Did you know that a staggering 6.4 million U.S. children have been diagnosed with ADHD? That’s eleven percent of all American kids. Chances are you have or you know someone whose child has ADHD.

For this second episode of Homeschooling Happy Hearts, we are talking about ADHD in children. What it is, what are believed to be the causes, how it is diagnosed, how it is linked to activity levels, the effects of medication and why some kids are taken entirely off it, as well as a few of Alena’s tips on dealing with children with ADHD.

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Episode 02 Transcript

  • Dr. Kirkwood

Hello, I’m Dr. Kirkwood. It’s my privilege to have Alena Strickland with us again today. You know in my background, I’ve done my Masters work in clinical psych at Pepperdine, and a Ph.D. in counseling for the Department of Education at the University of Southern California. I was acting staff psychologist at Metropolitan State Hospital, in private practice in Hollywood. But compared to Alena and her expertise, I’m just truly a novice. And so Alena has agreed to come and just share with us again today from her vast experience of dealing with children who have special needs. Alena has had children in foster care–over 200 of them–and some of them very severely disabled. So Alena has come and agreed to share with us today. And one of the questions we had was on ADHD. And what is it? How prevalent it is? Alena, can you talk about that for a minute?

  • Alena Strickland

I can. I’ve had quite a lot of personal experience with it. I have about six kids diagnosed and it stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and there is a distinction some are just A.D.D. which is just attention deficit and then some have the hyperactivity added with it.

The incidence is just overwhelming in the United States: 6.4 million U.S. children have been diagnosed that’s eleven percent of all American kids. That is staggering. It usually appears between the ages of 3 and 6, and this is according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Usually, they’re diagnosed during those three to six years. The average child is 7 years old that has that suffers the most from ADHD and boys are three times more likely than girls to get it. So it’s very, very prevalent.

  • Dr. Kirkwood

Is it genetic or is it something that you develop? How does it happen? If you don’t get it until you’re 6 or 7 years old?

  • Alena Strickland

Well, that’s when they’re diagnosed with it. Normally–at least with my kids–I saw it from the time they started walking and talking and there was just something off. You hear parents say it like it’s like they had to “GO” switch on that [they] couldn’t turn off. You hear that a lot.

But some it took, like one of my daughters it took until second grade. A teacher finally said “I can’t get her to sit still” and when I asked her why am I just now hearing that, they said, well legally we can’t make a diagnosis. All we can do is tell you what we’re seeing. And so someone finally had the nerve to tell me and then I got her diagnosed. And I am just going by the research I have done and what doctors have told me. I am no expert but they think it is hereditary because it is three times more likely in boys.

There are also certain socio-economic groups. If you are three levels below the poverty line it goes up immensely. It is also more prevalent in English-speaking homes where English is the first language. It goes down dramatically if English is a second language in a home. 

So there are things like that that are environmental but then there are things that run in families. You’ll see maybe, especially in boys. I adopted a child who was one of three, two of them were diagnosed early on with ADHD but not the third. It does appear to run in families, but there are definitely environmental factors that influence it also.

  • Dr. Kirkwood

Do children within that diagnosis vary a great deal in terms of symptoms, in terms of levels of hyperactivity?

  • Alena Strickland

Yes, for sure. Like I said, some are just ADD. The attention–and I’ve got one just like that. He sits, he’s very calm but a butterfly goes by and he’s gone. His attention is just not there, all the kids who can’t sit still for anything. They’re falling out of their chair. They’re getting up constantly and sharpening their pencils. There are all the way from, you know, very low incidence of it to very dramatic where it’s obvious.

  • Dr. Kirkwood

Now. What about medication? Is that something that helps? Are there any better solutions than medication? What’s your understanding of that or experience with that.

  • Alena Strickland

That’s very interesting. I’ve done a lot of research and talked to a lot of people about that, and medication is really a personal choice. Some people are against medication and others are like “I would not live without my child on medication”. So it’s really a personal choice with your physician.

However, in my research, I did come across something very interesting and as we all know in the last, maybe five to ten years, things [are being] taken out of schools, like merry-go-rounds, like tall play structures, for safety reasons. And recesses have been shortened, and shortened, and shortened, and things like that. There are studies that are actually showing that exercise–lack of exercise–is causing a lot of this. Because the same endorphins and dopamine that is released when you have strenuous exercise mirror the same kind of thing that an Adderall or a stimulant is doing. So now they’re really looking, and a lot of it is lack of exercise. 

We can’t let our kids, because of safety, go out and play unmonitored. We can’t send him down to the park for the most part–at least here in California. It’s dangerous. And so the kids aren’t [having] the activity. Doctors are suggesting that a child should have between three and six hours a day of unstructured play just to go out and play and I would dare say that not many kids get that. There is a doctor and I’d like to quote from him so I don’t mess it up, but he’s a neuroscientist and he did a study. His name is Jaak Panksepp and he wrote: 

“Abundant play will facilitate maturation of the frontal lobe inhibitory skills that gradually come to regulate children’s impulsive primary process. Here, I developed the idea that more children indulge in pro-social play the sooner and more completely they will develop their frontal lobe’s regulatory functions that allow children–and indeed all of us–to develop our impulsive and control impulsive urges. Allowing us to stop, look, listen, and feel. Such frontal lobe regulatory skills promote, enhance capacities for self-reflection, imagination, empathy, and creative play. These executive abilities promote the kind of behavioral flexibility and foresight that constitute well-focused, goal-directed behaviors that last a lifetime.”

