention deficit disorder (ADD) is a major challenge for many families in this century. The needs and unresolved challenges of children with ADD are affecting virtually every school in this nation, and a high number of adult issues in the workplace have been linked to adult ADD. Children are our most valuable asset, yet many of our children with the greatest potential are being left on the sidelines.
There is good reason to believe that there are multiple reasons for the upsurge of ADD. The growing toxicity of our nation, the breakdown of family stability, the increasing distractions of technology and video games, and the possible role of various viruses are all areas of concern. However, regardless of the cause, I have seen few solutions or approaches that hold out much promise or hope to the families who are overwhelmed by the diagnosis. I hear the despair and frustration expressed by parents as they go from one source to another with the same result—failure. Too often the label of ADD becomes a stigma of long-term problems that will never go away.
We are not doing enough as a nation to help children and families overcome the challenges of ADD. The majority of our convicts in prisons can be diagnosed with ADD, yet we have no programs for children to avert this outcome or to offer adequate treatment. Most teachers and parents do not know what to do for children with ADD, although they are bright and eager to learn. Some parents are so frustrated in their dealings with the educational system that they have decided to homeschool their children.
Most people know me by some of my pet phrases, and one is very appropriate to the current ADD situation: Is this working for you? The fact is that no one fully understands the problem of ADD, only the symptoms. I feel that as a psychologist with a specialization in behavioral medicine, I should be able to read the literature and determine whether someone has nailed down a cause-and-effect. But what I have discovered is that there are a lot of people trying to stick their finger in the dike, hoping the flood of questions will go away.
What Dr. Lawlis is trying to do in this book is to help families understand their own child and what ADD means to them. He has recognized that this condition can mean many things and have many causes. Parents do not need academic explanations. They do not need prescriptions for a medication that may not work. And they certainly don’t need prescriptions for a medication that can have tragic side effects. Parents need an understanding of what their child is experiencing personally and a plan for the whole family to implement. Dr. Lawlis offers a step-by-step approach focused on accurate assessment and individualized solutions. In this way, progress can be measured and reinforced. He offers ways and methods to meet the educational and practical needs of children who suffer the academic and social stigma of ADD whatever their strengths or deficits. He supplies the biological and psychological basis for each approach, and he has also applied them in his own practice to be sure they are safe and effective.
But more than a gentle plan and personal assessments, this book offers the most advanced approaches available for the treatment of ADD. Perhaps it takes someone with a research background and clinical passion to be able to address and appreciate the progress that most people simply do not know about. Most of the innovations Dr. Lawlis describes have been widely used in the world of behavioral medicine, but they may take ten years or more to become common throughout the educational, psychiatric, and psychotherapeutic fields. But for the reader, they are accessible now in this book. Not all the paths Dr. Lawlis suggests are required for any one individual, but through concerted effort, the parent can become the expert and the child the hero.
When I am placed in a position to help people, I try to ask myself what it is that has caused a person to try and fail in the past, and what it is it that can be offered to change that outcome. I am not known for being a theoretician and for making global statements about the theoretical scope of the human brain. But I am known for putting things in understandable terms and giving people a way to use that information in their lives on an action-oriented basis. I like approaches that have verbs in the solutions. And that is exactly what this book about ADD offers.
My approaches are based on how well people find solutions to the goals they set and then how effectively they act on those solutions. I want you to ask yourself: Are you and your child making measurable progress in dealing with ADD? Are your family interactions improving? Is your child modifying his temper in the classroom or his acting out at the teacher? If not, I would ask you to investigate other paths and seek out new skills and methods.
As I observe the situation of children with ADD and think about everything Dr. Lawlis says within the book, I come to one immediate conclusion: the family has to step up to meet this challenge. Parents cannot remain in the denial stage one day longer. Although I suspect that it can be very scary rubbing elbows with all those doctors and teachers, you have to reach down and bring up the courage to make your child’s needs known and become an active participant from now on. In order to do that, you need cutting-edge knowledge. The book you are now holding, in my personal and professional opinion, holds that knowledge.
To tell you the truth, I was not surprised to see this book written by Dr. Frank Lawlis. He was my major professor in my doctoral studies program at the University of North Texas. He has been a trusted friend and mentor for almost thirty years. I have reveled in the innovations he has pioneered in his clinical work, which have earned him the coveted title of “Fellow” in two divisions of the American Psychological Association for his scientific contributions in the field. Dr. Lawlis has created many of the behavior medicine protocols for chronic pain, rehabilitation, and cancer that are practiced throughout the world, and his new clinical research efforts are concentrating on neurological impairments, such as ADD.
Based on my trust in Dr. Lawlis and my respect for his integrity and unselfish desire to help people, I have every confidence that you will find powerful answers in this important book. Make a plan, as Dr. Lawlis proposes, and create a purposeful direction. Make it work for you with a purpose.
Nothing comes easy that has true value, and your family is vitally important. I believe that what Dr. Lawlis promises is a path of success. But you are going to have to find it. It will not be given to you, and it is unlikely that you will absorb all the answers you need in one reading or while you sleep. Take this book seriously, and I believe that your returns will be tremendous.
Preface: Sharing the Journey
I did not begin to write this book last year or the year before that. I started this book when I was born, and I have edited it ever since.
My birth was an ordeal for both my mother and me. She was given too much pain medication, by accident. Her labor was halted, and I was declared dead while still in the birth canal. A few hours later it was clear the doctor was wrong, but that did not stop him from issuing another diagnosis that was equally dooming: I was mentally defective due to oxygen deprivation. He told my parents there was no hope that I would progress in school, and he warned that sooner rather than later, I would cease to learn.
Being unaware of my limitations, I found that in a variety of settings, I could fake it until I made it. I developed ways of compensating for my problems much of the time, such as avoiding handwriting by means of self-imposed bruises on my right hand and requesting oral tests. I could not—and still cannot—read my own writing, though I finally developed my own style during my internship. During most of the third, fourth, and fifth grades, my world was like Mardi Gras. The letters would dance off the page when I tried to focus on my reading. When the teacher presented some topic for learning, my mind played tricks on me, such as counting every other word in her sentences, or making up new sentences, or finishing her sentences with my own version. I cannot tell you how many times I got busted for laughing at my own internal comedies. Church represented a host of materials for my imagination, especially from the hymnals.
I suspect that what kept me out of juvenile detention, especially in later years, was my parents, my sister, and the typewriter. All were teachers to me then, and later in my professional life, so I was very, very lucky. With the patience of Job, my father spent endless nights teaching me how to befriend numbers rather than fear them as my enemies. I remember one of the first things he told me: “Write your numbers big enough so you can read them.” That was an amazing concept to me because I had been writing them in small little messes, with the thought of saving paper or for some other crazy rationale that escapes me. That task required some basics in organization, too, because he also made me line my numbers up in some order.
My sister brought in her typewriter when I was in the fourth grade, and I found that I could actually make out my own words. Finally I could reread what I had written, and I could begin to understand the mechanics of a sentence. Wow! (I cannot tell you of my rebirth when word processors arrived.) My mother was my cheerleader. Whether or not I would ever be a high school graduate did not matter to her as long as I had a mission to be the best person I could be. If this sounds like Forrest Gump, it may be accidental, but I sure identified with that character.
Many of the paths in this book are examples of things I learned as a means to “make it through.” My highest goal in school was junior college, but I survived college, with a major in mathematics. (What else?) Then I began to explore the world of books, and could actually read one all the way through. What a concept! But I learned that I needed to read fast in order to keep my mind from wandering into some interesting story of my own. Two master’s degrees and a Ph.D. later, with over a hundred research articles written and multiple books, I am still creating more stories in my head than Stephen King, and juggling at least four projects at one time.
But this book is not about my journey. This book is based on the hope seen in the faces of thousands of children and adults I’ve met on their pilgrimages in the miracle we call life. One of the most incredible blessings in my life has been to witness people on their healing journeys. I do not have to try to convince myself that individuals can be successful at any challenge. I have seen and known the spirit that lies within each of us that pushes us onward toward our destinies.
I have rarely seen people who are happy all the time, and just as rarely have I seen people who are sad all the time. The goal of life is not to be happy, because that is a transitory state. Regardless of what our circumstances are and what our challenges are, I believe that we learn to live our lives according to the unique contributions we make for one another and for ourselves. It may be difficult to witness your child attempting to cope with the challenges of ADD. It may trigger your own confrontation with what it means to be a parent. But you do have a choice in your reactions. You can choose to label yourself and your child as victims of a harsh and stupid disorder, or you can actually embrace the challenge to become a hero and a star who can model the best possible response. You can learn to trust yourself and your creative senses. You might even learn that you are truly beloved by God.
