An Interview with Ben Glenn: About ADD, ADHD, and Coping

Oct 4, 2011 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico

1. Ben, I have been working with children, adolescents and even adults with ADD and ADHD for the greater part of about 30 years. What have you been doing and what have you learned in your work that you want to share?

Since my official diagnosis in 2002, I’ve been working very hard to understand this thing called ADHD. It’s a tough disorder to get to know well because there’s as much information as misinformation being circulated. I’ve used myself as a guinea pig of sorts, trying out different accommodations, diets, supplements and medications. After being at it for almost a decade and interacting with literally hundreds of individuals who have ADHD, now, more than ever, my focus is on telling people about the positive attributes of ADHD/ADD and bringing parents and kids hope that ADHD does not mean a lifetime of failure. In fact, quite the opposite. As far as mental disorders go, I really believe that ADHD is unique. I can’t think of any other disorder where there are so many positive attributes to offset the negative ones; creativity, energy, friendliness, hyper focus (in the right setting) just to name a few. What I have learned is that with the right accommodations and in the suitable environment, ADHD is more of a gift than a curse.

2)      Ben, there are some individuals with ADD that do not seem to think that they have a problem – how should a mature, responsible adult approach this problem?

No one likes to be labeled as broken, so it makes sense that some folks prefer to live in denial and not get an official diagnosis or pretend like they don’t have an issue to deal with. Add to that the fact that maturity and responsibility are not strong areas for those with ADHD and you have yourself a nice gridlock. Obviously, accepting your diagnosis and owning the condition, ultimately gives you more control. The fear is in the unknown. Sometimes, it takes a sympathetic enforcer to help bring the person with the issue around to facing it.

3)      Let’s talk about medication- back when I was working with kids with ADD there was only Ritalin. Now it seems that there is a plethora of different meds- what is your take on this?

I think what happened is that as more people were diagnosed with ADHD and started using meds to treat it,  it was discovered that not everyone responded well to the stimulants, or could take them. I am one of these people. I have high blood pressure and Ritalin is not for me. So, it makes sense that there are a variety of things on the market now to help treat it. No doubt, the drug companies are looking for something relatively side-effect free and effective if for no other reason than to get away from the controversy.

4)      There are also some doctors that say that there is no bacteria, no virus, thus there is no medical condition – your response?

Whoever these doctors are, they must be in a tiny minority. There is compelling scientific evidence and research, as well as thousands of instances of anecdotal evidence that show that ADHD is in fact real. Perhaps, in a different society, ADHD would not be seen as a disorder – I’ve definitely contemplated the theory that ADHD is some kind of an evolutionary development that our educational system and cubicle-hell corporate environments have not been able to keep up with. But more realistically, there are no tests for depression or Autism, nor are they caused by a bacteria or virus, but you don’t see anyone questioning their validity.

5)      Is there any one specific definitive test of ADD or ADHD?

At this point there is not. What happens is a professional qualified in assessing a person’s development and behavior, typically a psychologist will conduct an in depth assessment of an individual to see if that person does indeed have ADHD. This assessment is based on developmental history, symptoms, functional problems and daily patterns and should involve not just the person with suspected ADHD, but also people closest to them like parents or spouse. I did read the other day that a company in Pennsylvania has developed a portable ADHD diagnostic tool which will aid clinicians to more objectively identify ADHD, so it will be interesting to see how that goes.

6)      Now, what are you saying in your book about ADD?

I have actually written 3 books on the subject. The first one, Simply Special, is autobiographical in nature. I wrote it as a way to tie up a lot of loose ends from my personal journey from being diagnosed as dyslexic in 3rd grade and up until I was officially diagnosed with ADHD. There’s lots of personal stories. I was hoping to allow the reader to walk in the shoes of a kid who gets stuck with a label and what that’s like for someone.  The other two books are written specifically for teachers and were co-authored by Larry Medcalfe who has worked with kids and youth for decades in different capacities from teacher to pastor. My hope with these short books is to educate teachers about ADHD using practical, non-medical information that’s simple and easy to implement. The titles are pretty much self-explanatory: Understanding the Peaks and Pitfalls of ADHD and Tools for Teaching Students with ADHD without Losing your Mind.

