Tips & Tricks

“Spaz Goes To School: Helping your Child with Attention Difficulties”

Guest Post by By: Jeff B. Art: Jenny M.

Everyone’s favorite band, Descendents, released a new album at the end of July. One particular song stood out to me as a child and adolescent therapist. Flip over to side B and Limiter is the first song you hear. In this song, Milo addresses the spaz kids, the use of psychotropic medication aka “limiter”, schools pushing medication and the “future of limited boys”. I’d like to share a few thoughts on this, if our attention spans can last long enough for me to write this and for you to read it.

First, what is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD aka ADD)? It is the most commonly diagnosed psychiatric disorder among children with symptoms appearing before the age of 12. It is more commonly diagnosed in boys. It is a brain based condition in which a person has lower levels of Dopamine receptors, which results in feeling bored, unstimulated or lacking concentration. As a result, psychotropic medication such as Ritalin or Adderall is used to increase Dopamine concentration, with the hopes of increasing the attention and concentration of a child. This is the limiter that Milo refers in the song.

As toddlers and young boys, we are raised to be maniacs. Everyone loves to rough house with us, wrestle with us, chase us around and encourage us to be as wild as possible. Occasionally, we are told to sit still at the dinner table, but for the most part we are allowed to be little maniacs. Then one day, we turn five and we get placed into a school setting for the next 13 years of our life for about six hours a day. As young boys, we still want to run around, have fun and act wild. As a result of how boys are typically raised in American society, it is a very hard adjustment to sit still in a classroom all day.

Every week, approximately 15 new children come into my clinic, two-thirds which are boys. At least one or two of those parents tell us, “his teacher says I can’t bring him back to class until he is on meds”. The parents come into our clinic with the notion that their child has ADHD and medication is the solution. Just like I am not a teacher, so I don’t tell teachers how to teach, they should not be rendering a clinical diagnosis and telling parents that they must put their children on medication. Sometimes a boy just needs a little guidance, support and patience to adjust to the classroom.

As a parent, you have to decide what is best for your child if they struggle with attention. A good place to start is a solid evaluation of your child. A visit to your child’s pediatrician can rule out any medical factors. A thorough mental health assessment that explores your child’s life experience can rule out other factors such as anxiety, depression or trauma that may be contributing to poor attention and concentration. A classroom observation by you as the parent or by a mental health professional can rule out factors such as poor classroom management or distractions in the classroom. A psychoeducational assessment (testing by a school psychologist – request in writing to your child’s school) can rule out any learning disorders, language disorders or auditory processing disorders. If after all this, signs still point to ADHD, then a combination of behavioral therapy, parenting skills and referral to a Psychiatrist can be beneficial for a child. Not every child will be “limited” by the use of medication. It can be helpful for some children and give them the ability to improve their academic performance and focus when their attention is needed to other tasks. Others may benefit from exploring dietary changes, increasing activity/exercise, structure changes and lots of patience, practice and dedication. Not every child needs to be put on medication.

As a final thought, I would like to say that a poor attention span could also be a gift. If this high energy is properly channeled, a child can thrive in whatever catches their interest. Try giving them a skateboard, a paintbrush, a set of cooking utensils, a basketball or an instrument. It is these spaz kids that become some of our greatest scientists, politicians, chefs, artists, musicians and athletes.

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