Sunday, March 27, 2011

Buzz: A Year of Paying Attention

Buzz: A Year of Paying AttentionBuzz: A Year of Paying Attention,
by Katherine Ellison

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Q: How many kids with attention deficit disorder does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: Let's go ride bikes!

Katherine Ellison's son Buzz (a pseudonym) was diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) not too long before she received the same diagnosis. Not only did Buzz have ADHD, but he had a side order of obsessive-defiance disorder (ODD) to make things even more complicated and stressful. Buzz constantly made waves...from beating up on his brother to demanding extremely expensive toys and constant caffeine. Rock bottom was the day Buzz called 911 after Ellison confiscated his Gameboy as a punishment for beating up on his brother.

Ellison embarks on a one-year journey to chronicle her parenting struggles with ADHD, exacerbated by her own personal challenges. It also happens to be the year when Buzz is preparing for his Bar Mitzvah. To demonstrate the up-and-down journey of ADHD, she offers her own experiences:
"(ADHD)...may even illuminate how I managed to win a Pulitzer Prize just three years after being sued for $11 million because of a careless reporting mistake, then realized my childhood dream of becoming a foreign correspondent, only to break my leg by running into a manhole in Managua while chasing Nicaragua's newly elected president--and did I mention that she was on crutches at the time?"

In an effort to bring some peace into their lives, she pursued every option she could find to treat Buzz's ADHD. After desperately fighting against the medication option, ultimately she and her husband succumbed and found it to be helpful. I had to laugh reading the scene where she berates a friend for putting his child on medication, only to eat her own words later when her own family decided to give it a try with Buzz (and herself). (Reminds me of all those sanctimonious people who think that they know what's best for you.) At least she called him to apologize after she realized what an ass she had been. The cry for help that led her to consider trying medication was her son grabbing a butcher knife and aiming it at his own throat. I feel immensely grateful not to have had to deal with this kind of behavior or stress in my own family.

Ellison explores the history and biology of ADHD and investigates a number of alternatives (or additions) to medication. She takes him to a variety of therapists and experts. She gets to know people in the Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) support group (and notes its marriage with the drug companies) and meets some authors on the subject (including Blake Taylor, who wrote a book called ADHD & Me, and his mother, Nadine Taylor-Barnes).

She investigates alternative education options and spends a chapter specifically on education and why the public school system is rotten for kids with ADHD. One of the experts she meets believes in "evidence-based teaching," the importance of developing a "sense of excitement and relevance, stories and mystery...and a student's connection with his teacher." The brain has to be excited to be able to learn and retain information. How often do we find teachers above the elementary school age who are able to do this with kids? As much as I sometimes question Chris' 8th grade science teacher's unconventional methods, Chris is way more engaged in science than he has been in the past two years, when he had rotten teachers.

Ellison tries neurofeedback for both herself and Buzz and finds some benefit...but it's very expensive and time consuming. She attends a silent meditation retreat (easier said than done for someone with ADHD). Ellison includes a helpful list of "What Else Worked" in the Epilogue and covers items such as supplements, toxins, exercise, snake oil salespeople (who are everywhere waiting to lurk on worried parents), and education advocacy. The book also contains several pages of notes at the end.

But this is the best thing I took from this book, wisdom from Toni Morrison:
"The author Toni Morrison says that the best gift a mother can give her child is to light up when he enters the room. I think of all the times my mind was elsewhere, dim to him, and now focus on shining extra brightly."
Ellison also makes a genuine attempt to respond positively to her son as often as possible, which takes a concerted effort at times.

This is what I strive toward: lighting up when each of my children (and for that matter, all of my loved ones) enters the room. That's how my boys react when I come home from work--I just need to take a leaf out of their books.
If I retain one thing from this book, let this be it. It's so easy for me to get distracted or stressed out and take our children for granted--the ones that we desperately wanted and waited for. And I'm not talking just about the one with ADD!
Before they received the dual diagnoses, Ellison was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor (a meningioma), followed by thyroid cancer. It seems that extremes follow her wherever she goes.

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