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Andrew Portwood

A secret behind ADHD

For much of my professional life I have been involved in work within several different school districts, as well as a large private school, both in teaching and counseling roles. Without question, the most notable trend over that 15 years or so has been the emergence of ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, and several other afflictions within students in our schools. You will not easily find a classroom without one or more students who have been identified as facing one of these disorders, and potentially have formalized supports in place to help them deal with the effects. These are important, and I am greatly encouraged to see funding and public awareness of them increase steadily over time, rather than being marginalized or even forgotten.

At the same time, and especially over my past few years in a counseling capacity, a concurrent reality has also appeared, however. The complexity of these and other disorders almost invariably includes a significant deficit in at least one of two main needs: belonging and independence. Of these, an unmet need to connect in meaningful ways with peers and parents has proven the most common in my own practice. While physicians have an important role to play in discussing and identifying possible medications and other solutions for young people facing ADHD, for example, I believe it is equally important to address the natural need to connect and belong as well. When this need is not considered, there are very few children and teens with ADHD that I am aware of who have been able to find significantly improved levels of emotional health, especially by way of seeking diagnosis and receiving medication-based treatment.

To put it simply, kids need friends. They really, really need friends who matter to them, and especially those of similar age. When they do, kids have a good chance of feeling like part of a community, and that they matter and have value to others. This is massively important for the emotional health of a growing young mind, and helps to build and solidify self-esteem in ways not easily achievable through other means, including testing and medications. On the other hand, when kids feel disconnected or rejected (real or perceived) by their peers, the consequences can be crushing and far-reaching. Feelings of intense anger or anxiety can arise, and can be triggered by completely unrelated events such as a simple disagreement with a sibling. An otherwise happy child can rapidly become defiant, unable to focus in class or upon a task at home, or become an overall difficult person to get along with.

Now, to be clear I am not prepared to suggest that any single or combination of unmet needs are an actual cause for afflictions like ADHD. I will leave the mysteries of causation to those conducting scientific studies. What I will suggest however is that a lack of meaningful connection with peers and parents is very likely to heighten and amplify the difficulties provided by ADHD and other disorders. Never should we fall into a belief that a child struggling with one of them will find complete healthy functioning without consideration of the need for connection; additionally, we should be aware that a quick-fix at no cost is essentially non-existent.

What can you do as parents to help? Continue seeking out all the supports you already have, and involve as many invested individuals, including professionals, as seems appropriate. In addition, there are several everyday steps you can take that will help your child to deepen his or her ability and willingness to create new friendships. A fabulous article put out by the University of Florida I came across gives you clear, easy-to-implement ideas on how you can make a real difference in this specific, important way for a young person. It contains an important reminder: kids are not born with social skills - we need to teach but also encourage opportunities for them to gain these needed skills. If we do so, it is much more likely our kids will want to go outside, meet up with others, and regard their school experience as a positive one overall.

 

Andrew Portwood is a certified Masters-level counselor in Kelowna with a heart for supporting and helping children, youth and young adults. He has also helped many parents to grasp a better understanding of why their children are choosing the behaviours they have, and how to move forward in a supportive, healthy manner. Creating authentic connection and clarity is essential in all he does, both as a counselor and in his life. Find more about him and his practice:

Website: http://clarowellness.ca/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AndrewPortwood/





Brace for panic attack

A newly emerging challenge that many young people and parents alike are either experiencing themselves, or very likely know someone else struggling with at times, is the panic attack. It seems that especially over the last two years this term has become shockingly common, and the number of people I see in my office who detail their own current experiences with panic attacks has grown to the point where it is nearly a daily occurrence. So what exactly is a panic attack, and how can someone work through the intense emotions that are naturally associated with it?

The panic attack is actually an amped-up version of anxiety. It tends to present itself in very specific situations, and often associated with a traumatic experience from the past. A quick example would be someone who is terrified of needles; when the time approaches to get a flu shot in the fall, there can be intense feelings of dread and fear that arise, complete with rapid breathing, quickened heart rate, but also a temporary inability to function as one normally would. The thoughts of the traumatic event approaching are sufficient to prevent focus and concentration, and this can even include the ability to speak and communicate normally. Most of all, the experience of a panic attack is exceptionally unpleasant for the individual, and consumes a great deal of emotional energy before it subsides.

Perhaps the most important elements of a panic attack to remember are twofold: 1) they involve the anticipation of something unpleasant occurring, and almost never the presence of an unpleasant event actually taking place in the moment, and 2) the pain and suffering from a panic attack is temporary, and will eventually pass all on its own. These in fact provide two very important clues in understanding how to begin overcoming the attacks, and reducing their sometimes crippling power over us. Truly the worst feeling of all may be that there is no hope and no possibility of ever getting to a place where panic loses its grip upon our lives, or someone we care about.