To me, that is just amazing! Because at the very time when we’re taking away activity from kids, we’re focusing more on classroom time and focused learning at the very time when we need to cut back, and let them go out and play more. And that’s what homeschooling does. It allows us the ability to do that.

  • Dr.Kirkwood

Alena, from kind of a research background, is there research that actually backs that up showing a correlation between the amount of play or physical exercise and the ability to concentrate–the ability to focus your energy? Are there research studies on that?

  • Alena Strickland

Yeah. He was born in 46, but his last study was done in 2003, which was well before we started really seeing [this]. In the last eight years, there’s been an 80 percent rise in diagnosis of ADHD. That’s huge, but it coincides with the very time we’re pulling away this activity from the kids and there’s interestingly enough–I didn’t know this word until I started researching this–but kids have a vestibular sense. What that is, is it provides them a sense of where their body is in comparison to their surroundings. That is developed by playing, by spinning, by running, by hanging upside down, all the kind of spatial things that shows a kid where they are.

That’s why we see kids falling out of their chairs and things like that. They haven’t developed this vestibule or since because they’re not playing enough. I think that is huge. Not that they don’t heretic hereditarily, maybe have it but the kids the reason we see such a rise I believe is the lack of play.

  • Dr. Kirkwood

Kids playing on computers: Does that count?

  • Alena Strickland

No. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Studies are showing that kids sometimes go up to six hours a day on screens and I’m not talking doing their homework and stuff. I’m talking about video games, TV, and all this. And that actually works against them. So we need to cut the screens out and send our kids out to play. We need to bring back recess. We need to bring back learning those social skills also from the give-and-take of play. I think it’s just interesting that at the very time that we started cutting down on those activities, the rise in ADHD happened. I think it’s not coincidental.

  • Dr. Kirkwood

Now we talked about last week that a child should be in some sort of educational program for about six hours a day, but that included recess, that included lunch, and included all these things. So independent of that you want them to play, what, three or four hours a day. Actual play outside, and doing things: running, jumping, playing ball?

  • Alena Strickland

Well, yes. Actually the Center for Disease Control says all ages at least a minimum of three hours. It goes up to six hours for school-age kids, but a minimum, across the board ‘til you’re 17. And that can include jumping rope, somersault, skating, swimming, spinning. Anything like that.

So what I do with my kids at home school: My kids opted to do their home school in the morning all the way through. We take a short 10-minute break for a snack and go all the way through till just after lunchtime. They eat and then they’ve got the rest of the day where I encourage them to go out or we go places–even walking. You go to a museum, you’re walking, you’re having exercise even at a museum. And you’re still having academics while you’re walking or going to, you know, SeaWorld or one of the ocean places and learning oceanography and things like that.

  • Dr. Kirkwood

When the kids are walking and say at the Museum or at the aquarium and you come to the little signs that describe what it is. Are they more focused then as a function of having done the exercise having walked there looked at it and pay more attention to it rather than just all over the place?

  • Alena Strickland

That’s the theory and in my case, I’ve seen that happen. My kids are very kinesthetic Learners though. They like the Hands-On. They want to feel and touch things. And so for my kids, it works really well, but also kids just get pent-up energy. You can see it. And so letting them be out and walking and pointing at exhibits and things like that–that’s all movement, and it does it really helps with the focus.

And if it’s something they’re interested in it’s even better because they’re going to focus a lot more if it’s something they’re interested in rather than something they could care less about.

  • Dr. Kirkwood

Alena back on the medication, is there a lot of different kinds of medications and some that you found better than others. And how do you work with a physician to get the right dosage and the right kind of medication for treatment?

  • Alena Strickland

There is. We’ve gone through the gamut of everything. Most of them are stimulants, and some of them are short-acting. They have the long-acting ones that are supposed to be given once a day. Some of them are short-acting. The downside of that is their sleep at night. If you give it to close to bedtime they can’t sleep because it’s a stimulant and so you really have to work with your doctor and it’s constant change. And as your child grows, you may have to change with another medication. But my kids have probably tried six different ones until we found something that worked. And you know, a couple of them I’ve given up altogether on medication because it wasn’t worth the loss of sleep.

The other thing is they lose weight. It takes their appetites. And so they lose SO much weight that I’ve had to pull a couple of kids off. And in that case, there are things you can do if it’s not severe. If your child is severe, they can’t even sit still for a minute, that’s a different story.

But like I have a daytimer for all my kids, and they write everything because one of the things [about] ADHD is you forget because your mind is going so fast. You don’t retain. And so I have my kids write what they’re supposed to do, when they’re supposed to do it, and they can refer back to that. And that has really been a big help with them too, on the ones that medication was just not working on [them]. Mainly because of eating. They would lose so much. Their appetite just goes with those stimulants and it’s you know, their health is in Jeopardy in that case.

So you really have to work very closely and a lot of medical doctors like family practice won’t prescribe–most, at least here in California–will not prescribe. You have to go to a psychiatrist and there’s an actual test now where they won’t medicate unless you take that test.

  • Dr. Kirkwood

Okay. Alena, I imagine there is a ton of different strategies and different techniques that you have for helping children to become more focused. We are a little short of time today, but could we come back and maybe address some of those next week?

  • Alena Strickland

Absolutely. I would love to do that. I’ve been dealing with it long enough where I do have a lot of strategies that have at least helped. Trial and error.

  • Dr. Kirkwood

Alena thank you so much for your wisdom, for all of your expertise. You know to me we just want it to be helpful and be able to minister to parents who have children with special needs.

Thank you. We’ll see you next week.

  • Alena Strickland

Alright, thank you so much.


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About ADHD – Homeschooling Happy Hearts Podcast 02
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