How do you handle a child with ADD or ADHD?


A Christian friend has a child that has been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD. I keep this child once a week and I have several questions for those of you who are familiar with ADD or ADHD. The mother doesn't want to give me much information because she feels I already have prejudiced views of children with ADD or ADHD. She doesn't want to get into with me about it.

Because I keep this child, I would like to know as much as I can. I want to know what other Christians believe and what information they have before I go to the world. I know with these children I have heard that spanking and other forms of punishment are not what they need. But, the three children I have known who "have it" were not disciplined just medicated. They were allowed to misbehave without discipline. So when I have seen that it has "prejudiced me" somewhat. But I am open to information because I don't want to expect more from a child with this problem than I should.

This child was brought to my house without medication and was very hard to deal with. I finally had to decide to spank him for certain things in order to get his attention. He got somewhat better. After having a talk with the mother, she decided to medicate him before he came. She was not medicating him when he was at home, just at school. It is very sad to see him like this- quiet, non-verbal, "in space".

I knew there were people on here that have dealt with this. I couldn't remember who. If you would please e-mail me privately. I really am open-minded and am looking for ways to help this child and to have the proper attitude.

Answer from a Sister in Christ

You'll get into some political trouble in the world and sadly even among Christians for saying what should be obvious to folks who believe the Bible. But, here goes: I find it dangerous spiritually for anyone to affirm that Bible methods of discipline "won't work" and that science has discovered something better. I'm not opposed to science, rightly used. But, as you observed, since the Bible methods of discipline haven't even been tried, who is anyone to stand before God and say that His way, which we didn't try, won't work.

My own belief is that ADD and ADHD are most often labels rather than diseases. It is certainly easier to medicate than to discipline. It is easier to label a child than to tell the parents that they are not practicing disciplinary habits that teach a child self-control. Parents don't get offended if you give them a pill for their child, but they do get offended if you suggest corrections to their child-rearing techniques. Guess which is, therefore, easier to do.

If you were standing in the first-century with a child that wouldn't behave, what would the Apostles have told you to do? If you had been talking to Solomon when he was writing the Proverbs and the wisdom they contain about discipline, would one have had the courage to tell him his methods "won't work" but someday we will develop new technologies that will?

These are behaviors, not diseases.

Answer from a Brother in Christ:

As a practicing physician and former psychologist, I would like to share a few observations.

ADHD does not mean the same thing as "misbehaving". ADHD means a severe problem with attention. It does not imply rebelliousness. A simple way to tell the difference is to ask what the person tends to do when given a direction to complete a complicated, unpleasant, and uninteresting task. A non-rebellious child with a good attention span will, of course, complete the task. A non-rebellious child with ADHD will start the task, but will soon lose interest and wander off without completing the task or, if he does continue to work at it, will do so in an unorganized, inefficient manner. A rebellious child will refuse, or argue, or lie that he has already completed the task. Obviously, some people are both rebellious and have poor attention. Many parents bring their child to see me, asking me to prescribe medicine to make their child less rebellious. I tell them that I can probably improve their child's attention span, but if they don't deal with the rebelliousness, the medicine will simply make the kid a well-focused rebel.

The idea that discipline "does not work" and spanking "does not work" for children with ADHD is ridiculous. Even a dog can be trained. Certainly, a child can be trained. God didn't make a mistake when He inspired the book of Proverbs.

Having a poor attention span does make it more difficult to do the right thing. For that reason, and for that reason alone, treating ADHD does sometimes results in improved behavior. There is no such thing as a "be good" pill. If a child exhibits better behavior on medication, that is pretty good evidence that he truly does have an attention problem. BUT he may also have a discipline problem as well, which is a separate issue.

Allergies do interfere with attention. I agree that allergies should be treated first before any other medications are tried.

Special diets do help those with food allergies and intolerances to pay attention better. I haven't seen any evidence that they help those who don't. I think they are worth a try.

I completely agree with those who suggest that attention problems may be sleep-related. I have not kept statistics but would estimate that at least 3/4s of the children whom I see who have serious attention problems also have significant sleep problems. In some cases, sleep problems are allergy-related. In some cases, the parents have a chaotic lifestyle and the child has no bedtime routine. Sometimes the child's own difficulty with focusing and organization makes maintaining a bedtime routine especially challenging. Sleep apnea can contribute to (or even cause) attention problems. (If a child often snores loudly, and especially if he sometimes "quits breathing" while asleep, he may have significant apnea.) Sometimes the sleep problem is primary insomnia of unknown cause. For those children, I have used chamomile tea. For older children, I have used over-the-counter melatonin.

