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Some say more local work needed on ADHD

Monday, March 3, 2003

While many advances have been made over the years when dealing with children suffering from attention deficit disorders, some think there's more work to be done locally.

"There's still a long way to go, especially in this community," Amy Duell, a Wabash Valley special needs support group co-coordinator, recently said.

Pointing out that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is very treatable with medication and behavior modification plans, Duell thinks these children often fall through the cracks of the local educational system.

Brazil resident, Vicki Schwartz, agrees with Duell, saying many students needing specialized attention don't get what they need to thrive academically.

"The saying, 'It takes a village to raise a child' is true. These are the throw away kids -- the ones no one wants to deal with," Schwartz said. While she understands the corporation's financial problems, she is concerned that without additional funding for emotionally handicapped programs, these children don't stand a chance.

Her 10-year-old twin daughters, Ruth and Erin, both are diagnosed with emotional disorders, but Schwartz says Erin's problems are the hardest for a parent to cope with at home. Erin suffers from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Duell said ADHD children appear to be normal, but because the condition is neurobiological, there is a chemical imbalance in the brain.

She explained that there are several variations of the disorder. The most difficult type of ADHD to diagnose is the inattentive kind.

"The child isn't hyperactive, but has difficulty concentrating and focusing. They are often the 'misunderstood' ones, described as undermotivated or spacey," she said.

In the primarily hyperactive category of the illness, there is high physical activity and excessive talking. The combined type, where individuals have a combination of the symptoms of ADHD, includes behaviors which Erin exhibits. Sufferers of this sort are often both inattentive and hyperactive.

That's why Schwartz, along with Erin's psychologist, Liz O'Loughlin, is aiming to get more specialized instruction in Clay County schools, particularly Van Buren Elementary, where the twins attend school. She thinks the learning disabled and emotionally handicapped children, such as Erin, many times are overlooked by the school district. Currently, Erin sits most of the school day in a regular classroom with those who excel academically. Her mother dismisses the option to place the fourth-grader in out of county schools which offer the specialized services or to send her to school for shortened periods.

"These children can grow to become functional, successful adults with the help of the school system," Duell said, adding that Clay Community Schools can get up to par by gaining more overall awareness when dealing with the disorder.

Simple classroom techniques, such as more stimulating lectures, hands-on teaching methods and double checking to make sure the student is on task and understanding directions are often effective in reaching the ADHD child, whose main problem is often focusing on one thing at a time.

Simple classroom techniques, such as more stimulating lectures, hands-on teaching methods and double checking to make sure the student is on task and understanding directions are often effective in reaching the ADHD child, whose main problem is often focusing on one thing at a time.

Socially and academically, ADHD interferes with Erin's ability to lead a normal life. She takes medication in maximum doses to control the disorder, but that's not enough, her mother claims. She wants her daughter to get more specialized treatment in the classroom.

"It's hard for her to focus in the normal class setting," she explained. "She can be annoying to others at school by scooting her chair and tapping her feet while they are trying to concentrate."

"Oftentimes the child is labeled a troublemaker," Duell said, adding it's an unfortunate mistake, because the child really can't help the way he or she behaves.

"I would agree we need specialized services for these children," O'Loughlin, of the Indiana State University psychology clinic said, explaining the process to be evaluated and classified can be lengthy, most often taking about six months.

O'Loughlin said that parents of children with ADHD usually suspect the problem by the time their child is 5-years-old. If not then, it is often identified by the time she or he reaches the first or second grade. Sometimes medication alone can be very effective, she said.

Clay Community School's special services director Susan Price explained the services provided for children with special needs such as Erin's vary.

"There are different degrees of ADHD," she said, adding "It depends on the student's needs and any problem they may be having."

Price said the school district offers sufficient resources to its challenged students. They are evaluated and welcome to spend an hour or the entire day in a special resource room, which is staffed by a licensed teacher and two aides. The specialized attention each student receives varies. Children can be categorized and placed in special education after undergoing a battery of tests and meeting with a case conference committee, including the school principal, staff and parents.

"Is it enough? I don't know," Price said, indicating that the districts 10 schools she oversees follow federal guidelines. In compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1974, she explained that educators must offer students like Erin special services, providing accommodations to them, such as additional test-taking and reading time. Even reading tests aloud to the students can be helpful, she said.

Section 504 ensures the provision of a free and appropriate education for each student with a disability, including regular or special education and related aids and services designed to meet the student's individualized needs, according to the department of education website.

For more information on ADHD and the support group in Terre Haute, contact the Mental Health Association at (812)232-5681.

Attention Deficit Disorder facts

ADHD affects between 2 and 5 percent of school-age children and between 2 and 4 percent of adults. According to the CHADD Facts (Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) newsletter, symptoms commonly shown by those with the disorder in the three primary subtypes:

Primary type:

- Fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes.

- Has difficulty sustaining attention.

- Doesn't appear to listen.

- Struggles to follow through on instructions.

- Has difficulty with organization.

- Avoids or dislikes tasks requiring sustained mental effort.

- Is easily distracted.

- Is forgetful in daily activities.

Hyperactive/impulsive type:

- Fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in chair.

- Has difficulty remaining seated.

- Runs about or climbs excessively

- Difficulty engaging in activities quietly.

- Acts as if driven by a motor.

- Talks excessively.

- Blurts out answers before questions have been completed.

- Difficulty waiting or taking turns.

- Interrupts or intrudes upon others.

Combined type:

- Individual meets both sets of attention and hyperactive/impulsive criteria.

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