By Nicole Biscotti, M.Ed.& her 9 year old son, Jason Vargas
“When I was little I got kicked out of a school and I think it was kind of my fault because I did a lot of bad things but kind of not totally my fault because they didn’t know how to basically deal with me. The more bad that I was the more they just kept punishing me and it made me feel like I was a bad person. That would just make me feel more upset and then I would just feel like I couldn’t control myself more and then they would keep punishing me on and on. They just kept putting pressure on me and I just kept getting more out of control myself so I didn’t know what to do. I think they felt like I was a bad person and I just kept getting more mad. My feelings were hurt. I used to like run around because I had so much energy and the grownups at school would get super mad so I would run away from them and one time they chased me in the office so I jumped up on the table because I didn’t know where else to go. They tried to get me down and I just wanted to get away from them and I kicked them. I got into a lot of trouble but I was just trying to get away from them.”
– Jason Vargas, a 9 yr old child with ADHD
Our ADHD kids are a population at serious risk. I say “our” because kids with ADHD form a significant group of our collective community. According to the American Psychiatric Association approximately 3-5% of children of school age have ADHD. The National Institute for Mental Health states that approximately 10% of our adolescents have ADHD. This is a large part of our society that is struggling with executive functioning tasks such as difficulty concentrating, engaging socially, following instructions, etc.
Children with ADHD often begin by experiencing social isolation as their behavior is difficult to deal with, go on to feel rejection in the school setting through a series of negative events such as poor grades, suspension, and expulsion and very often end up with a higher rate of divorce, substance abuse, incarceration, and suicide attempts (Harpin, 2019). Stated differently, the child that people whisper about and avoid inviting to birthday parties is at an increased risk for suicide, after they experience multiple forms of rejection such as suspension, social isolation, and divorce.
If we are not moved to understand our population with ADHD out of compassion, consider the costs associated in terms of healthcare, school resources, the prison system, etc. ADHD affects many areas of social and public policy. In education we see a large population that is at increased risk of dropping out, suspension, expulsion, and generally requires special education services. Our adoption and foster care systems are faced with placing a disproportionate amount of children with ADHD, largely due to behavior issues compounded by trauma and a lack of services received. People with ADHD commit more crimes, burdening our prison system. Substance abuse is more prevalent among those diagnosed with ADHD. It is impossible to accurately state the amount, in dollars, that the increase in associated services costs taxpayers (Hinshaw, Peele, & Danielson, 1999). At some point we must come to terms with the fact that those with ADHD suffer from an executive function disorder and that ADHD affects all of us. ADHD is arguably an issue we all know of or have had to deal with personally on different levels.
To help someone, you must first understand their perspective and be able to empathize with them. We must begin to look past the challenging, even violent behavior to understand the function or “The WHY”. Only then can we begin to address the very real needs of the child. These children will not sit down, be quiet, and listen because they are told to. If you have a child with ADHD, have taught a child with ADHD or have spent any time with one, you are probably very clear about this. These kids have complex needs and thinking patterns, which is usually coupled with an abundance of energy. We have to dig deeper and and expand our own understanding to reach them. All of this begins with an open mind, and an even more open heart.