ONE - Taking a Step on the Healing Path
This book was written from my heart, soul, and mind for the sake of our children, because we are on the edge of crisis. I have seen too many children and families suffering because they lack plans and solutions for managing the realities of ADD. No one has been giving families tools they can use to take charge of the problem themselves, but I will. No one has been giving families the means to understand and assess the specific problems their child faces as a result of ADD, but I will. No one has been giving families clear action plans that will guide them toward success, but I will. It is with these goals in mind that I have written this book.
As a researcher and someone who is personally invested in helping people, I want you to know that I base all therapy on truth. And I will tell you the truth about why I am so passionate about writing this book. My interest in medicine and healing began when I was a child, growing up with a mother who had numerous surgeries, spread out over many years. Being a good son, my first career choice was to be a traditional doctor. However, I soon became aware of the limitations of medicine, and I eventually chose to become a psychologist who worked in the medical field. I quickly discovered that there are often a number of approaches to diseases and conditions that are very effective and scientifically valid but that never see the light of day. Many of these alternative treatments take longer than the typical seven minutes currently allowed in the doctor’s office, so the traditional medical solution—a pill—is usually prescribed without even a brochure explaining the medical alternatives.
In all truth, ADD cannot be treated in seven minutes or in seven days, and probably cannot be treated in a doctor’s office. It has to be approached in the home, where there is a higher calling than just getting a child to be quiet and conform to the rules for a while. This book, then, is written for the family. It offers new and exciting approaches, with action plans as well. But this is not a gift that cures the problem by itself. It is a path—a healing path that with effort and focus can and will shift the impact of your child’s ADD from disaster to growth as your child becomes the human being he or she is truly destined to be.
It is critical for you to keep something in mind from this point forward: you and your family can beat this thing. It will not destroy your lives, your values, or your dreams. God did not invest ADD with that kind of power over you. ADD is challenging. It is confusing. But I’ve helped thousands of patients find hope and renewal.
Your job will be to stay strong and to keep things in perspective. This is a considerable challenge, but it is one you and your child can handle, just as others have. Remember, the measure of our character is how we respond to life’s challenges.
If you are a parent who is new to the challenges of ADD, you need to begin this journey with two guiding thoughts:
If you are a parent who has been on this merry-go-round for a while already, I want to offer hope. By now you’ve realized that there is no quick fix—no healing gurus, no miracle cures. But there are scientific approaches that will offer relief. I am going to share with you my proven strategies for helping those afflicted with ADD.
I encourage you to begin this new journey of treatment and healing by making a promise to yourself, your spouse, and your children. Pledge to open your heart and mind so that you can understand and meet this challenge. Make this a positive journey of accomplishment for you, your child, and your family. Every parent wants to find the easiest path. But the reality is that life rarely allows for easy travel. As in the children’s tale The Velveteen Rabbit, it is only in wearing off our fur that we become real. In facing the challenge of ADD together, you will experience the privilege of truly getting to know your child and yourself. Believe me, that is a gift, regardless of what life throws at you later.
Many of the accepted treatments for helping kids with ADD put parents in the role of clowns in a three-ring circus. Physicians say one thing, teachers say something else, friends and family have their own opinions. Suggestions, recommendations, and diagnoses fly at you from all directions, but no one seems to fully grasp what works and doesn’t work. Every day I am amazed at how even the most intelligent and dedicated parents miss out on important resources available for helping their children with ADD.
Parents of ADD children often talk of the emotional roller coaster they experience in searching for answers and in trying to determine what is right and what is wrong for their children. Many have endured criticism for trying different approaches when the recommended treatments appear to fail. They feel trapped in a no-win situation when an approach that has worked for others does not help their own children. At times when they most need support and praise for their efforts, they feel ashamed and damned.
This disorder often disrupts the normal life of a family. Certainly not every ADD family is dysfunctional, but the insidious nature of this condition can disrupt basic communication. Even the most loving family relationships can be thrown dramatically askew. Sometimes parents tend to focus so much on the needs of an ADD child that the needs of other siblings are neglected. When a family becomes dependent on outside expertise from psychiatrists, psychologists, teachers, and school counselors, that can undermine its healthy sense of self-reliance and disrupt its decision-making processes. Never knowing what to expect from an ADD child from day to day also disrupts a household. Trust can erode.
ADD can tear at the fabric of a family by undermining parental authority and creating suspicion and doubt. Yet we know, too, that challenges like ADD often strengthen familial bonds. Having worked with hundreds of clients, I’ve seen some horrific family crises arise because of ADD, and I’ve seen family members rally around one another with compassion and dedication. This book will give your family the tools and the guidance to make the best of your experience with ADD.
