M. Jeffry Spahr recalled the days when his son was labeled a "bad boy" because of his behavior and visits to the principal's office at school.
Spahr, the parent of a child with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, told the Norwalk Board of Education Tuesday evening that awareness of the disorder and its effects on families and schools is important on all levels. Educators need information on how to treat children with ADHD and, he said, parents need information and a support system.
"If you're a parent of a child with issues, desperation is a stone's throw away ... You don't know which way to turn ... There's a crying need for parents to get accurate, straight-forward information," said Spahr, Norwalk's deputy corporation counsel, but he spoke at the school board meeting strictly as a parent.
That opportunity will come the week of Oct. 16- 22 when the city and school district observe National ADHD Awareness Week. Board members voted unanimously Tuesday to designate that week ADHD Awareness Week locally.
As part of that observance, Kevin Kalikow, an author and a child and adolescent psychiatrist, will talk about ADHD in a public forum on Monday, Oct. 17, at 7 p.m., in the City Hall Community Room.
Spahr said Kalikow's presentation will provide parents with information from someone who is "straight down the middle," which is critical when there is so much information and so many variables involved in the disorder and the treatments.
"There's a lot of interest now in not going the medication route," said Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Susan Marks, pointing out that there are various camps that favor alternative treatment methods such as changes in diet or nutrition, or providing more structure to help students be more successful in school.
"It's a gut-wrenching decision as a parent to decide whether or not to put your child on medication," said Spahr, who is president of the board of directors for the Connecticut Association for Children and Adults with Learning Disabilities.
At Tuesday's meeting, Marks said ADHD is "non-discriminatory affecting people of every age, gender, IQ and religious and socio-economic background. "Boys are diagnosed 2-3 times more often than girls," she said.
Marks said the percentage of the ADHD student population in Norwalk can range from seven to 12 percent in a given year.
According to Spahr, a recent report by Consumer Reports-Health cited a study that concludes ADHD children are twice as likely as their more focused playmates to suffer serious injuries.
"ADHD is not a benign condition. It is much more than a jumpy kid. ADHD creates problems in school and impacts the chances of graduating; it leads to problems at work -- often reducing productivity, reduced earning power, and leads to increased risk of being fired and unable to find a replacement job; it creates problems in relationships; is a factor in safety concerns and increased risk for accidents and motor vehicle mishaps; leading to problems with the law," Marks said Tuesday.
Also at Tuesday's board meeting, Tony Daddona, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, gave a detailed report on the work of Norwalk's District Data Team and its District Plan for Improvement (See story on page A1.)
Board member J. Bishop-Pullan said she was reluctant to get on board with the data team approach when it was adopted about four or five years ago. "I'd heard it all before," but, she said, "I'm seeing (improvements) happen and it's really heartening. We have seen a lot of hard work."