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ADDicted

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Cindy will sometimes stand in front of him, clasp his jaw in her hand, and ask him to think about what he's doing.

Cindy knows that Brent is too dependent on her, so this year she will make a special effort to get him to do homework on his own. "I realize I'm not going to be there for him forever," she says. "It's not as if I can go to college with him."

Twice a week, after school, Brent practices soccer with the Peoria Kickers, one of the top youth soccer teams in the Midwest. He is a gifted athlete--tall and agile with blazing speed--yet his efforts are as sporadic on the field as they are in the classroom. Once a month or so, he'll be exiled from practice for fooling around or refusing to obey his coach. During games, he'll make a spectacular play and then, moments later, be so out of position that parents on the sidelines ask one another, "Where's Brent?"

When Brent does something particularly egregious, or when he, as Cindy puts it, "is bouncing off the walls," she'll sometimes stand in front of him, clasp his jaw in her hand, and ask him to think about what he's doing. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. He may turn around and break a window with a football he's been told a hundred times not to throw in the house. In frustration, Cindy will ask him, "Why? Why did you do that?" even though she already knows the answer. "I don't know," he inevitably says, sometimes tearfully. He's both confused and remorseful. He really doesn't know why he does certain things. Compounding the anxiety for both mother and child is the fact that Brent does not allow himself to be physically comforted when he is distressed. He has never been a cuddler; a kiss or hug only makes him tense up.

Last year, after getting in trouble for something Cindy can no longer recall, Brent once again played out the "I don't know why I did it" routine. But this time, Cindy continued to push. "No, tell me," she said. "I really want to know. Explain it to me." Brent finally answered, "It's like a hundred people are running in my head." This frightened Cindy; it sounded so textbook crazy. "I don't know what he means by 'people,'" she says, "but I do know that his head and his body are racing. His thoughts are going 100 miles an hour."

Not too long ago, when Brent was bouncing around and making all sorts of noises, Cindy sat him down again and asked him what he was feeling. He made the same comment as before: "It feels like hundreds of people are running around in my head."

"You know what?" Cindy responded. "That's why you take Ritalin. To get them to walk."

Unlike some mothers whose children have been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, Cindy had no sense that anything was wrong with Brent during her pregnancy or the months after his birth. He was colicky, it's true, and he required constant attention when he was awake, but this is the case for many babies.

The first thing that struck Cindy as unusual was that at 9 months, Brent refused to ride in a stroller under any circumstances.

The first thing that struck Cindy as unusual was that after Brent learned to walk at 9 months he refused to ride in a stroller under any circumstances. In fact, he didn't so much walk as run. When they went to the zoo or the mall, Cindy had to strap his wrist to hers with a cord to keep him from disappearing into the crowd. To get him back in the car, she had to pick him up kicking and screaming. He moved so continually throughout the day that at night he would make the transition from wired intensity to deep sleep in an instant, having exhausted both himself and his increasingly discouraged parents.

One day, when Brent was about 3, Cindy cleaned the house in anticipation of out-of-town guests. Finishing up, she poured foot powder into a pair of shoes and left them sitting on a living room table to answer the phone. When she returned, powder was everywhere--on the furniture, the light fixtures, the carpet. Brent just looked at his stunned mother, unable to fathom what he had done wrong.

This was the first of many such incidents, no single one, as Cindy well realizes, particularly extraordinary in itself. "It's not really that he's doing anything that any normal kid doesn't do," she says. "It's the uncontrollable impulse, the fact that when you ask him why he does certain things he always says, 'I don't know.' Now a lot of kids will say that. But Brent does a lot of incredibly impulsive things."

As time went on, Brent's almost complete lack of restraint wore on the Shipleys' marriage.

As time went on, Brent's almost complete lack of restraint wore on the Shipleys' marriage. Both Cindy and her husband, Bill, who declined to be interviewed for this article, were raised in what Cindy terms the "old school." Their parents were loving but strict disciplinarians who would not abide foolishness. Although Bill eventually came to accept his son's disability, he has much less patience with Brent than his wife does. "Bill still thinks that 'don't' means don't--period," Cindy says. "He's convinced that Brent has attention deficit disorder but still thinks he should be able to control himself. This causes conflict because I'm likely to stick up for Brent. But Bill will say, 'He's not listening; he's ignoring me.'"

Some of Cindy's friends share Bill's attitude about self-control. But, to her great annoyance, these same people lecture her on the evils of Ritalin, the very thing that allows ADD children to exercise some self-control. Brent, they say, should be able to control himself without the drug. And, if for some reason he can't, then she as his parent should take charge.

"I tell them that it's not a control thing," Cindy says. "If people are using Ritalin to control their kids' behavior--and I know that in fact happens--then they're using it for the wrong reasons. What's going on here is the mentality that you as a parent should be able to control your child no matter what. But, if your child has a disability, say cerebral palsy, you're not going to sit there and watch him starve to death because he cannot feed himself. You're going to provide him with the means to help himself so that he can survive. And that's exactly what Ritalin does."

As Brent was about to begin kindergarten, the Shipleys took him to a pediatrician for his school physical. Over the course of a three-hour visit, Brent was running around the room and climbing over the examining table. The pediatrician told the Shipleys that he saw signs of attention deficit disorder and that they should keep a close watch on how things developed at school.


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