Attention Deficit Disorder: ADD

Attention Deficit Disorder Discussion Report

Friday, October 22nd, Katherine Ellison, author of the recently published book, Buzz, was the speaker at Parents Education Network in San Francisco, CA.   A mother of a son who has ADD, her book vividly describes her family’s trials, tribulations and successes with the challenges her son faces. She was also very frank about herself letting us know that she, too, has the same brain aberration. 

A brief description of ADD culled from the field’s leading experts set the scene. The core problem is a weakness in the brain’s inhibitory system. She describes it as “faulty breaks”. The symptoms include impulsiveness, forgetfulness and distraction. 

Before reading a dramatic scene from her book, Ms. Ellison, a successful newspaper reporter and author, shared that Jack, her husband, and her two sons were torn apart with the tensions generating from challenges her oldest son, nine years old Buzz, faced. Writing her book was the only way she had to handle the family crisis. She described her inability to stop herself going into reaction, screaming at him, even spanking him when he said horrible things. Now, she understands that he was in his own world and didn’t see the cause/effect relationship of his comments.   

This drama heightened as she read a scene from her book, describing her efforts at 6 am to get Buzz up for his Spanish class, a class he enjoyed. Rising from bed, taking a shower, eating breakfast was chaotic ending in a verbal war between mother and son.  As Buzz exited, slamming the door, Ms. Ellison experienced an “ahha”. She realized she was bordering on not loving her son and was stunned!  She saw that her ADD and his were sparking each other’s worst side. She knew she had to be the one to change and turned her attention from her own distress and challenges with her ADD to her child. One of her strategies that had positive effect was finding ways to show Buzz that he was loved by her. This meant thinking twice before yelling when Buzz employed the “oppositional defiance kicker”. She reframed her feelings and took the advice of the writer, Toni Morrison: “Light up when a child comes into the room.”  At first, there was little immediate return. However, the more she released control the better the results. Slowly they were able to talk about what happened and sometimes he would respect her point of view if not accept it. 

Ms. Ellison enlisted her husband to become more involved and at this point her presentation Ms. Ellison’s invited her husband, Jack, a quiet, loving, somewhat distant husband to join her.  They shared they have clashed over different parenting styles on subjects such as TV, food, bedtime etc.  

The Ellisons then opened the morning session to questions.  Mothers and some fathers reported similar challenges and asked for advice. Topics covered a wide span:

  • ADD kids have a hard time with social interaction Most agreed that friends of an ADD student from Grade 1 and 2 had long disappeared, no more play dates.
  • Questions around the value of “consequences”: eg.” if you do this you will lose the use of your laptop” were brought to the fore. Most agreed that ADD kids are less sensitive to the concept of consequences and thus bribery doesn’t work.
  • More often than not the discussion moved to drugs, Ritalin and others.  Are they effective, are they damaging?  It seems these mood changing pills enable the distracted child to be comfortable with her or himself and they became more open to learning.  However, there was no agreement on the long term effect.  Ms. Ellison’s son did use drugs for a time, but then chose to stop. This topic kept re-emerging with no resolution.
  • There seemed to be a general consensus that private schools in Marin County are less effective in handling children with ADD than public schools.
  • The Ellisons encouraged parents to invest time helping their ADD child find something he or she is good at.  This effort does pay off.  Buzz discovered pleasure with  tennis. He is now coaching tennis with little kids and his social interaction is improving.

 Throughout the  morning Ms. Ellison suggested.

Outsource homework.  You have enough to handle in the house and need space from the battles over homework.

Find a way to become an ally – if it means taking the child out for pizza.

Choose your battles, Let some things slide. 

Do your best to balance attention with all children in your family. Those not affected by ADD need to feel that they are being fairly treated.

Try meditation and neuro-feedback. At first she used bribery to get her son to the sessions. But, they had some success with both.

Most important is reconnecting with your child, finding a way to let him or her know you love them, get back to a point where you can hug.

 Finally, Ms. Ellison urged parents who have a tendency to ADD behavior to get tested for diagnosis.  Don’t continue investing energy in covering up.  And, then find a way to slow down.

 The two hour morning session flew by.  Ms Ellison’s book, Buzz, is published by Voice, Hyperion, New York and is well worth the investment.

PEN: Learning Specialist’s Panel in San Francisco

First of all let me tell you a little bit about PEN. The acronym stands for Parents Education Network, PEN, a coalition of parents collaborating with educators, students and the community to empower and bring academic success to students with learning and attention difficulties.  If you live in the San Francisco Bay area and have children with these challenges, this is a lively group, well worth your time and energy.

PEN offered it’s last Speaker event of this season on Friday, May 14, 2010.  A panel of high school learning specialists shared their experiences of working with high school students who have learning and attention challenges.  The panelists and the institutions they represented were:  Susan Coe Adams, Marin Academy; Constance Clark, Immaculate Conception Academy: Karen Houck, Drew School: Denise Olivera, Gateway High School and Charles P. Roth, Bay School of San Francisco.  This is a summary of their points of view.

This discussion focused primarily on Grade Nine, though there were references to high school students in general. All of the schools are college preparatory.

Admission:  Some schools require documentation on the prospective students learning or attention challenges.  One school distills the documentation and develops a learning profile on challenged children. They have the student confirm the information on the learning profile and then the student takes it to his or her teachers as part of a self-advocacy program.  Some schools have workshops on study skills, how the brain works and time management at the beginning of Grade Nine to help the students integrate into high school.