First, when we know the anticipation of an unpleasant event is an important quality of panic attacks, this makes an interesting statement - the power that feeds the panic comes entirely from within. In essence, an attack will come only when our fear of an unpleasant event is sufficiently high beforehand, and we are afraid of what might happen. That does not mean our fear is without just cause or should be disregarded, but it does mean we should be aware that the human mind can be incredibly effective at painting a worst-case scenario, and making it seem all too real - real enough that the worst case starts to actually become reality! As a result, it can be helpful simply to have an understanding in advance of this power; and while we can absolutely feel crushed by the force of panic, in no way can fear and panic represent an iron-clad guarantee about what the future will bring. There is always a chance (and usually a good one) that a given worst-case scenario will not actually become full reality.

Second, even the strongest and most intimidating fear does not have an endless life cycle, and will eventually wash over us and move on. I liken this phenomenon to a huge thunderstorm approaching the valley, with towering black clouds. The storm is coming, and I am certainly going to need to take cover and be prepared to get wet, but it is extremely unlikely I will be injured or killed by the storm, and at some point it must move on, allowing sunshine to return again. In the same way, fear and panic have a message, and we must accept their presence in order to be able to move past them. It is of very little value to do our best to not think about the fear, but it can bring some much needed comfort to admit to ourselves that we are afraid, and that our fear is very real and valid. If we understand these truths, while acknowledging that a panic attack cannot actually injure or kill us, relief from attacks is very possible.

Once a panic attack is beginning, it is usually futile to try and stop it, and believe that sheer willpower is somehow sufficient to prevent it. Such is not the nature of this beast. However, creating an element of comfort and reassurance absolutely is possible, especially when we are prepared to accept the presence of the panic, and understand that it is a temporary but natural response to fear. Ultimately, when a person is prepared (in quieter moments) to start facing the fear which in turn feeds the panic, a long-term solution to overcoming and eliminating panic attacks is possible. This can be a long and complex road, and greatly assisted by the presence of a professional who has built sufficient trust and safety to move forward.

 

Andrew Portwood is a certified Masters-level counselor in Kelowna with a heart for supporting and helping children, youth and young adults. He has also helped many parents to grasp a better understanding of why their children are choosing the behaviours they have, and how to move forward in a supportive, healthy manner. Creating authentic connection and clarity is essential in all he does, both as a counselor and in his life. Find more about him and his practice:

Website: http://clarowellness.ca/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AndrewPortwood/



Adjust your attitude

Without much doubt, you have probably at some point heard that statistic, the one that suggests very little (20-30%) of the message others receive from you comes from your actual words. Double or even triple the weight in what you say comes from how you choose to send the message. In the clearest terms, this means elements such as your facial expression, body language and tone are by far going to be the strongest determinants of how any message you send will be received. Interestingly enough, a large number of kids, teens and parents all have periods where they are completely unaware that the message they are sending is not what they intended.

One of the exercises I use with clients on a regular basis involves using an innocuous statement, and repeating it in two different ways. I will first use a statement, such as "can you please put the dishes away", and use an attentive body position, along with a positive but clear tone. Next, I repeat the same statement word-for-word, but instead use my best intimidating stance, throwing in bits of sarcasm and disdain within those few words as well. Before I can even ask the person being addressed how they felt with each example, it is already clear what occurred: the first statement made them feel at ease and prepared to at least hear the message fully (even if they really wouldn't have been interested in dishes!), while the second immediately put them in a defensive posture, and unprepared to respond in any constructive way.

Parents, teachers, and of course children themselves can all be guilty of using tone and body language that are not reflective of the true messages we wish to send. We can be upset at something the other person may have said or done previously, or even from an unrelated event the message receiver may not even be aware of, and this anger or frustration comes out unintentionally in our response. Regardless, not ensuring our tone and body language are ones we have thoughtfully chosen can lead to tragic consequences; it can sow seeds of mistrust that can continue to grow in the future, it can give others a potentially inaccurate perception of our intentions, and it will almost certainly make others less willing to hear what we have to say.

Here is where the deeper problem comes from, which I encounter frequently in my work with families: when people do not feel heard, they are much less likely in turn to wish to truly hear and be present with others. This leads very often to a vicious circle, where statements from other members of the family are regularly ignored or belittled due to negative tone, and growing frustration turns into anger and resentment. Truly, family life cannot exist in any healthy way when these two factors are clearly present in the home. We in effect can construct walls that prevent meaningful communication on any level, and deepen anxiety through feeling that "nobody understands me", or "I feel like I am constantly talking to myself in this house"!

So what is the magic solution to this problem? While the answer isn't actually very magical, it is simple - just be aware. Here are three quick questions you can ask yourself in each moment that may be helpful, in becoming more aware of how you are choosing to send messages to others in your family: are you choosing the words and tone most reflective of your wishes, do you need to choose a time when you are in a better state of mind, and are you prepared to listen to any feedback (or pushback!) you could be given? As with many times in life, pausing to create a plan and be fully aware of our needs can have a significant payoff over time; preserving relationships, and helping others to feel trusted and respected very often results in us receiving the same in return, regardless of our age. Something to keep in mind, especially at times like spring break, when many of us are spending increased amounts of time together!