The scenarios of discovery don’t vary greatly from one family to the next. Often a teacher sounds the first alarm by alerting parents to the fact that a child is disruptive in class. Within the first month of a school year, the label attention deficit disorder becomes associated with the child. The parents are given behavioral reports from the school and are encouraged to consult a physician or psychologist. Over the course of the next six months the child is put under a microscope and the family is subjected to an overload of stress as they attempt to grapple with this new development.
In the majority of my cases, the family quickly begins to experience conflicts and doubt. Their conventional understanding of what constitutes good and bad behavior for a child is tossed out. The child once seen as beautiful and precious is suddenly cast as abnormal. The blame game begins soon thereafter. Parents and teachers are often at odds over their responsibilities. This is a dangerous time. When the adults in a child’s life become completely focused on negative behavior, the youngster’s self-image deteriorates. The child can give up hope of ever being good or normal when his parents and teachers seem to perceive everything he does as bad or aberrant. You cannot allow this to happen.
A Disorder, Not a Disaster
The modern terms attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are often used interchangeably, but they have subtle differences. Actually, ADD is typically used for the lack of attention abilities, while ADHD usually refers to the hyperactive behavior often attributable to the lack of concentration. The condition has undergone many name changes over the past century. First described by Heinrich Hoffmann in the nineteenth century, in a poem about Fidgety Philip, the disorder and its implications have not been fully appreciated until the last ten to twenty years. Today, attention deficit disorder is understood to be a neurological disorder. It is typically mild as far as direct brain symptoms, such as seizures or paralysis, are concerned, and the child functions normally in most daily activities and has age-appropriate skills. But ADD has extensive ramifications for a child’s learning processes.
An ADD diagnosis means that the child’s brain is not functioning normally. ADD is not a sign of inferior intelligence. It is not a handicap. It does not result in a damaged personality, criminal tendencies, or immoral behavior. And it is not necessarily a learning disability or a mark of mental immaturity, although such conditions can coexist with ADD. Much of the time, the problems of ADD are related to the brain performing at lowered, subdued ranges.
Brain performance is usually discussed in four ranges of measurable electromagnetic activity. These output ranges, called “states,” are Beta, Alpha, Theta, and Delta.
The Brain Stuck in Overdrive
With attention deficit disorder, the brain is functioning in the Alpha and Theta ranges most of the time, even when it is more appropriate to be in the higher ranges, such as when the child is at school and solving problems.
Your child’s ADD brain, then, is like a car stuck in overdrive. Your child can’t use the power of the engine to get over the hill. He may feel as if he is caught in mud up to his knees while being expected to run a hundred-yard dash. No wonder he gets frustrated and acts out!
ADD children are hyperactive not because their brains are operating in high gear, but because they can’t shift into high gear. Their mental engines are bogged down. Their normal methods for stimulating the brain aren’t working, so they try other ways to step on the gas. They engage in risky behaviors, get into fights, and challenge authority—anything they can do to create an excited state. They create stress, and then their adrenal glands kick in and raise the brain activity to a higher level.
Children love to run and play. Movement gives them pleasure. This is especially true for children with ADD. They crave excitement as a means for stimulating their lethargic brains. They eat gobs of sweets because sugar offers a quick fix. Unfortunately, their energy drops rapidly once the sugar high fades.
For some children, certain parts of the brain connections in the administrative and memory parts run at a lower rate than normal; but they may not feel drowsy, because their muscles and organs are still charged with energy. Children experiencing this condition do not feel particularly unpleasant, but their conscious thoughts are in that dreamlike state of free association, with the boundaries between reality and dreams broken down. We’ve all experienced a similar state of consciousness as we drift off to sleep.
An Imaginative State
Tune in to the internal dialogues of two children in geometry class. Jane’s brain is in a normal state, conducive to learning. Jill’s is in an ADD mode.
As the geometry teacher explains how to find the area of a circle, Jane follows the teacher’s process of calculation without being distracted: I see the circle and I can visualize that there is a line crossing through the center. That is called the diameter, and half of that is called the radius. OK, I understand the diameter and radius, and all I have to do to find the area inside the circle is to multiply the length of the radius by itself, and then multiply the result by pi (?), or about 22/7. I just do that to get the answer. I got it!
But if you were to tune in to Jill’s internal dialogue, it might sound like this: I see the circle, and the circle reminds me of that ring I saw on Molly’s finger. I wonder where she got it. That reminds me, I have to get a new top to wear to Joe’s party. Oh yeah, Joe is sitting over there and he is looking at me. I wonder if I am looking stupid again. Oh darn! The teacher is looking at me. I probably missed the lesson again, and she is going to call on me. Oh darn! Let’s see. Radius squared times pi. What was pi again? Maybe it is called pi because it looks like a pie. That reminds me, I am getting hungry...