7)      Can you talk about impulsivity and the treatment of this? And hyperactivity?

The only treatments for impulsivity that I know of are experience and self-awareness. It takes years to learn to catch yourself just as you’re about to do something really not-so-smart. There is also the necessity of having someone in your life you trust absolutely that you agree to consult before doing anything “unusual”. In my life, that person is my wife. It’s crucial to have someone close to you who understands your struggles and is sympathetic yet, not afraid to disagree with you and be that voice of reason.

Hyperactivity seems to be something that affects mostly kids and teens and I think for the younger kids, if you’ve tried all possible non-medical interventions, ie. dietary changes, etc., and that hasn’t made a difference, then I don’t know if anything other than meds can help there. I’ve heard of some specialized schools that offer a much more rigorous physical activity schedule, specifically martial arts, to their students and that seems to make quite a difference. Of course, having phys. ed., every day is not realistic at 95% of the schools, so again, meds appear to be the most practical solution.

8)  Some kids with ADHD are quite disruptive in their classrooms. Impinging on the learning of other students. What position should the school take?

In an ideal world, our school system would be evolving at a much more rapid rate to not only accommodate students who learn differently, but to keep in step with the realities of the information age, instead of still being stuck in the conveyor belt mentality of the industrial age.

All that aside, the schools need to offer every support and accommodation possible to students with special needs. They need to get out of the mentality of one-size-fits-all. It doesn’t. Clearly. When it comes to kids with ADHD, if they are being disruptive, it’s usually because they are bored and not engaged in what’s going on in class. And let’s face it, 45 minutes of a someone talking about something that you aren’t remotely interested in is torture even for those without ADHD; kids with ADHD just can’t hide it as well as anyone else. To me, this is the school’s problem, not the student’s.

9) Any evidence that this runs in families?

Well, my younger brother has it and my older brother just got diagnosed with it and if you spend 10 minutes with my mother, she’s textbook! So I’m going to have to say yes, it does run in families. There have been several studies as well that have found statistical proof that a genetic link exists between parents and kids diagnosed with ADHD. And anecdotally as well, I have heard dozen of stories from parents in my audience who recognized ADHD in themselves once their kids were diagnosed.

10)  What have I neglected to ask?

If I was a parent of a child with ADHD, I’d want to know if it ever gets easier and if there is a chance that my kid will do well in life even if she doesn’t do well in school. And the answer is “Absolutely!” and “Yes, it does get easier!” Especially, if the child has a strong support structure – parents, teachers, friends who encourage and love that person and help them take advantage of the positive traits of ADHD while minimizing the negative ones.

11) Where can people get more information?

There are some great resources online dedicated to educating and assisting those struggling with ADHD. Two sites that I visit on a regular basis are additudemag.com (disclosure: I blog for additudemag.com) and chadd.org. There are also many excellent books on the subject. Ed Hallowell’s books are foundational for me and I’ve been reading and re-reading his stuff for years – great info for newly diagnosed adults. I also found Robert Brooks’ book about developing resilience in children to be very insightful – it’s not specifically about ADHD, but talks a lot about how to help kids develop healthy self-esteem in a way that can be applied to any child – I usually recommend it to teachers and parents. And a great book, I read recently is Katherine Ellison’s BUZZ: A year of paying attention. It’s about her son getting diagnosed with ADHD and her recognizing that she has it too and all the trials and tribulations of their relationship as they try to figure out what works and what doesn’t. A great book for parents!

Do you have a web site?

Yes I do. It’s is www.simpleADHD.com.

Thank you for the interview. I hope you find my answers helpful and I hope we can work together again in the future.

Ben

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