 

Andrew Portwood is a certified Masters-level counselor in Kelowna with a heart for supporting and helping children, youth and young adults. He has also helped many parents to grasp a better understanding of why their children are choosing the behaviours they have, and how to move forward in a supportive, healthy manner. Creating authentic connection and clarity is essential in all he does, both as a counselor and in his life. Find more about him and his practice:

Website: http://clarowellness.ca/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AndrewPortwood/



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It takes a community

Previously in this column, I have often discussed the shrinking ability of our culture to support authentic connection and its value for young people and parents alike. It is not difficult for most of us to acknowledge, at least in theory, that healthy relationships both at school and at home matter when it comes to growing up with a smile. However, many of us may not be aware of how these relationships are treated in other cultures, and how spectacularly successful they have been in helping young people to be raised in ways that are reflective of their needs. There are some natural challenges in our own modern culture as well that can really hamper experiencing positive childhood and teenage years.

Recently I attended a seminar about the raising of children within aboriginal culture, and how this had been a key element to supporting a people who lived and thrived on our continent for thousands of years. To get to the key point made, extended family was critical in helping a young person have the personal connections and learn the lessons he or she would need in order to grow up with purpose and contentment. In essence, there was a responsibility for raising children that was accepted by the whole community, and having a "nuclear family" of two parents and 1.8 children was totally unheard of. Further, family actually was considered to consist of not just the biological parents and siblings, but also virtually all other members of the community who had some degree of connection with the child; friends, neighbours and mentors were all considered to be brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers alike.

The huge payoff came through helping that child to feel like their world was large and well-rounded, and they could fairly easily have their needs to connect, learn new skills, and gain independence met on a significant level. As a result, there was far less need to create drama and suffering for themselves and others around them! Relationships have mattered deeply for aboriginal peoples, and this could be instructive for us, if we accept the premise that the same could hold true in our own society today.

My own journey, through 15 years as a teacher and counsellor, is riddled with countless examples of kids and teens simply seeking to belong and be fully heard. While it may not be possible to simply have a collection of known relatives move into our general area, it is absolutely possible to employ a few simple strategies that acknowledge what has worked before in history, and may be worth taking a serious look at for our own children. Here are a few:

1) Increase the amount of time (and even willingness) to connect with other family members by making a conscious effort to put down the phone, and eliminate non required distractions for a period of time each day. I have had to learn, on a personal note, to recognize when my kids want my full presence to share about a new activity they enjoyed, a story about someone at school, or anything else they might want to talk about. Giving the gift of presence is cheap and very rewarding, especially if its only real cost is leaving your phone in another room.

 

2) Facilitate opportunities for your kids to connect with others and expand their own worlds. Organized sports are but one option, and can be done in conjunction with playdates, trips to local areas with great hikes (Pincushion Mountain near Peachland is a great example), and belonging to fabulous groups like Brownies and Cubs, which contain many opportunities to talk and create new social connections and skills. If your son and younger daughter are seemingly always in conflict, and reactions when you step in to restore order escalate quickly, it might be a symptom of needing to expand the number of good friends and interesting experiences they currently have.

 

3) Get to know your neighbours on a more personal level! When young people feel there is a larger community around them that they are part of, it not only provides a further source of people who are prepared to invest into the lives of our family members ("Hey, how are those dance lessons going for you, Ashley?"), kids pick up on the desirability of getting to know others around us. And hey, you might even create a couple of new and keen babysitters in the process!

 

Aboriginal traditions acknowledge that we are all better off when we are surrounded by people, and as parents, we have an ability to create many opportunities to belong, as well as modeling what healthy relationships can look like. When we mix these opportunities with a variety of activities that your kids and you enjoy (without overburdening them with a heavy schedule, of course), we may be teaching to the heart of who a child is. It is from this place that true resiliency and health can grow from.

 

Andrew Portwood is a certified Masters-level counselor in Kelowna with a heart for supporting and helping children, youth and young adults. He has also helped many parents to grasp a better understanding of why their children are choosing the behaviours they have, and how to move forward in a supportive, healthy manner. Creating authentic connection and clarity is essential in all he does, both as a counselor and in his life. Find more about him and his practice:

Website: http://clarowellness.ca/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AndrewPortwood/



Read more Youth & Family Dispatch articles




About the Author

Andrew Portwood is a certified Masters-level counselor in Kelowna with a heart for supporting and helping children, youth and young adults. He has also helped many parents to grasp a better understanding of why their children are choosing the behaviours they have, and how to move forward in a supportive, healthy manner.

Creating authentic connection and clarity is essential in all he does, both as a counselor and in his life.

Find more about him and his practice:
Website: clarowellness.ca
Twitter: @AndrewPortwood

Contact him at The Core Centre of Health (250) 862-2673.







The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet presents its columns "as is" and does not warrant the contents.


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