CHAAD Conference 2012: Focus Greenville’s Dr. Woods

This is the account of Sheila Woods, MD, FAAP, of Focus Greenville, who recently attended the CHAAD Conference in San Francisco. 

“My first evening I met a lovely retired teacher from Chicago, Illinois, Elizabeth P. She is using her years of experience as a resource teacher to help other teachers and children with ADHD by becoming an ADHD coach and encouraging those affected with less than adequate organizational skills and executive function skills–those very important skills that medications alone do not significantly improve.”

Parents who have children with attention and learning difficulties are the strongest and most committed advocates of any cause. I think I already knew this but had this incredibly confirmed at the 24th Annual International Conference on Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder held on November 8-10 in San Francisco, CA.  CHADD, the acronym for Children and Adults with Attention Disorders, was founded by a small group of dedicated parents and a psychologist seeking help for one child with ADHD who was struggling in school.

The conference brings doctors and mid-level providers in various specialties of pediatrics, internal medicine, family medicine, developmental and behavioral pediatrics, and psychiatrists together with psychologists, counselors, coaches, parents, schools specializing in attention and learning problems, and all the various entrepreneurs demonstrating their latest and greatest inventions that may or may not help children and adults with ADHD. It also brings experts together with parents of children with ADHD and adults with ADHD to create energy, share vision, and inspire new ideas.

The field of brain research has literally exploded in the last 10 years and we were able to hear from one of the original believers that ADHD was a neurologically based disorder as opposed to a behavior problem or parenting problem. Dr. Martha Denckla, who spoke on Saturday, began studying children and brains with ADHD in the late 1960s when it was TOTALLY uncool to do so. In fact, she fought for many years to have her most important research findings published; fighting because she was a female in a male dominated field and because she was a neurologist interested in ADHD. She humorously reminded us that the brain is not “totally connected and sharing all messages to all parts of the brain until age 30”. Her latest passion is teaching educators the complex but incredibly important associations between delayed brain connections showing up as inattention and impulsivity and how we can best teach the attention challenged child in the classroom. Setting kids up to fail is totally unacceptable, yet this is what we are doing when we take a three year old child and expect them to use a pencil, sit still, listen and learn in a traditional classroom. This 3 year old brain is not developmentally ready to learn this way; this brain learns best by experiencing life, negotiating sharing and playing. A great thank you goes to Dr. Denckla for pioneering brain research in the field of ADHD and now devoting her passions to education of our children and future adults. As she says, opinions do not matter: evidence, good scientific evidence, matters!

We heard the latest updates on current research including the PATS study by Laurence Greenhill, MD. This is a study looking at preschoolers ages 3-5 with moderate and severe ADHD and the outcomes of treatment with medications.

Mark Katz, PhD reminded us of the importance of learning to see challenges in the context of strengths; utilizing painful experiences as learning opportunities; and rewriting the language of school accommodations into “leveling the playing field” for children with ADHD.

Stephen Hinshaw, PhD emphasized the need to reduce the stigma of mental illness and shared his personal journey in a nuclear family with significant mental illness but a lack of open communication regarding the struggles.

Russ Barkley, PhD, the prolific writer and major contributor in the field of research from our own state of South Carolina, reminded us of the functional impairments that follow children into adulthood the great majority of the time. He also reminded us professionals, that kids with ADHD are not terribly reliable reporters of ADHD symptoms until reaching the age of mid 20s.

Edward Aull, MD and Oren Mason, MD both discussed the finer nuances of medication management. I suppose one of the funnier moments came when Dr. Russ Barkley pleaded for suggestions for a new name for the newly described “Sluggish Cognitive Tempo” or SCT disorder. REALLY? Who would have called it that in the first place?

All in all it was a productive and informative conference and I thank Focus MD for allowing me the privilege of attending!

Oh my, the tall unhappy looking gentleman standing behind me in the boarding line on the airplane just told the stewardess that he was “highly allergic to children”-he probably was NOT at the CHADD conference.

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