I have no real professional interest in ADHD. My focus and expertise in medicine is in the area of anti-aging medicine. I got involved in ADHD for personal reasons only, that is, to treat my own children.
My initial contact with ADHD began about fourteen years ago, though I didn't know it at the time. My wife was pregnant with our first child.
Since it was her first pregnancy, we did not know what to expect. Therefore, when at five months, the baby began to move about continuously, it didn't mean anything to us. For the next four months, our soon to be born child, tortured my wife by constantly kicking her in the ribs, flip flopping, hiccupping, and giving her other painful reminders of his presence. As far as we knew, this was all normal. Looking back, I know now that these were preliminary signs of what was to come.
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Training in medical school focuses on the treatment of disease. There is not much emphasis on what is normal. Still, when our newborn son pushed himself up with his two little arms, bent his right elbow, and rolled over onto his back at the age of two weeks, both my wife and I knew this was unusual. We were sure we had a genius on our hands. In reality, we did, but that was not why he rolled over.
When our son was about two years old, we sent him to a playgroup in the neighborhood. We did this because we had a second son, who was just beginning to get around and make his presence known. My wife needed a break from the oldest, for at least part of the morning. One day I came home to hear our child screaming in his room. What happened? It seems that there was an incident of biting in the playgroup. Our son had bared his fangs on some unsuspecting child. The playgroup leader, a young mother herself, decided to punish the offending mouth by filling it with black pepper. My son screamed for six hours. My wife suffered with our child; probably more than he did. That night, my son cried himself to sleep.
In the morning, my wife awoke with new determination. Filled with the rage of a mother bear avenging her cub, she called the playgroup leader to task with allegations of child abuse. The playgroup leader defended herself by saying that putting pepper in a child's mouth is a normal recognized punishment for biting. My wife's anger was not assuaged, and the conversation grew intense. Then we heard it for the first time.
"Your son is not normal. He's out of control. You have to do something about him!"
We did not believe her, but this young mother, the leader of our child's playgroup, was the first person to recognize that our son had ADHD. Also, to her credit, our son never bit anybody ever again.
In the spring of that year, my wife brought our children to a friend's house so that our children could play together. Her friend's mother-in-law, who was a speech pathologist, was visiting at the time. She told my wife that our son had a serious speech delay, which needed to be addressed. The city where we were living in at the time had a child development center; so, we took him there for evaluation. They told us his speech delay was the result of chronic asymptomatic ear infections that prevented him from hearing normally. He also had problems with fine motor coordination and needed both speech therapy and occupational therapy.
We enrolled him in nursery school class in a special school where he could receive these therapies as part of the general program. It is clear that the teachers in the program knew that our child had ADHD, but we were not ready to hear it yet; so, nobody told us. They did tell us that he had an unusually low tolerance for frustration.
We moved in the middle of the school year to a new rural community. There was a fledging special services program for children in the community; so, we placed our child in that program to continue his speech and occupational therapy.
A few years later my son began kindergarten in the new community school next to our house. His teacher was a young man who was fairly new to teaching. Neither he nor we knew what we were in for. My son has a number of qualities that makes him a special challenge for any teacher. He is extremely charismatic. He also loves to be the center of attention. My child was usually not the first child to act out in the classroom. However, he was always quick to join in, and because of his desire to be the focus of attention and his charisma, he was able to turn another child's small misdemeanor into a class rebellion in less that a minute.
Both the teacher and we survived the year. The teacher decided that if he was going to stay in education, he had to get training to learn how to handle a child like ours. He did so, and he is now one of the main teachers in our program.
School was a disaster for our son. He became the eraser boy. That's the child who gets sent out of the classroom to clean the erasers so that the teacher can teach. Our son reached an agreement with his teachers. He was allowed to sit at a desk by the window and cut paper and draw pictures during class time, as long as he didn't disturb the class. He didn't always keep to his side of the agreement; and he was a frequent visitor of the vice-principal, the person in charge of discipline in our school. They actually developed a close personal relationship over the years. As I said, my son is very charismatic.
Sometime during this period, it became clear to us that our son would need Ritalin. We got a full evaluation by our medical group, and he started taking the medication in the second grade.
I don't know how much time my son spent in class and how much time he spent in the hallway; but, when he was in fourth grade he could still only add on his fingers. He was already on Ritalin, but it didn't seem to help very much. He was getting in trouble more and more, and the parents of the other students were beginning to complain about his behavior. A number of other children had been expelled from the school for unruly behavior. We knew something had to be done.
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Our school was the only school in the area that had any special education facilities. There was very little financial backing for the program; as a result, it had never grown out of its modest rudimentary beginnings. Our two oldest children were enrolled in the special program. Our second son, who had ADHD without the hyperactive component, also needed help. This program was the pet project of the school's principal. Although he couldn't finance it, he wanted it to develop. That was my entry.
I went to the principal's office one day and told him that I deeply appreciated the help he was providing for my children. I said that I realized that the program was under financed, and I offered to help get the necessary funding to expand the program.
Bribery is wonderful. You should never try it in court, but in other areas in life it works marvelously. The telephone calls that began with, "Do you know what your son did today?" stopped coming. It's not that his behavior changed. But, the complaints never got past the principal's desk. Instead, they were handled with the utmost wisdom and politic. My son became known as the principal's special project. The teachers in the school had to deal with my son with the new understanding that, whatever might happen, he was there to stay.
