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SPECIAL COVERAGE: Living With Wildfires: San Diego Firestorm 10 Years Later

ADHD Is A Challenge For Kids And Schools

Audio

When you have a child with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, you're confused. You deny it. You wonder why your kid has to take Ritalin when you did absolutely fine without it.

— When you have a child with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, you're confused. You deny it. You wonder why your kid has to take Ritalin when you did absolutely fine without it.

I know this because I'm one of those parents, and Sadie Feuerstein is one of those kids. She has ADHD and she attends a private school in Del Mar called the Winston School, which is geared toward kids with learning disabilities. The principal says up to half of the students have ADHD. Feuerstein said her attention deficit became a problem when she was in second grade.

"I could focus on the teacher for like a little bit," she said. "But then since we had windows all around it was like 'Teacher, teacher, teacher... Hummingbird!' So I would space out. I'd be distracted by something else. Kind of tune out the teacher."

A new study out of UC Davis shows ADHD is a major challenge for kids and schools. The university's "Mind Institute" examined surveys of 30,000 adults who spoke about their educational success. Julie Schweitzer was the senior author of the study.

"Turns out the disorder that's most likely to lead to people dropping out of high school is ADHD," she said.

More than 32 percent of people who said they had ADHD dropped out of high school. That's a higher drop-out rate than for people who had depression or post traumatic stress. Kids with ADHD dropped out at a higher rate than kids who smoked or used illegal drugs.

Sarita Eastman is a behavioral pediatrician for Scripps Health and one of the founders of the Winston School. She said untreated ADHD carries more than one possible consequence.

"Because these children, just as they are at very high risk for dropping out of high school, have twice the risk of substance abuse of teenagers without ADHD," said. Eastman.

Drugs can be abused but can also give kids with ADHD a normal life. I've always thought it strange that they use stimulants to treat hyperactivity. But that's what my son takes every day. He was diagnosed with ADHD when he was in first grade after many months of being, somehow, unable to finish assignments or follow directions. He's ten and going into fifth grade. And doing very well, thanks.

Eastman said the kids who get the most attention are the kids who cause the most trouble... the hyperactive ones. Eastman said that gets the attention of the teacher, but not necessarily the parents.

"Most parents, particularly if they only have one or two children, have nothing to compare it to and assume that boys will be boys and a child just has to learn how to sit still in school," she said. "And they are taken back and often offended by the idea that there is something wrong with their child."

Kids with ADHD don't necessarily become adults with ADHD. Dr. Eastman said about a third of them develop psychological coping skills and they seem to do fine. Another third can stop taking medication but it's not always easy. Another third just don't get any better.

High school student Sadie Feuerstein thinks she's getting better, and she's gone off her meds.

"I can actually couch myself when I'm spacing out so I can be like ' . . . Space. Work!' I do believe it's something that I've learned, that I've taught my brain to do," she said.

Five years ago, I hosted a These Days program where I interviewed a popular child psychologist who writes a syndicated column. A woman called in and said her son had ADHD. The psychologist was polite but he said ADHD was immature behavior that indicated kids were not being challenged to grow up. ADHD was the result of bad parenting, he seemed to say.

It was the end of the show. We were running out of time so I basically let his comment slide. I didn't challenge him. I didn't ask him what in the world was he thinking. I wish I could tell him today that ADHD is a psychiatric disorder that's very real and you're only a bad parent if you try to deny that.

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