Helping clarify the ADHD landscape: Walnut Creek-based group
works to unravel mysteries of attention-deficit disorders
By Lou Fancher InsideBayArea
Children and adults with Attention-deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder know one thing -- they are not a trend or a headline hyped by the media. People with ADHD suffer real-life challenges, with emotional, economic and health ramifications that reverberate throughout contemporary society.
But in today's swirl of publicity, experts warn of or dismiss over-medication or error-prone diagnosis. Published opinion pieces mock or favor rocketing diagnostic rates and point fingers at maladaptive parenting, Big Pharma, television and video games as "triggers." Prominent business leaders like Kinko's founder Paul Orfalea claim ADHD is a "gift." Data is manipulated to persuade public opinion. Too much chatter makes for murky waters.
Fortunately, SOS4Students, a Walnut Creek-based organization, and a new book written by two professors from the University of California, Berkeley, are clarifying the often complex landscape of ADHD.
SOS4Students founder and director Beth Samuelson developed the academic organization's techniques in the classroom. As a teacher in Southern California and in the United Kingdom, she saw that students' intellect wasn't causing them to stumble; it was a lack of planning and a limited ability to prioritize or organize materials and information. Especially for children with neurodevelopmental conditions like ADHD, deficits in executive function, attention and proper focus undermine academic accomplishment.
Trained at the UC Berkeley School of Education, Samuelson realized while earning her master's degree that tutoring wasn't the entire answer. And even if students were coached in good study skills, teachers needed guidance to use specific practices targeting inattention. Parents needed fact-based information and manageable approaches.
SOS4Students was developed to implement academic coaching, workshops, study clinics and advocacy services designed for families whose children require support to achieve academic success. Samuelson and her staff work with the Mount Diablo Unified, Oakland Unified and Lafayette school districts, several private schools and in satellite locations throughout the Bay Area.
A National Survey of Children's Health study showed nearly a 40 percent increase in the rate of diagnosis for kids age 4-17 in the nine years between 2003 and 2012. Given such an increase in such diagnoses, Samuelson jumped at the chance to share research in a new book with her clients and the public.
Psychology professor Stephen P. Hinshaw and Health Economics and Public Policy Professor Richard M. Scheffler authored "The ADHD Explosion," an Oxford University Press publication covering the condition's myths, medication, money and their book's subtitle, "Today's Push for Performance." The 254-page book delivers straightforward scientific information in 10 short chapters (most are no more than 10 pages long) with extensive footnotes for readers interested in digging deeper
"Not everyone has access to the wonderful researchers we have in the area," Samuelson said to an audience of approximately 50 people gathered at the Orinda Library in mid-September. Her remarks introduced a new series of public lectures sponsored by SOS4Students and Orinda Books.
Working in tandem, Hinshaw and Scheffler presented a 90-minute overview of ADHD history and results from their research. Hinshaw began by outlining medical advertisements "one-a-day miracle pills" to anti-stigma missives to "increase family harmony" messages.
"Very powerful, but is it true?" Hinshaw asked. "If you're a professor like I am, you notice they're citing articles (not research) in the ads."
Debunking other myths, Hinshaw said ADHD has a high genetic component, meaning "where you are on the bell curve is (dependent on) the genes you carry, not the school you go to."
But education is at the heart of what he said has led to the ADHD explosion.
"The real cause is compulsory education. One hundred years ago we made kids sit in uncomfortable chairs and read. As the performance demands get hotter and hotter, we find more ADHD," Hinshaw said.
And the medical community also bears responsibility.
"Most kids in America are diagnosed after a 10- to 15-minute office visit. It's criminal. You can't diagnose ADHD in that time," he said.
Samuelson, planning to put out some of the "fire" through the lecture series, said her greatest reward comes from the students and families who return, years later, expressing thanks for lessons in mindful learning that helped them move with assurance to meet their academic goals.