May 6, 2009

ADHD: Claire 2--Looking for the ADHD diagnosis

Did Claire have ADHD? She was forgetful, distracted, and had trouble paying attention. After her mother and I agreed on a plan, her mother had to tell her about it. Smartly, she waited for the right opportunity—in the car.

The car is often the perfect place for a serious topic. It’s isolated so you have privacy. No one will interrupt and siblings are not around. There’s physical closeness but there’s no chance of forced prolonged eye contact, so the passing outside world is a helpful relief valve.

Claire’s mother reported following my script closely. She said that she had seen my blog story about girls with ADHD and wondered about Claire. She outlined some of the features of ADHD in girls that often get missed. She talked it over with me on the telephone, and I suggested a formal evaluation, including input from parents, teachers, and Claire herself.

Claire’s eyes started to tear. Her mother didn’t expect this reaction, and asked her what was wrong.

She said that she was incredibly relieved that maybe there was a reason for her being the way she is, and that it wasn’t her fault.

She had been well aware of being ‘spacey’ and disorganized, and she didn’t like it. But both from herself and everyone around her—friends, family, teachers—she kept getting reinforcing feedback that supported the idea that this was just who she was, as unchangeable as her height or her voice. Unlike most of the evaluations I do for kids who are much younger, this one is a crucial new part of this teenager’s identity. We will all have to walk very carefully.

Once through the initial suggestion, Claire was excited about the prospect. I don’t think she liked the idea of ADHD, exactly, but she genuinely liked the plan to figure out what the issues might be.

A therapist, who had not noticed a particular problem when talking to Claire, suggested neuropsychological testing. This is an expensive and detailed group of tests in which every aspect of her learning and understanding is carefully analyzed. It’s the essential tool for figuring out exactly what a kid’s learning disability is. But Claire was a voracious reader who read for pleasure, so it’s unlikely she’s got a reading disability. She’s not great at math, though. But her attention problems are in all her classes, not just math. In addition, a child being tested for hours has to be able to keep focused on the exam tasks. So in general, I try to get an attention issue under control before having kids do this kind of testing.

I sent questionnaires to Claire and her parents, and separate questionnaires for her teachers.

I often feel uncomfortable bringing up a new diagnosis to a parent. It’s hard to tell someone that their child has asthma or eczema or pneumonia. But almost always, this news is met with some sense of relief by the parent. They knew something was wrong, which is why they brought the child into my office and complained of a cough for 2 months or a rash that didn’t go away. Nobody’s happy about it. But now it has a name, and things with names can be discussed, can be treated, can be joked about, and can be looked up on the internet.

Much more to this story as it unfolds....

The photograph above is from my collection and is by Lewis Carroll.

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