What’s it like to have a child who lives with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?
“You’re watching your child struggle every single day,” says licensed clinical social worker Kasey Phillips Brown, and mom of a teenager with ADHD symptoms.
“If your child has a difficult time focusing; makes simple mistakes; needs to be told something more than once; has a hard time finishing assignments; is disorganized; avoids schoolwork; loses things like pens and papers; forgets assignments and is easily distracted, this is a child who may be ADHD,” she says.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says recent surveys of parents show that approximately 11% of children 4-17 years of age (6.4 million) have ever been diagnosed with ADHD as of 2011. The person with ADHD may daydream a lot, be forgetful, fidget, take unnecessary risks, and have trouble taking turns.
Phillips Brown says her son has displayed symptoms of ADHD since he was very young, even before the age that a formal diagnosis is made possible at age five.
“I knew that Kaleb had ADHD symptoms when I noticed that he had such a difficult time focusing,” she says. “He needed to be told something, like, two, three, four, five times. He would lose his homework, pencils, papers. Staying in his seat was almost impossible.”
The National Survey of Children’s Health estimated that 69% of those with a current ADHD diagnosis were on medication. Phillips Brown, a Clark Atlanta University alumna, says she kept getting advice to do the same thing for her son.
“For me, I just really looked at it that there has to be another way that I don’t have to alter him because my kid is super-awesome,” says Phillips Brown. “Not because he’s my kid, but the kid is awesome. And I didn’t want to do something that could possibly stunt some of his outgoing personality.”
So after years of crafting a technique to manage the symptoms successfully, Phillips Brown wrote the book We Just Said NO! Treating ADHD Without Medication: A Step-By-Step Guide to Increasing Focus and Improving Mood.
The book includes detailed chapters on everything from breakfast to bedtime when it comes to creating an organized and structured home environment and lifestyle for children or adults with ADHD. There are sections on chiropractic help, discipline, naps, and how to advocate for a child at school, as well as getting family and friends on the same page when it comes to non-medicinal treatments. Several chapters are dedicated to analyzing how food plays a role, and details how simple pleasures like French fries might be trouble for those with ADHD.
“The crux of it all is, basically, for children with ADHD, the sugar is what causes a lot of the issues,” says Phillips Brown. We Just Said NO! also includes words from then-13-year-old Kaleb in which he talks about how food affects his focus.
“He said, ‘When I ate French fries at lunch, I would be distracted for the rest of the day. But I still ate French fries because they were good,'” Phillips Brown said, laughing. “That’s all of our struggle! We eat French fries ’cause French fries are good! But sometimes, for some people, it causes weight problems. For some people with ADHD, French fries will make you lose focus for the rest of the afternoon.”
The mother of two says this book isn’t just for people with ADHD symptoms, but can be used as an overall parenting tool. She explains that her younger son has benefited because using these techniques, he’s a lot less moody. At one point, he was extremely emotional, she says.
Phillips Brown says there were obstacles, especially resisting the peer pressure for pills, and the book also provides tips for dealing with that and getting around the idea of a “quick fix.” There is advice for handling the self-esteem problems that come along with ADHD, since kids can feel down on themselves or their abilities when it seems they’re being punished or corrected so frequently.
She says that should her son decide he wants to try medication after age 18, she has no problem with that–but that’s a decision she didn’t want to make for him. This method, she says, she would do again “in a heartbeat,” even though it hasn’t been easy.
“It’s the hardest thing I ever have done,” says Phillips Brown, “but the joy I see when my son does accomplish something new, does come back with, ‘Hey, I got an “A” on that test,’ I cherish those moments.
“And the fact that I feel like I get the authentic him without any alterations to his personality or to how he functions in this world? It’s worth it. Yep, I’d do it all again.”