Pay Attention

Our distracted age

Double Duty: When Parent & Child Share Attention Deficit Disorder

A parent's distraction is the elephant in the room when we talk about ADHD.

We parents of children diagnosed with Attention-defict/Hyperactivity Disorder are used to being judged.

Scanning the Internet late at night, desperately seeking any kind of support, we instead, inevitably, find nasty readers' comments, tacked at the end of all the ADHD news, saying that what these children really need is a good kick in the pants. Others go so far as to suggest that parents unwilling to give said kick shouldn't ever have had children in the first place. 

And then there's the damned-if-you-do-or-don't drug debate. Medicate your child, say the (often misinformed) critics, and you'll turn him into a zombie, a midget, and a drug fiend. Withhold medication, say the (often misinformed) doctors, and you'll deprive him of vital support that will help him make friends, stay in school, and preserve his self-esteem.

Millions of American parents are trying to make their way through this minefield of accusations, exaggerations, and misinformation, usually in the midst of a crisis, and with very little reliable support. Most often, we're trying our best, yet with heavy odds against our succeeding. We sure don't need anyone else pointing out where we fall short.

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We do, however, probably need to be more conscious of one of our greatest potential roadblocks, which is the very strong hereditary nature of ADHD. I was taken off guard last fall when an interviewer on a national radio program challenged my point that the main way a child ends up with a genuine impairment from ADHD is from one or both of his parents. I figured most people were aware of all the studies that have nailed this particular issue.

Sure, there are other ways to end up with serious cognitive issues, ranging from a mother who smokes or drinks while pregnant to lead or pesticide exposure to head injuries to you name it. Yet the admittedly vexingly vague but classic cluster of symptoms that constitute ADHD normally comes from a genetic legacy. It is nearly as hereditary as height.

What this means is that parents need to pay extra attention, ironic as that challenge may be, to the quality of our own attention, and also to where it's focused. I probably don't need to stress how increasingly difficult this can be in our TMI age, where we feel like we can't live for an hour without email or texting, and are bombarded and interrupted to the point where everyone seems to be headed for a place on the ADHD spectrum. Still, any parent hoping genuinely to help his or her child has to make this a first step. Otherwise, never mind that you may never be able to offer the consistency and structure for your child that all those parenting guides you can't seem to finish warn are so essential: you're probably so frustrated with his behavior, and he with yours, that the two of you are constantly in conflict. 

Meditation helps, research shows. So does yoga. Recent studies have found neurofeedback is also promising, for those with the considerable time and money to invest. Most important of all, however, is to start simply paying attention to attention, while there's still time to pay better attention to your child.

There's no time like the present.

 

Copyright: Katherine Ellison

Katherine Ellison is a Pulitzer Prize winning author.

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