A recent professional journal article reported on a study that asked a random sample of parents about their attitudes toward their children playing with children who had symptoms of asthma, AD/HD, depression, and “normal troubles.” The interviewers, sociologists at Indiana University, did not use diagnostic labels with the parents they interviewed and instead used descriptive vignettes. A summary of the article is available from the free electronic newsletter, Attention Research Update, by Duke University faculty member David Rabiner, Ph.D. (to subscribe, go to www.helpforadd.com). The article, “The Construction of Fear: Americans’ Preferences for Social Distance from Children and Adolescents with Mental Health Problems,” by Jack K. Martin and colleagues, originally appeared in the March 2007 issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior (Volume 48, pages 50-67).
Out of 1,393 parents, 30% stated that they would not want their children to become friends with a child with depression, and 25% stated that they would not want their children to become friends with a child with AD/HD. Only 10% expressed such views about children with asthma and 5% about children with “normal troubles.” The core message is that some parents do not want their children spending time with children who have these challenges. The researchers conclude that “a substantial minority of American adults are reluctant to interact with or to have their children interact with children described in ways consistent with ADHD or depression.”
My personal experiences with our now 16-year-old son, Andrew, are really not a problem with parental attitudes. Parents in our community seemed to have no problems with Andrew playing with their sons. Parents were generally open and receptive. The problem was that Andrew’s interests and abilities generally did not match those of the other boys, and thus Andrew became lonely. Scouts, community sports, and church were arenas where Andrew could participate with other children. He was still different and still not an equal peer, but with some exceptions, he was treated decently. There are always the boys who say harsh and unkind things. There are also enough boys with special needs in our community so that Andrew developed a handful of friends with whom he was comfortable. Parents of kids with special needs organized special outings and gatherings so their children could have regular and normal fun.
The Microsoft dictionary defines “stigma” as “shame and disgrace attached to something regarded as socially unacceptable.” Stigma leads to loss of self-esteem, internalization of negative self-images, anxiety, and social isolation. Andrew has experienced all of these growing up, but I don’t attribute them to parental attitudes in our community. I attribute them to his “differentness” and how regular boys think and act. Of course, when a kid told Andrew at soccer practice, “Andrew, you stink; why don’t you go home,” and his dad was standing there, I did wish his dad had said that was no way to act. But I also did not comment to the father about his son’s comment.
We each have to determine our own comfort level with attitudes about disabilities and how to deal with them. My wife and I have tried to be honest with everyone. Neither of us is assertive with other parents. Church, scouts, and community sports have presented positive opportunities for Andrew to be accepted and integrated into regular activities.
Social rejection is a highly painful life experience for the child and the family. Support groups, such as CHADD support groups, can be helpful coping mechanisms.
An Update About Baseball
Andrew and I just returned from our first baseball spring training experience in Florida – six games in six days. Andrew’s highlights were meeting with Cincinnati Reds player Jeff Conine and attending an autograph session with Boston Red Sox players. One of Jeff’s sons has AD/HD and the Conine family was featured as the cover story in the October 2006 issue of Attention!® magazine. Andrew has matured a lot since he entered his new school this year. He was a good traveling partner and we have grown much closer. Life, of course, always throws “curve balls.” I severely sprained my lower back and Andrew came down with shingles, thus delaying his return to school. But we have to be flexible and adaptable in life. The memory of six games in six days as father and son will be with us for a lifetime.
Three comments were submitted in response to my last blog. One was the relationship of sleep disorders to AD/HD. Our National Resource Center on AD/HD “What We Know” papers discuss these issues in passing, but we do not yet have a dedicated paper on this topic. We know that sleep problems are a side effect of some AD/HD medications. We know that sleep disorders can sometimes cause symptoms of AD/HD. The CHADD professional advisory board will be developing a clearer and separate statement on this problem. We will also be consulting with the National Sleep Foundation.
Comments continue coming in about the role of faith communities and churches in dealing with folks with special needs. A parent wrote: “Make sure your child is getting all the interventions necessary” to help in these situations.
One commentator raised questions about a medical doctor’s prescribing recommendations. When you are in doubt about a recommendation, first ask the doctor questions. If you are still unsatisfied, second and third opinions must be sought. These are difficult and challenging decisions. You need to know what the Food and Drug Administration recommends. You need to know the logic of the prescribing doctor. Whenever you are in doubt, ask not only physicians, but pharmacists and non-physician professionals who have a history of treating your family member. Physicians and pharmacists use the Physicians Desk Reference. This guide is not available for free, but you can ask your doctor and pharmacist to let you see the appropriate sections. You must have confidence and comfort that a medication recommendation is right for your family member.