Jill, the child with ADD, is in an imaginative state. But it is not the proper time to be creative. It is the time to focus and learn in very precise steps. If Jill misses a step, she becomes anxious. She then tries to focus and regain lost ground, but she is unable to break free of the free-associative state. This inability to control mental tracking explains why a child with ADD is forgetful, cannot concentrate, becomes bored quickly, and is easily distracted. Since most of us do not have trouble focusing our minds, we assume a child who is so easily distracted is simply inattentive, lazy, or lacking in self-discipline.
Treatment for ADD
When your child has a neurological problem, you might expect that you’d find a doctor who could assess the problem and prescribe a treatment plan to remedy it. A parent might also expect that teachers would have specific methods for helping children with memory and concentration problems, since it is estimated that 3–6 percent of all students have a form of this problem. In most areas of medical treatment and in most schools, there are specific therapies and organized programs for helping children with special needs. But as parents of ADD children have discovered, specific therapies and organized programs too often do not exist for them. No wonder there is so much anger and frustration expressed by families dealing with ADD.
Does Your Child Have ADD?
Parents of children with ADD can become exasperated very early on because it is often difficult to determine if a child truly has attention deficit disorder. According to a widely accepted checklist, ADD should be considered if the child often
These recognizable symptoms have been accepted as indicators of ADD for a number of years now as part of an effort to standardize the diagnosis. I’ve used them in my practice as a clinical psychologist. However, the same symptoms also relate to the following conditions:
I do not want to imply in any way that your child is suffering from a mental disorder. The point I’m making is that ADD is merely a name assigned to a long list of dysfunctional behaviors. It does not refer to any specific cause for the behavior. The paradox of scientific medicine is that a diagnosis does not guarantee a cause-and-effect. All children have these symptoms at times, especially during high-stress periods. What child hasn’t become distracted and lost concentration at one time or another? Every boy and girl is forgetful at times. Every child has experienced difficulty getting organized, following instructions, or focusing on the task at hand. And that is exactly why identifying and treating children who are truly afflicted with ADD is such a challenge. Far too many children are labeled as suffering from ADD without scientific justification. In fact, very few students ever get assessed with anything more than a behavioral checklist similar to the one I just provided. The symptoms in that checklist can apply to a whole host of kids who may just be slow to mature or have poor stress management skills.
There is a very real possibility that your child was checked off as a troublemaker by a teacher faced with the daunting task not only of educating each student to her full potential, but also of meeting the political goals of the school system and its standardized-achievement testing system. There are many demands on teachers, and most teachers have too few resources. They are often pulled in opposite directions. As an educator myself, I respect dedicated teachers and I place a high value on the educational system.
Still, I’m afraid that many teachers mislabel young people as having ADD because they don’t have the time or the resources to develop real expertise. When a teacher is trying to educate thirty-five students and one of them is working against her by acting out, the understandable temptation is to apply a label, to solve the problem by categorizing the offending student’s behavior. But it is dangerous to label a child without a scientific basis for the diagnosis, and too often the treatment that follows treats only the symptoms and not the person afflicted.
In the pages that follow, I will give you tools and direct you to resources that will help you get a much better handle on your child’s deficits and the treatments that are available for it.
You Are Not Alone, and There Is Hope
The first fact parents of ADD children should know is that they are not alone. There are an estimated 17 million children diagnosed with ADD in the United States, and the number increases every day. Generally, this is not a condition that can be outgrown. Nor can it be prevented by vaccination or cured simply by making lifestyle adjustments.
The second helpful fact parents should know is that while there’s no treatment approach that works for all children, there are strategies that do work and that can be combined to create an effective program for their child. ADD is a grab-bag, catchall term for a series of troublesome problems, just as the common cold is really the name we have given to a series of symptoms that include a runny nose, stuffed sinuses, sneezing, coughing, and body ache. And just as one person’s surefire cold remedy may have no effect on another person’s symptoms, I’ve discovered that there is no one remedy for ADD. But there are treatment methods that work in specific cases. The good news is that although ADD raises many questions, this book has many answers. My promise to you is that if you dedicate yourself to meeting this challenge, I will give you all the tools available. Together, we will find the solution for your child.
Last modified: January 23, 2011
Copyright, All Rights Reserved, G. Frank Lawlis, 2011