"Three of My Kids Have ADHD"
The ADHD Expert
Patricia Quinn, M.D., director
National Center for Gender Issues and ADHD Washington, D.C.
I know how it feels to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): I'm a developmental pediatrician, and I decided to specialize in ADHD -- I had been diagnosed myself when I was in my 30s. I got through medical school only by staying up later than everyone else. I had to read everything twice.
Not all kids with ADHD act the same: There's a very strong genetic component, and three of my four children, who are now in their 20s and 30s, have ADHD. Even though they're very different, each was also typical. One was very active, so we spent a lot of time managing his behavior. He was in time-out a lot. By second grade, we decided it was time to give him Ritalin. Another was almost the exact opposite: shy and quiet but very distractible. By sixth grade, we realized that he would benefit from the same medication. And we knew my daughter had learning disabilities, but by the time she was in seventh grade, it was clear there was more going on, and she too went on Ritalin. In high school, she switched to Concerta, which has to be taken only once a day, and we saw a big improvement.
It's important to keep a close eye on girls: Unfortunately, because most girls are diagnosed later (usually around 12, as opposed to 8 for boys), they can have more problems socially. That's particularly tough because girls are also much more aware of their social differences than boys are.
Trust your instincts about when to seek help: One of my kids was put in a lower-level reading group because of his behavior, when he was actually reading at the higher level. At that point, I knew it was time to do something.
What I tell parents when they ask, "What would you do if it were your child?": I say, "I know what you're going through, and I've been up at 4 a.m. crying too." The decision to medicate a child is really scary. It helps parents when I can say, "It's okay to wish you didn't have to give your child medication, but you're doing it for his benefit. He deserves it." I help them focus on the long-term outcome. Yet kids often benefit immediately. The other day, one of my patients said to me, "I don't feel any different on my medicine, but my report card sure looks different."
Pills don't solve everything: Most kids need additional behavioral therapy. Medications may dull the impulse to punch somebody, but they don't teach you what to do instead. And if a child hasn't been able to pay attention in school, she's missed out on a lot of learning, and she may need help catching up.
The skill all ADHD kids need: It's so important to teach kids to be their own advocates. By eighth grade, a child should be able to say, "I have ADHD. Here's what I do well, and here's where I need help." Despite my worries, all my kids are happy and successful; they made it through college and found rewarding careers.
How I've grown: My children have made me a much better doctor and a more passionate advocate for kids with ADHD. When one of my kids was 9, he asked, "Mom, are you in this business because of me?" I said, "No, I was in this field before you were born. But God was good enough to give me kids like you to make sure I knew what I was doing."