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'Hidden behind the forehead'

"'Hidden behind the forehead'" Continued...

Issue: "Faculty follies," April 29, 2006

She comes by her empathy from experience. She was a stay-at-home mom, retired from teaching with three small children, when her husband abandoned her. She knew she'd have to go back to teaching to support herself: "It was the worst year of my life and it was the most important year." She learned that she was more interested in behavior than in curriculum and earned a master's degree by studying part-time and sometimes taking her children to class.

By the time Mrs. Classen received her master's degree, she had also discovered that her own kids had learning troubles and that little help was available: "My school social work program had no training; my colleagues had no training; pediatricians had no training." But the Austin school district hired her as a "visiting teacher," a social work position that she then held for 18 years. During that time she sat in on numerous staff meetings: "I was hearing the same litany about bright kids who weren't available for learning."

She became known as an expert on those kinds of kids: "I was passionately interested in this area. They knew I was spending my own money to go for in-service training." Other visiting teachers began to trade cases with her. Over time she learned which classroom techniques "were cruel and which ones hurt." Convinced that most teachers wanted to help their ADHD students, she was able to train them "when you do this, this is what happens. Do this; don't do that. Say this, don't say that."

Now Mrs. Classen more often accompanies parents to meetings at school: "I'm not there as an adversary of the staff . . . I'm one more person sitting around the table problem-solving for this child." She keeps prodding her teacher colleagues to understand and deal with a puzzling brain disorder that keeps smart kids who have been given "some pretty sour lemons" from making lemonade.

Drug war

Some conservatives vociferously criticize ADHD as a diagnosis and stimulants as a treatment. Phyllis Schafly once complained that "the old excuse of 'my dog ate my homework' has been replaced by 'I got an ADHD diagnosis,'" and Rush Limbaugh lectured parents, "You mask your own failings by doping up your children to calm them down."

But medical writer Michael Fumento, who quoted those critiques, also found conservatives on the other side-and they tended to be folks who had direct experience with a child suffering from ADHD. Columnist Mona Charen wrote, "I have two non-ADHD children, so it's not a matter of parenting technique. . . . People without such children have no idea what it's like. I can tell the difference between boyish high spirits and pathological hyperactivity. . . . These kids bounce off the walls. Their lives are chaos; their rooms are chaos. And nothing replaces the drugs. . . . I'm sure I would have been one of those smug conservatives saying it's a made-up disease . . . if I hadn't found out the hard way."

Mr. Fumento quotes Christina Hoff Sommers explaining that she originally planned to have a chapter attacking Ritalin in her best-selling book, The War Against Boys (2000), because "'it seemed to fit the thesis.' What stopped her was both her survey of the medical literature and her own empirical findings. Of one child she personally came to know she says, 'He was utterly miserable, as was everybody around him. The drugs saved his life.'"

Susan Olasky
Susan Olasky

Susan pens book reviews and other articles for WORLD as a senior writer and has authored eight historical novels for children. Susan and her husband Marvin live in Asheville, N.C. Follow Susan on Twitter @susanolasky.

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