Understanding ADHD


When I was asked to become a regular contributor to this newsletter, I originally thought to myself, Sure, why not? I¹ve been writing and teaching people about ADHD and other learning disabilities for quite some time. And the solutions that I¹ve discovered through teaching karate are very much worth sharing. But this would be different, as here I would be preaching to the choir, writing for an audience that was highly involved with the subject already.

Unlike most of you, I¹ve no one in my own immediate family who has issues with hyperactivity or attention deficit. Nor do I have any sort of compelling story that explains why I¹ve made this battle my own.

On first glance -- and even second -- it would appear that I¹d nothing personal to gain by the world¹s acceptance of, or focus on this challenge. Yet, while working in politics, working as a teacher, a social worker, an agency coordinator, a trainer, or even as a karate teacher, the issues of hyperactivity and attention deficit have always been placed before me in such a way that to avoid dealing with them would have proven neglectful. However, not until I sat down to write this article, did I even realize just how deeply my life-long involvement with this issue has run, and how much that involvement has taught me

Not only has it taught me to be a better teacher, but more importantly, through my involvement with this issue, I¹ve come to understand much about human behavior and even more about the human spirit and heart.

AT A FUNDAMENTAL LEVEL, PEOPLE AREN¹T MUCH DIFFERENT, ONE FROM ANOTHER. DESPITE OUR INDIVIDUALITY, WE ALL POSSESS THE SAME NEEDS AND THE SAME CORE METHODS FOR GETTING THOSE NEEDS MET. We even share the same aberrant traits. We are all quite capable of sociopathic; histrionic, and borderline behavior just to name a few. To one extent or another we are all paranoid and neurotic, as well as learning disabled and hyperactive. Each of us could go through the menu for every condition and check off one characteristic after another, saying, That¹s me, that¹s me too. What separates one person from another is not whether we ever manifest the characteristics, but rather to what degree those characteristics shape who we are and how we express ourselves.

A GREAT OPPORTUNITY FOR LEARNING ABOUT HUMAN BEHAVIOR OCCURS WHEREVER EXTREMES ARE EXPRESSED. In the extreme, reactions and relationships become magnified which make observing them much easier. When working with students whose behaviors are more within the normal range, we can be challenged to figure out what¹s needed because their expressions and reactions are more subtle and harder to measure or even detect. But when we realize that in a given situation what¹s needed by everyone is no different than what is needed by those on the more extreme end of the spectrum, meeting those needs becomes much easier.

Conversely when faced with a more extreme behavior, if we ask what¹s needed here, we¹ll discover that the need is no different than it is for the normal student. What¹s needed for people anywhere on the spectrum of human behavior is needed by people everywhere along that spectrum.

More specifically, when talking about getting attention -- it¹s not that some kids need it and others don¹t. All kids need attention. All kids need to be cherished; they all need to feel a sense of belonging. How they express that need and learn to get that need met is another story and -- I think as you have probably experienced -- one of degrees.

I think if there¹s anything unique about the way I teach, it probably has to do with the fact that I start off with the premise that everyone has the same basic needs and all behavior is an attempt to get those needs met. I temper that notion with a belief that fair and equal are not the same thing. Appetites are not standardized and what is a meal for one person may be just a snack for another. If Fred needs two hours of individualized attention and Bob needs but one, giving them each an hour and a half out of fairness is not being fair to either one at all.

I have taught martial arts for nearly twenty years and have had great success working with those labeled as ADHD (We continuously receive referrals from doctors, guidance counselors and therapists who have seen the difference karate has made in the lives of children that others have often given up on).

AND MY SUCCESS I BELIEVE IS BASED ON TWO PREMISES: 1. ALL CHILDREN HAVE THE SAME NEEDS 2. YOU MUST MAKE THE CHILD YOUR PARTNER IN DEALING WITH BEHAVIORAL ISSUES. I don¹t imagine that I am unique in this, as many karate schools can boost similar success, but unlike other karate teachers, because I have spent many years working with learning disabilities and remedial education, I can tell you why it works and how to stack the odds in your favor. * * * * When I got into publishing, I thought my ties with the world of human services were finally broken. However, after publishing WELCOME TO MY DOJO, A KID¹S INTRODUCTIN TO KARATE, when we took it on the road to sell, an amazing thing happened. Invariably, parents would come up to talk with me about whether karate would help their sons and daughters deal better with their behavioral issues. In interviews with the media that also seemed to be the subject that reporters wanted to talk about. And then I began to wonder whether Janetsan, the highly energetic main character in the book would have ended up on Ritalin if she hadn¹t found karate?

To answer parent¹s questions on karate and ADHD, I created a pamphlet called KICKING HYPERACTIVE BEHAVIOR, A GUIDE FOR PARENTS. More questions were asked and the pamphlet grew into a booklet and then ultimately into a small book. It¹s largely, though not entirely, the contents of this book that I plan to share with you in this space over the next several months.

As a reader of this newsletter, you probably are already fairly well versed in the basics. You already know that while medication might help some people, it's never the entire answer. And you probably also know that punishment is a very non-productive method of curbing a child¹s challenging behavior, as typically the child¹s acting out isn't about willfulness. The fact of the matter is that the child is not any more happy with his or her behavior than the adults -- the parents and the teachers -- in his or her life. In fact what we've learned over the years is, as I¹ve said earlier, that the real solution lies in making your child a partner in dealing with his or her behavioral challenges.

Karate isn¹t like a pill: take a couple doses and you're cured. In order for it to work, two things must happen. First, the parents must be actively involved -- and secondly, the child must be willing to buy into it. So over the next few months we¹ll cover those areas as well as others such as --

® Learning how to respond to children¹s needs rather than reacting to their behaviors. ® How cross-brain training can help get one unstuck. ® Finding a karate program that will help your child -- one that might even work with him or her for free. ® How you can get your child to buy into a program. ® The Reticular Activating System and its role in focusing ® Self administration of neurofeedback

I want to share all that with you plus whatever else I happen to think of or observe along the way. And by the way be forewarned, I plan to have fun.

Alex Levin whose column will appear in this space monthly has been head instructor at the School of Movement in Center Conway, New Hampshire for almost two decades. He is an inducted member of the World Martial Arts Hall of Fame. In 1998 he was chosen by the Hall as Karate Instructor of the Year. Levin also has an extensive background in education. He has led dozens of workshops and seminars for educators and social service workers throughout New England. He has also published numerous magazine articles and several hundred newspaper columns. Levin recently published Welcome to My Dojo, a kid¹s introduction to Karate and Kicking Hyperactive Behavior, a parents guide. Both are available through hhpstore.com. His children¹s website on karate is located at janetsan.com. Levin can be reached at alex@hedgehog-hill.com.

Copyright 2001 Brandi Valentine. All rights reserved. This Newsletter is copyrighted by the authors and/or publisher and is registered with the Library of Congress.

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