Dear Rabbi Horowitz:
My wife and I have a 9-year old son. He is charming, well adjusted, and very restless. As he grows older, he seems to be finding his school experience to be more and more challenging. Towards the end of this past school year, his rebbi suggested that our son might have ADD, and he recommended that we have him tested and possibly medicated. To be perfectly honest, we were offended when he raised the subject, as we don’t think that things are quite that bad.
We are honestly not sure how to proceed. We would do anything to help him succeed, but we are worried about the side effects and stigma attached to ADD and Ritalin.
We regularly read your columns and appreciate your candid manner of discussing parenting topics. We would be grateful for you to share your thoughts with us on the subjects of ADD, testing, Ritalin and the overall topic of helping restless kids succeed in school.
Thank you kindly for your time.
Rabbi Horowitz responds:
It is difficult and often painful to be informed that your child is being recommended for evaluation regarding A.D.D., or any learning disability, for that matter. Please do not be offended by this suggestion or feel resentment to the rebbi for his frank assessment. You should be grateful to him for caring enough, and for having the courage to broach this sensitive subject, as I am certain that it was quite difficult for him to have that conversation with you. Your outrage should be reserved for those who may have observed this problem in the past and did not take this correct and difficult course of action. This is not to suggest that you should accept his recommendation without questioning it. Do your research as carefully and thoroughly as possible, and then develop an action plan. (In next week’s column, we will discuss some self-evaluating tools and getting profession guidance in diagnosing ADD/ADHD)
A Quick Primer on ADD/ADHD
A.D.D. stands for Attention Deficit Disorder. In the broadest sense, it reflects the difficulty or inability of an individual to sustain the level of concentration necessary to function properly in school, at work, or in other arenas of social interaction.
When we were growing up, restless, antsy and jumpy, were the terms commonly used to describe such kids. Hyperactive became the operative word for a short period of time. Later, as professionals gained insight into child development and the diverse ways that people learn, new descriptions were added: A.D.D. and A.D.H.D. (ADHD is similar to ADD; but with an added component of hyperactivity, hence the letter ‘H’)
To better understand attention deficit, begin with this simple assignment. The next time you are at a Bar Mitzvah, fund-raising dinner, or any setting where there are a number of public speakers, take a good, hard look at the people sitting at your table during the second or third speech. Most of them will be sitting with their hands folded, looking respectfully at the speaker. Several will be fidgeting slightly. One person at your table, or the table next to you, will drive you to distraction if you watch him or her for any extended period of time. He or she will play with the silverware, fiddle with a pen, shift around in the chair, or simply walk out of the room. That adult was probably his or her teacher's nightmare twenty or thirty years ago.
Careful observation of the entire room will lead to the conclusion that there are, in fact, several men and women with these tendencies. These restless people are very often the ones who make significant contributions to our society. He may be the president of his shul, or the coordinator of an important communal organization. She may be a phenomenal “multi-tasker” or involved in many local charitable projects. If you do not pause to think about it, you may not even realize how fidgety these people are. If you did not grow up with them, you would be shocked at what poor students they may have been in their youth. You see, a person's nature does not change much as he/she grows older. However, adults learn to mask their inadequacies and deal with these flaws. Additionally, very few adults are required to sit still for hours on end during the course of their day. However, as children, this was certainly the case, day after day, year after difficult year.
Even within the yeshiva experience of a growing boy, there is a dichotomy of sorts. During the elementary school years, nearly every moment of classroom time is instructional time, so difficult for the restless child. However, once a boy enters high school, there is much more time spent with preparation for and review of the shiur (lecture) in a less structured environment. This transition is even more pronounced as the young man enters his late teens, when only a short period of time is in spent in the formal setting of a shiur. Aside from the obvious maturing effect that the passage of time has had, there are very tangible differences between the school day of an elementary school child, and that of a young adult in high school. It is therefore not surprising that so many restless boys "settle down", upon entering their late adolescent years.
It is highly unlikely that your son’s school will institute large blocks of unstructured time in the fifth grade. The task at hand, therefore, is to help guide your son through these difficult years without him becoming so frustrated that he will develop a distaste for school, or worse yet, begin the march down the path that will lead to having him drop out of the school system completely.
So; Shmuel, before we discuss the details of diagnosing and possibly medicating your son for ADD/ADHD, allow me to share with you some words of encouragement and caution.
Many of the most successful and productive adults exhibited these ADD-like behaviors as children. Look at your High School yearbook. In all likelihood, many of those who would have been voted "least likely to succeed," are today outstanding individuals: some in the spiritual realm, some in the business world, others in their communal activities. They are successful today, not in spite of their difficulty in school, but rather, because of it. The qualities that we cherish in adults: creativity, boldness, imagination, and boundless energy are often a formula for very poor students. After all, in school we praise obedience and passive acceptance of instructions.
This is not to suggest that we strive to raise children who are unruly students. Your role as a parent is to afford your son every possibility to enrich his school experience, and help him function during these crucial formative years. And you need to me mindful of the fact that not every restless child becomes a success story. In fact, left untreated and ignored, these ADD-like behaviors often follow individuals into adulthood and beyond, leaving behind missed opportunities, failed marriages, unfulfilled careers, and the ravages of various vices.
However, it is helpful to be aware that despite the present difficulty, your son probably has a reservoir of talent and ability that, properly channeled, will produce an outstanding adult.
(Next week: assessment and testing for ADD/ADHD)
© 2006 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved