Ann Weaver Hart
Writing Sample: Feature Story
Published April 2006 in Insite Magazine
Brazos Valley CHADD
On Valentine’s Day at 7 o’clock in the evening, about 20 people found their way to the annex building of Christ United Methodist Church at 4203 State Highway 6 in College Station looking for help at a meeting of BVCHADD, the Brazos Valley chapter of Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. At the door of the room, they found a table full of informative literature and a birthday cake for the boy whose difficulties got it all started. It was Connor Jahnke’s eleventh birthday, and as with so much else, Katherine Jahnke was ready to share the good things in her life, even her son’s birthday cake, with others.
No one has to convince Katherine and John Jahnke that children are born with AD/HD. Some nights when she was pregnant with their son, Connor, she would fall into bed exhausted, and John would watch their unborn son come out to play—kicking and tumbling while his mother slept.
Later, after Connor was born, he stayed very active. “It seems like he went from crawling to running without any intermediate steps,” says his mother. As a toddler, the little boy seemed to have no fear. Ordinary things like swimming pools became particularly dangerous. Jahnke feels lucky that Connor’s older siblings often came to the rescue, and keeping the boy safe seemed to take a group effort.
Jahnke remembers having problems with day-care providers. Connor was considered a “busy” child, and one provider, an older woman, actually asked Jahnke to find another caregiver for her son. This was the beginning of a series of events that brought her to the realization that her son was different.
The Children’s Center at First Presbyterian Church in Bryan had an opening, and the Jahnkes enrolled Connor, then four years old. He seemed happy there, and the teachers were able to adapt to him. They could tolerate a child who did not want to sit still for circle time, as long as he did not bother the other children. Everyone was happy with the situation, but the teachers told Jahnke frankly that public school teachers were unlikely to be as flexible as they were.
As predicted, when Connor started kindergarten, the notes about his behavior at school and meetings with teachers began. Soon, Connor began to dislike school. Kindergarten was difficult, but first graders are expected to spend even more time being quiet and still, a skill Connor just could not seem to master. Other children began to make remarks about his behavior to him and Connor’s self-esteem began to plummet. Some teachers suggested that Jahnke discuss the situation with her family doctor, but they continued to try to accommodate the little boy as best they could. Jahnke has nothing but praise for the teachers at Pebble Creek Elementary. “They went above and beyond the call of duty,” she says, recalling how they tried to accommodate her son. She notes that she never felt pressured to medicate Connor.
Finally, the pressure to see a doctor came from Connor himself. He was becoming depressed by his increasing alienation from his schoolmates. “It’s very noisy in my head,” he once told Jahnke, by way of explaining why he had such a hard time at school. Jahnke took her son to a physician, who sent him to a psychologist to be tested. The psychologist diagnosed Connor with AD/HD and suggested a trial course of medication.
Jahnke tried her son on the medicine without telling his teachers. Within two days, everyone saw a difference. The boy with the windmill arms who once had to touch everything, could now walk down the hall and contain himself. He slowed down and began hearing the instructions he used to miss. Connor began to enjoy school, and this year in sixth grade, he really enjoys school and loves to read.
Connor still gets help from a psychologist who helps him to learn to read and respond appropriately to social cues, but his main advocate is his mom, who has dedicated herself to making sure her son gets the best chance at an education possible.
BVCHADD was born when Jahnke decided to educate herself about Connor’s diagnosis. Knowledge is power, and she set out to empower herself, her son, and his teachers. Jahnke began with an Internet search. She read and digested everything she could find about the disorder, and gradually built up a lay person’s expertise in AD/HD issues. During her search for information, she came across CHADD, the national organization for Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Their goal, to improve the lives of people affected by AD/HD became her goal, starting with her son.
The group began with a steering committee that included parents of children with AD/HD, adults with the disorder and teachers. They received help from St. Joseph Hospital in getting the word out. They soon found that there was a great deal of interest locally, and needed to move to a larger meeting room.
The topic of the February meeting was “Advice for the Organizationally Challenged,” a particularly apt topic for people who suffer from AD/HD. There were two speakers, one who addressed the concerns of adults with AD/HD, and Ms. Jahnke, who talked about helping a child meet the organizational challenges of AD/HD. Both speakers supplied paper handouts as resources for the audience.
After the program, there was time for group discussion. One couple asked for help with their newly diagnosed grandson. Others voiced concerns about drugs. There was discussion of some of the current projects of BVCHADD, and an opportunity for those in the know to connect with those who want information after the meeting.
As the organization grows, Jahnke envisions two separate groups: one for adults with AD/HD and another for parents of children of AD/HD. The group recently sent out questionnaires to local clinicians regarding the kinds of services they offer to people dealing with AD/HD. When the questionnaires are returned, Jahnke will place them in a binder and make them available to interested persons looking for professional help with AD/HD issues.
Membership in BVCHADD is free, and anyone can attend. As part of her mission to help Connor, Jahnke became certified by CHADD to teach Parent 2 Parent classes, which she hopes to be able to present this summer. The program disseminates important information for parents of AD/HD children, providing resources and materials at minimal cost.
BVCHADD meets on the second Tuesday of each month. Free childcare is available by reservation at firstname.lastname@example.org. The next meeting will be held on April 11, 2006, and the topic is “Last One Picked—First One Picked On,” addressing the social challenges of children with AD/HD.
Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity (AD/HD) disorder affects as many as 7 percent of school-aged children in this country, but many children suffering from this disorder go undiagnosed because there are actually three distinct types of AD/HD. Hyperactive-impulsive, the most easily recognized form of AD/HD is typified by the child who simply cannot sit still. Those who suffer from the inattentive form of the disorder are often seen as being in their “own little world” and are frequently seen as daydreamers. A third form combines symptoms of the other two, with sufferers sometimes being inattentive and other times being impulsive. Children with AD/HD often fail in school, and they may sustain more and more severe physical injuries.
At one time it was believed that AD/HD was a childhood disorder that disappeared during adolescence; however, authorities now acknowledge that people with AD/HD learn coping skills, but that the disorder has a physical and chemical basis and remains throughout adulthood, presenting its suffers with lifelong challenges. People with the disorder may have difficulty in personal and professional relationships, trouble with study skills and problems organizing; they may also suffer from low self-esteem and frustration from the problems it causes. Untreated adolescents with AD/HD may engage in risk-taking behavior with unintended results—auto accidents, teen pregnancy, and crime.
Diagnosing AD/HD is a complex process that involves a team of professional clinicians and people who work with and know the patient. Physicians rule out physical issues that can create the same or similar problems, for example, undiagnosed hearing or vision problems. A psychologist or psychiatrist examines questionnaires filled out by teachers and parents about the patient, then interviews him or her, and tests intelligence (IQ) and educational achievement.
Helping a child with AD/HD adjust to and do well in school requires a team approach. Experts recommend that parents take the role of head coach by encouraging their children, co-ordinating professional clinicians and teachers to ensure that their children receive the help they need to succeed.
Often medication is prescribed and a combination of medicine and behavioral therapy are considered the best choice of treatment. Most AD/HD drugs affect the chemical balance of neurotransmitters in the brain, helping to improve focus, lower impulsivity, and allow the child to learn.
COPYRIGHT 2014 ANN WEAVER HART