Parents when interviewing a school would be best served by first checking the school’s website to see if the profile of the school fits their child.  Go to admission open houses and be sure to visit the resource center.

At the interview these are some questions that might be asked.  a: what services are offered including information on a resource program. b. what are the qualifications of the resource program staff.  c. how do teachers teach: lecture, visual aids etc. d. how is the child assessed: projects, homework, tests. e. How many students have learning issues? f. Can a student have a waiver for a subject?  g. how many students leave because of their learning difference. h. Ask  for contact information of parents who have kids with similar issues. Be sure to make a list of your questions and give them to the admissions director.

Most of the panelists felt that students with ADD or ADHD would be best served if they were given psychological testing. In similar kind, most of the panelists felt that a dyslexic student and their teachers would benefit from the information gained from an Educational Therapist.

 1.        Support systems: 

 Some schools have programs where Grade 12 learning or attention challenged students support the incoming Grade Nine students with like situations. This program seems very supportive especially for those Grade Nine  students who more recently learned about their challenge and are  embarrassed by it.  Peer support seems effective. 

Grade 12 students also mentor in chemistry and writing.  Learning how to plan and organizing material is often top on the agenda.

Learning specialists help students become advocates for themselves.  Some schools run training programs for this purpose.

 2.    Homework:

All of the panelist’s schools have homework which can vary from 2-3 hours for students with no learning or attention challenges. This can mean almost double the time for the challenged students.

Learning specialists need to re-inforce with the student that they will have to work harder. 

Some parents choose to have tutors help with homework. Others look to Books on Tape.   Parents and their kids need to plan how homework will be accomplished.  Some parents use bench marks. 

Most schools post homework on-line.


Yes, they are useful tools. Parents need to control their use at home so that     homework time is strictly homework. One solution offered was having the student in the kitchen doing homework.

3.   Parents access to teachers, supervisors etc

One person in the school needs to become the central connection with parents. Information can be garnered from the Resource Specialist overseeing each grade level, sometimes a care team. Other sources are E-mail,weekly meeting of faculty to discuss students who are facing problems. 

One advisor has each of his challenged students send an e-mail once a week to his teachers checking if he is up to date with all his assignments.

4.  Most panelists seemed to agree that it is not realistic for a school to provide the following for learning and attention students:  modification of the curriculum, tutors, direct services, therapy, daily communication with parents about homework.   Remember: these schools are all college preparatory.

5.  Parents can support their children by a:  helping them become advocates for themselves, b. make sure they understand how they learn, c. provide a safe environment and build confidence finding ways for the child to be successful, d. encourage them to join support groups for themselves eg: SafeVoices for students, or Project Eye to Eye:

Challenges learning and attention students need to master during high school so they can be successful.  a. Executive functions:  planning and organizing material, handling effectively a daytimer. highlighting b. making transitions, c. finding ways to deal with dense text books, d. self advocacy, e. how to approach long projects.

 Book recommended:  Primal Teen, Barbara Strauch

Comment:  If I were a parent with a child who has recently discovered he or she is dyslexic I would be both grateful for this panel discussion and perhaps overwhelmed at the task before both the child and the parent.

Exercise and the brain

Can exercise help the brain?  This was the topic of a recent lecture by John G. Ratey, MD sponsored by PEN.

If you wish to comment on this blog, simply scroll down to the bottom of this blog and hit comment.

First of all let me tell you a little bit about PEN. The acronym stands for Parents Education Network, a coalition of parents collaborating with educators, students and the community to empower and bring academic success to students with learning and attention difficulties.

If you live in the San Francisco Bay area and have children with these challenges, this is a lively group, well worth your time and energy. Last spring, on the suggestion of one of their students, an all-day event for dyslexics was put together at the Giant’s Ball Park and 1,100 parents, students and others showed up. It was an amazing experience and much was accomplished. Yes, it will happen again, spring, 2010. Find out more at

Now to John Ratey. Well, all I can say is that I wanted to jump up and cheer, “Yes! yes! yes!”  because what he is promoting (real exercise that’s fun to do) is exactly what helped me.   My mother enrolled me in an exercise program when I was eleven.  I loved it.  My brain cleared and exercise made it easier for me to study.  This is a fun discipline I have continued since that time.

Well, Dr. Ratey and many others are working with school systems in the US to get this concept across. And it’s working.  No, the exercise is not football, nor tennis, etc, its 40 minutes a day doing one or more of aerobics/boot camp/ hip hop/games etc, etc.  They have discovered that play is an important component to academic learning.

Here’s what happening in schools that incorporate fitness-based programs.

  1. Disciplinary issues decrease in some situations up to 30%
  2. Kids are keen to come to school
  3. Test scores go up, especially in math and language arts.

If you want to learn more go to He has many books, but it seems that SPARK, “the new revolutionary science of exercise and the brain,” is the book that has the most details on this approach.

If I were a teacher or a parent, I would hasten to the bookstore to learn more. I know that his approach works. I am both dyslexic and hyperlexic and his approach has worked for me.

By the way, Dr. Ratey is a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Finally, I will continue to evolve this site, including incorporating dyslexic and/or hyperlexic  information that others have to share.  Yes, I am looking for your ideas.  Send them via the Comments. below.