Kennedy, Diane with Rebecca Banks. The ADHD Autism Connection (Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook Press) 2002.
When Diane Kennedy’s third son received a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), his mother already knew the drill. Her first two sons had the same thing. The family spent years caught in a maze of medical interventions, behavioral modification training, holistic remedies, and sessions with special educators and counselors.
Kennedy began to educate herself about disorders such as ADD, bi-polar disorder, Asperger Syndrome, Oppositional Defiant Disorder and so forth. The more she read, the more she came to believe that the disorders overlapped and probably had a similar basis in genetic imperfections and defects in brain structure and chemistry. She finally concluded “the only hope for treatment lies with parents’ abilities to educate themselves about the syndromes, seek out the best remedies and apply them to their children.”
Parents who read this book will no doubt identify with Kennedy’s frustration with the medical interventions for Attention Deficit Disorder that soak up time and energy and do not work. When they do not work, doctors find fault with parents and children, not the interventions. “How can researchers claim a social behavior emerges from biological impairment and at the same time assert that the behavior is willful and selfish?” Kennedy asks. Parents try positive reinforcement, time out, holding, calm communication and yet the behaviors persist. “Curing” ADD cannot be a matter of teaching children to control their impulses and behaviors. Kennedy believes that ADD is very much like autism, a condition that produces behaviors beyond the child’s control. The modification of such behaviors cannot be a “cure” because the behaviors themselves are the disorders.
In particular, Kennedy questions the validity of the diagnostic process. Physicians diagnose ADD and such disorders based on the child’s behaviors, usually as reported by parents and teachers. Kennedy takes issue with this practice. “ADHD as a science is grounded in subjective opinion about people’s behavior rather than a proven pathological basis like other disorders and diseases,” she writes.
However, both physicians and teachers are reluctant to label a child “autistic” or “mentally ill,” even though that diagnosis may bring about the best treatment options and better services from schools and government agencies.
Kennedy quotes one parent’s experience as a typical example of the establishment’s attitudes: “I slipped up and used the A word and was flogged by three special educators in the room telling me not to use it. ‘Autism is such a negative word to most people,’ they said. I was highly offended naturally. I felt like shouting autism! autism! autism! It’s not a dirty word.”
Kennedy describes that the majority of children suffering from conditions like bi-polar disorder, disorders of the autism spectrum, oppositional defiant and obsessive/compulsive disorders receive treatment for Attention Deficit Disorder. It is only in later childhood – after years of frustrating mistreatments and mismanagement – that the children finally receive their correct diagnoses. She believes that these various labels do not matter much because all the conditions overlap anyway. Her book is full of scholarly information about the syndromes and their medications, as well as elaborate charts demonstrating the point of view that they completely similar.
Kennedy is completely candid about her family’s struggles. For example, she writes about how her husband’s untreated autism caused the family years of heartache because he remained uncommunicative, distant and isolated from her and their sons. Through family and marital counseling, their family life improved for all of them.
Kennedy believes that “what began as my desperate attempts to find help for my sons has ended up as a mission -a mission to increase awareness about the similarities between ADHD and autistic spectrum disorders.” She says that a prominent doctor urged her “to write this book to share my discoveries about the overlap between ADHD and autism spectrum so that parents everywhere could educate their family physicians.” She finally came to believe that this was a mission from God – “My intention was to educate myself. Clearly, God had other plans. Bigger plans. Much bigger.” Considering the arrogance that so many parents encounter with the medical establishment, perhaps Kennedy is justified in thinking that in order to “educate physicians,” she needs a little help from a higher authority.