So we achieved our first goal. Our son was no longer at risk of being expelled. All I had to do to achieve this was to travel around the country and around the world, speak to philanthropists, and raise the budget for the special education in our school-- a relatively small price.
Our second step was to actually get both of our children to learn. For that we needed more than a bribe. We needed a real special education program. Then my wife came into the picture. Using her incredible skills of organization and her powers of interpersonal communication, she began to organize and build the special education program in the school.
If you look in the town records of our community, you will find that neither my wife nor myself have any official connection to the school, other than the fact we send our children there. This has proved indispensable to both the school and to us. When a school official wants to get something done, he has to do it as a school official. That means he has to go through the proper channels, fill out the proper forms in triplicate, submit them to the proper committees, and wait for the official reply. My wife was not a school official. She was a parent. She just got on the phone and made a phone call and was able to accomplish in one morning what it would have taken the school administration half a year to accomplish.
What happened is that within a short time, we had built a genuine special education program of which I was the "official" unofficial director. In reality, my wife ran the program. My role was to stand next to her and maintain a look of importance. Also, I made the coffee.
I began traveling on behalf of the school in order to raise the budget for the program. I am not a very outward-going person, and this was not my forte; but, I did meet with an unusual amount of success over the years. Something else happened on these trips that I had never expected. Parents found out that I was a physician involved in special education and began coming to me for advice. Many of these people had consulted with their family physicians, but never got anything more than a prescription for medication. People approached me as an authority on ADHD, who was visiting their town, and sought my advice. I was not an expert, but it was becoming clear that I knew much more than anybody else. People started to introduce me as a leading authority on ADHD, and I began to get requests to speak publicly. I decided at that point that I had better become an expert.
I was a very good student in medical school. More than that, I was a very obedient student. I believed what I was taught, and I didn't question the accuracy of the information. Like most doctors, I didn't think twice about alternative medicine. My feeling was that if it worked, someone would have proven it already and patented it. No proof meant to me that it did not exist as an option. My wife didn't see things that way. She was in charge of the home, and at home things were getting out of hand. Our son was often out of control, having violent tantrums, and fighting with his younger siblings. She was desperate. The Ritalin helped, but it didn't do enough. She wanted to try the alternative medicine remedies that she heard about, but she knew I wouldn't allow it.
What did my wife do? She was very sly. Since my real role in the school was to raise the budget, I had to travel away from home frequently. My wife waited until I went away on business, and then during each of my trips she tried something else. I have no idea how many alternative treatments she tried while I was away. Most of them didn't work; so she had no reason to tell me about them. I didn't even know she was doing this until she came across something that did work.
My mother-in-law was deeply sensitive to my wife's plight. She sent to my wife numerous books on alternative approaches to ADHD. One of them was a book by Dr. Doris Rapp, called The Impossible Child. Rapp's idea is that many children have undiagnosed food allergies that cause numerous behavioral and physical problems.
If you eliminate the eliciting foods, you can correct the behavior. Once while I was away, my wife had my son tested for food allergies. It came out that he was exquisitely sensitive to three foods: milk, soy products, and sugar. Looking back, from conception to that time, there wasn't a day in his life that our son didn't have one of these three foods in his system. When I got back from the trip, we decided to see what affects dietary elimination would have on ADHD. We took him off milk, soy, and cut out added sugar. A few days later my son came to us and said that he didn't need the Ritalin any more. That was two years ago, and he hasn't taken it since.
We are still a long way from being finished with our oldest son. He is still impulsive, but he is in control. I am not sure if his impulsiveness is a residual ADHD problem or if it's a behavior he learned over the past thirteen years. He spent almost seven years in school unable to learn. He sustained a lot of psychological trauma from his school experience.
Our oldest son has graduated the program we made for him and is now in a special middle school. Even though he is still in a special program, now things are different. He is the top boy in his program and many people who observe him wonder why he isn't in a regular school. We are going to keep him in this school for a while. After all those years of failure, let him have a few years of success. Our second son has also left our program. He still shows some residual signs of ADHD, but they do not interfere with his performance in school.
As for myself, I am in the process of extricating myself from my involvement with our school. The program is built and functioning well, and the budget is sound. My children no longer need the program. I have traveled worldwide on behalf of our school. I have lectured on two continents and have given advice to parents on three. I have been involved in special education programs in several different schools in a number of cities and countries.
I have gathered a wealth of information on ADHD in the past years. Although I no longer plan to travel, I want to make the information I have acquired available to the public. I hope that others can benefit and enjoy the type of success that we have had with our children. That is why I have started ADD ADHD Advances. It is also, one of the reasons I have written How to Help the Child You Love.
I try to make sure that everything that I present in ADD ADHD Advances is based upon sound medical research. I do this because I feel it is important that ADHD treatment must be based upon reason, and not just wishful thinking and fancy ideas. However, I don't want you to take just my word for it. Please, evaluate the evidence for yourself.
It is my sincere hope that ADD ADHD Advances, and everything else that I write, will save you a lot of the trouble and anguish that I went through in finding a way to help my children. I encourage you to contact me with your questions and comments. I am here to help.
Anthony Kane, MD