Please give a little of the background of your journey with your son Brandan. Was he active from birth? Different from your older child?
In the book I write that Brandan "was not born, he was released-like a racehorse from the starting gate." I think this is the way it is with most hyperactive children. I have yet to hear a parent say that their child suddenly, or unexpectedly, became highly active overnight. Most parents knew from the minute their children were born that something was different about them. And yes, Brandan is very different from his older sister. I have been blessed to have two children that are very different. I get to see both sides of the parenting coin-a child who is "easy" to raise and a child who is a "challenge." I find an equal amount of pleasure in parenting each of them.
When did you first hear the term "hyperactive" applied to him? Was he having problems in school?
The first time I heard the term ADHD was when I was doing research on an article for it for "The Parent Track Magazine." Oddly enough, I diagnosed my husband before I did Brandan. Brandan was only a few months old at the time, and although he was active, as far as infants go, I didn't make the connection until he was almost two. He was kicked out of a child-care center for biting, and that's when the problems started. I specifically remember the day-care center director referring to his as a "special needs child." I was very defensive at the time. In fact, I was shocked and offended that she felt that he was different from the other children.
What were your experiences with Ritalin and other drugs prescribed for Brandan?
Although I was initially hesitant about giving him a drug, I was also very relieved. I just wanted the problem to go away so that he would be "normal." I was very caught up in the whole "perfect parenting' scenario. I thought of myself as a great parent, and felt pressured by the teachers to do the right thing-which at the time meant placing him on Ritalin. It was, perhaps, one of the greatest mistakes I have ever made as a parent. Placing Brandan on Ritalin was the first step into what I referred to in "Born to be Wild" as the "medical maze." It is a never-ending labyrinth of dead ends and dangerous drugs. First it was Ritalin, and then Adderall. Both these drugs made him depressed, defiant and angry. So antidepressants were added to help reduce these side effects. When the antidepressants made him even more anxious, the doctor recommended adding an antipsychotic called Risperadol to the other two drugs he was on. That was the last straw. When he recommended Risperadol, I knew that the only way out was to take him off of everything. It was a nightmare, and truly the worst thing that has ever happened to me as a parent. Thankfully, Brandan has made a full recovery with no lasting side effects from the drugs.
How old was he when you took him off drugs? How did the school react to your decision?
Brandan was eight when we took him off everything and made the decision to free his spirit. At the time we took him off, he was in a private school which was not supportive at all! In retrospect I believe the school added to the problem. We moved him to a public school, which, along with taking him off of Ritalin, was probably the smartest thing I have every done.
It surprises me that the private school seemed the more rigid, while the public school was more willing to be flexible-you usually hear the reverse!
Sadly, that is often the case. Finding the right school for a child who learns and behaves differently can be a nightmare. But I think it is essential to raising a happy, successful child-whether they are ADHD or not. I encourage parents to stand their ground with teachers. Being an advocate for their child is the greatest thing they can do as parents. The teachers at Brandan's public school knew how to work with kids that are very active. They see lots of them, and Brandan isn't under the type of pressure that he was under at the private school.
Yes, I was speaking at Marianne Williamson's church in Detroit and was promoting my book "The Seven Sacred Rites of Menopause." During our conversation at dinner, I was telling her about the book I was writing about Brandan. She brought up the fact that I had referred to Brandan as being hyperactive several times during the course of the meal. As is her way, she encouraged me to stand in my own Truth and to remember that labels-even one as seemingly innocent as "hyperactive"-really do make a difference in how a child sees himself. Although the publisher chose to keep that label in the title, I tried to stay away from referring to Brandan as being hyperactive in the text. At home, I never refer to him as being hyperactive-just active, or highly active.
Could you talk a little about your views of highly active kids as spiritual beings? Why is your book subtitled "Freeing the Spirit of the Hyperactive Child"?
I believe that we are all spiritual beings going through a human experience. Children who have been labeled by the medical community as being ADHD or hyperactive, are no different. In fact, I find they are even more theistic. They live in the moment. In a way they are living the exact experience that Eckhart Tolle writes about in "The Power of Now." You might say they almost come into this world enlightened. Unfortunately, we as parents and teachers tend to want to eradicate that experience. As a society, we want kids who fit into neat little boxes, not a bunch of enlightened renegades who live in the now. It is sad, but when it comes down to it, we want kids who conform, not those who speak and live Truth. I used the subtitle "Freeing the Spirit of the Hyperactive Child" because that is what literally happened. You know, the Spirit always knows what to do, and once you free it, all kinds of miracles happen!
How are hyperactive kids seen in this country? Do you believe they are overdiagnosed?
I believe ADHD has become a disorder because the pharmaceutical companies have convinced the medical community it has! I believe that children who are diagnosed as ADHD have a normal variation in brain functioning. This variation is not necessarily bad. In fact, in many ways it is a blessing. That's not to say that these kids can't get themselves into trouble. Very often, because of the way that the school systems are structured, these kids find themselves on the fringe. That's not their fault; it's ours. Still, it's the main reason we use drugs and stringent behavior modification techniques to try and treat them and get them to conform. And yes, we are way overmedicating our children.
What's your advice for parents whose kids are highly active like Brandan?
Love, love, love. Love and acceptance. Love which is acceptance. Love, of course, doesn't mean completely turning them loose in the world without any sort of guidelines. It just means loosening the ropes and letting them be who they are, while at the same time showing them how to interact successfully with those around them.
How's Brandan doing now? What grade is he going into? Any inspiring thoughts to share for the new school year?
Brandan is doing great. That's not to say that he doesn't tend to drive me and his teachers nuts some days! He's your average girl-crazy, sports-obsessed, 12-year-old adolescent boy. Right now he is on two different football leagues and holding a B average in school. We're still flying by the seat of our pants, and praying all the way!