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Interview with Author Mark Smith

By: LD OnLine

Q: In your book, Pay Attention, Slosh!, eight year old Josh struggles with concentrating and controlling impulsive behaviors. In Chapter 1, a family dinner turns chaotic when Josh can't sit at the table and "…once he started acting crazy, he just couldn't stop." Glasses end up being knocked over and feelings get hurt. In what ways can ADHD impact "typical" family activities?

Mark Smith

A: I should say for the record that I have no professional expertise about Attention Deficit Disorder. My only experience in the matter comes from being the parent of a young boy with ADHD. When my wife and I were struggling to understand what our son Peter was going through and how to help him, we both read a great deal, sought help from specialists, talked to other parents, even joined an e-mail discussion group of parents of kids with ADD.

We learned many things that were both instructive and reassuring. One of the things we learned was that the symptoms of ADHD – the disruptive behaviors – manifest themselves at highly predictable times and under predictable circumstances. Trouble times include the ones I mention in the book: getting ready for school, mealtimes, sitting quietly in school (or church or any other "boring" time), and when company comes around (this was always a special problem for us). When parents and kids don't know why this is happening, everyone gets upset: the parents overreact and get hysterical, the ADHD child loses confidence in his ability to cope and panics, and the whole situation spirals out of control.

Once we realized, however, that we weren't the only family with these challenges, and once Peter could see that he wasn't the only kid with these problems, then we were immensely relieved, reassured, and hopeful about finding a way to deal with the situation and we did. Peter – our Josh – found his way out of the woods with help from parents, teachers, counselors, and others. But when we were reading everything we could find about the disorder, we were disappointed not to find more books from a child's point of view that showed other children in the same situation, a book to reassure kids that they aren't the only one this is happening to. That's why I wrote Pay Attention, Slosh!

Q: Josh's teacher talks to his parents about his difficulties in the classroom. Josh visits the doctor and the doctor diagnoses Josh with ADHD. Parent to parent, what advice could you offer about the process of discovery?

A: First of all, don't be in denial. Don't assume – as we did at first – that ADHD is always a false diagnosis (or that it does not exist) and that your child cannot possibly have an attention deficit problem. I agree with those who suggest that this disorder has been overdiagnosed and that medication is over-prescribed, but I disagree vehemently with anyone who says that it does not exist. And I'm incensed at the suggestion that parents who seek medication are bad parents. ADHD does exist and there are children – like ours – who demonstrate all the classic symptoms. A parent who lets a child go untreated is not doing him or her any favor. I would like to believe most parents would do anything they could to help a child overcome any learning or behavioral problem and ADHD should be no exception.

Medication is not always the answer and it is never the only answer. Overcoming the disorder means using whatever means are most appropriate in a given situation. Great success can be gained by minimal changes in behavior and approach. Our son did much better when he moved to the front of the class where he was not as distracted by the other kids in front of him. Keeping our routines simple and structured also worked really well. But behavioral modification only goes so far for some kids and some will require medication as well. Don't be afraid of this step. If it makes you uncomfortable, use it only so far as it is needed and perhaps only for school hours or at other particularly troubled times. It is one tool at your disposal to help your child, so don't hesitate to use it if it will help.

Finally, to other parents, I say this: be your child's advocate – they need you. Advocate with the schools, with the doctors, with other parents, with your friends, even with other members of your family. Don't be afraid to speak up to protect your child's interests – if you don't, no one else will.

Q: Josh is very good with computers and math and is a bright, loving boy. His behavior often frustrate teachers and classmates. If Josh could carry around a note in his pocket to give to his teachers, what would it say?

A: Josh's note might say this: "I'm sorry if sometimes I might be a little disruptive. I really do want to learn. Let me sit in the front of the class and if I get distracted, please just touch me lightly on the shoulder or some other cue to remind me where I am what I'm supposed to be doing. Then I'll be okay. At least for a while."

LD OnLine (2003)