I was an ADHD Child…and Now, I’m a Medical Doctor
By Philip L. Levin, MD
In fifth grade I had so much energy, I couldn’t sit still in school. The teacher assigned me to a desk next to the wall. When my bustle propelled me from my seat, I would wander to the back of the room and pace, so as to be less of a distraction to the rest of the class.
What I had is now recognizable as being ADHD. In those days, however, children with high energy levels were reprimanded and sometimes suspended if our activity became too disruptive. The education community and most parents felt these children just weren’t trying hard enough. They didn’t realize then that the child’s inability to concentrate came from an internal brain issue not controlled by willpower alone.
According to the NIH (National Institute of Health), Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a brain disorder marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development. Present in both children and adults, the hyperactivity may be picked up as early as kindergarten, although those with only the inattention aspect (usually girls) might be overlooked until middle school. During their lifetimes, about 13 percent of men and five percent of women will be diagnosed with ADHD.
Dr. David Reeves, a Long Beach pediatrician, reports that as many as 25 percent of his patient visits involve treating children with ADHD.
“We see it a lot more frequently than when I started off in medicine 30 years ago,” Dr. Reeves said. “There are many theories for this increase, such as the rapid transitions found on video games and modern television programs.”
There seem to be both genetic and environmental influences. Some people blame diet, such as sugar intake. Specific risk factors include low birth weight, exposure to lead in infancy, and the mother smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol during pregnancy.
Typically, children with ADHD have problems organizing tasks and activities. They might be messy in their work and their rooms, suffer from poor time management, and have difficulty remembering a whole list of errands. They tend to dislike tasks that require sustained mental effort, such as schoolwork. They’re not lazy, just unable to concentrate on an undesirable task. Contrarily, an activity with rapidly changing scenes, such as a movie or video game, will practically hypnotize them.
About 50 percent of children outgrow their ADHD, so it’s important to help them control it when they’re young. Ever since a study in 1976 determined that amphetamines helped with the symptoms, stimulants have been the first-line drug prescribed by physicians. Many different variations work, and the patient might have to try a variety before finding the best one for his needs. Other medications that have found some success with the symptoms include certain non-stimulants (Strattera), antihypertensives (Clonidine & Intuniv), and antidepressants (Effexor). Behavior therapy and family counseling often help.
Dr. Reeves warns his patients and their parents that while the grades may improve, sometimes the side effects cause even more issues.
“It’s fine to raise a child’s grade average to a B level,” he explained, “but not so good when the medication’s anger-producing side effect gets them expelled.”
Yet when it works, the therapy can be a life changer.
“I have a bunch of kids in their ‘20s and lower ‘30s who still come to me for their ADHD treatments, glad that they can lead normal, socially productive lives,” he added.
I never took drugs myself, and ended up finding a career that works perfectly with my ADHD. As an emergency physician, I can move quickly from one patient to another, motivated by the adrenaline-stimulating environment. Most ADHD people eventually find their proper niche as well.
Philip L. Levin, MD is a Coast-based physician and writer. He is the author of numerous award-winning stories and poems, many nonfiction articles, and eight published books, including two children’s books.