ADHD is often described as a "disease". I think it is more accurately described as a "problematic variance in ability". What I mean is this: there is a normal variation in the ability to direct one's attention, but those whose ability is significantly below normal have a serious problem. I compare it to clumsiness. Some people are born athletes. Most people are average. Many people are not graceful. Some folks you just wouldn't want on your baseball team. (I am one of those people.) We could, if we chose, label people like me as AD, Athletically Deficient. Blessedly for my childhood, our culture does not expect children to play sports six hours a day. The public school system does, however, expect children to pay attention for six hours per day. I didn't say they should. I said they do.

Answer from a Sister in Christ:

Many kids who have (the label of) "poor attention spans" are able to sit in one place and concentrate profusely and intently, without distraction, at things like XBox or Madden Football or Nickelodeon, etc. Is it really a "medical" inability to apply a lengthy attention span if a child can pull it off for one of those? How does the medical problem come and go depending on "what" is being attended-to or not-attended-to? Or doesn't that give away that the real problem (if it is a problem) is likely somewhere else (and I'm not assigning blame nor not-loving anyone, just asking for logical analysis)? To use one example I'm familiar with, how does cause X (sleep apnea, food allergies, sunspots, or whatever causes such things, etc) 'know' to make a child restless 10 minutes into a sermon to the point that they "can't" medically manage to do it, but they could play X-Box for an hour without a break?

Based on that, doesn't it seem likely that children, just like adults, find it easy to concentrate on things that interest them and hard to concentrate on things they're not interested in? Do we need a root cause (or a label?) for that, or is it simply a self-explanatory condition of human beings in general? Just wondering...

Answer from a Sister in Christ:

One response on attention spans and how children labeled as ADD or ADHD can sit playing electronic games for extended periods of time. A child psychologist in our congregation explained it to me as constant and instant feedback. They get that constant feedback from an electronic game but not by listening in class or during services so they can't stay focused. That is the difference. They also lose interest in board games because it isn't always their turn! I am just giving the information as it was given to me.

Answer from a Sister in Christ:

I have two adopted boys, ages 7 and 8, who have ADD and ADHD. The youngest has major self-control problems. He will burst into tears from intense sadness or will act out in uncontrollable anger. He has done this since he was a baby. The issue is his impulsiveness. He will also get distracted when given a command with more than one step.

The older one mainly has a hyperactivity issue. He was born three months premature and has mild CP. We did medicate him about a year ago and after several months of changing doses and medications, we decided to take him off the drugs. His reaction to the medication was scary. He is a very outgoing, loud, happy boy. When on the medication, he became withdrawn, quiet and lost his appetite.

That said, we decided to change their diet. We basically do the Feingold Diet which is no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives. I don't follow it completely because I get so tired of making my own bread and I buy meat from the store with all the added junk. Going totally organic would help many children, I believe. We do belong to an organic food co-op, but I have yet to utilize it in the best way.

Also, I give our children cod liver oil which has many benefits for kids with ADD. We also use charts to help them stay focused on their daily tasks.

We do spank daily. One would think it would finally get through to them, but with their impulsiveness, they don't stop to think before they act. We also use "time outs" to let them cool off and then talk about their behavior afterward. With the diet changes and better understanding their problem, we as parents are better equipped to deal with them.

Besides spanking and timeouts, we reward good behavior. Our 8-year-old has improved dramatically. Our 7-year-old is so scatterbrained and impulsive that we have a long way to go with him, yet he has had minimal improvement with the diet change. We can show them verses in the Bible, study correct behaviors and self-control, but the impulsive behavior is hard to deal with. With age, things will improve. I think they will come to a point where they will mature enough and it will finally sink in.

By eating "purer" foods and using "purer" cleaning products and watching the lotions and things that are put onto their skin can help. I personally think the birth mothers did some things during their pregnancies that caused some of these problems, but we are the parents now and have to make sure the bad behavior is dealt with and not use anything as an excuse.

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