Drug-Free Behavioral Change also Changes Lives
by Dr. Alonzo M. Jones, Ph.D.
“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.” - Abraham Lincoln, 16th U.S. President (1861-65)
ADHD or SID? That is the question
I teach martial arts, drug prevention, and behavioral modification classes at the Richard Steele Health and Wellness Center. One of my students, a young girl I'll call Destiny, had severe problems with reading, spelling and math. Her teachers suggested to her father that he place her on ADHD medication. He responded by saying he would never place his daughter on that type of medication, “After all,” he continued, “How could a teacher diagnose my child?” This is not an article on the pros and cons of ADHD medication. Rather, it is one family's journey to having their lives transformed through an alternative route.
Destiny's father asked if there was anything I could do to help. From my experience with countless young people, as well as from from education and training as a Health and Wellness clinician, I informed him that Destiny could be suffering from learning disabilities like dyslexia or dyscalculia. Among English-speaking children, an estimated 2 to 15 percent have trouble reading or spelling, problems broadly classified as dyslexia. From 1 to 7 percent also struggle to do math, a disability known as dyscalculia. Many times these “Learning Disabilities” have been confused with ADHD*.
(*ADHD is typically identified in children between the ages of five and 11 years. The condition is more common in boys than girls and is conservatively estimated to occur in two to three percent of the school population. Symptoms persist into adolescence in as many as 80 percent of the children diagnosed with over 30 percent still suffering significant symptoms into adulthood. There are three different subtypes of ADHD including the Primarily Inattentive Type, the Primarily Hyperactive/Impulsive Type, and the Combined Type. Symptoms in the Inattentive Type include failure to give close attention to details with frequent careless mistakes, problems following through with instructions, and susceptibility to distraction by extraneous events. Examples of overactive and impulsive behaviors include excessive talking, difficulty taking turns, and being overenergized.)
In listening further, I thought Destiny might not be experiencing ADHD, but rather SID (Sensory Integration Dysfunction). After 15 years of research, investigators now believe these conditions frequently involve so-called partial functional problems with the senses: in affected children, the eyes and ears accurately register sights and sounds, letters, numbers spoken syllables, but that information is misinterpreted as it is processed in the brain. Dyslexic individuals are more likely to make mistakes performing tasks that involve regulating small eye movements, which suggests that a lack of control over visual attention may contribute to some cases of dyslexia, according to Dr. Burkhart Fischer.**
(**Dr. Fischer is emeritus professor of neurophysiological biophysics and founder of the Optomotor Laboratory at the University of Freiburg in Germany.)
I recommended that if this little girl's dad was opposed to drug use, we should try targeted sports training to improve sensory processing. The research suggested that this approach could have a positive effect in helping his daughter learn to control her visual attention - the possible culprit behind her problems with reading, writing, spelling, and arithmetic.
"Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." - Proverbs 22:6 KJV
Destiny's father seemed willing to try anything - except drugs - since his daughter was consistently failing in school. He wanted her to succeed in school and in life without drugs, particularly after hearing from friends that many of their children who were prescribed ADHD medication early in life, began self-medicating with Alcohol, Marijuana, Methamphetamine, etc., when they became adults.
Our behavior modification sessions began with Destiny learning to focus on her stance and basic movements. As she advanced, I could then begin teaching her how to hit the focus mitts, as well as lead her through focusing exercises such as meditation and kata, typical components of the martial arts.
Now two years later, Destiny is considered to be in the “maintenance stage" of her development by the Transtheoretical Model of Evaluation. Her family has noticed a substantial change in her behavior and comprehension. Much to their delight, she is also on the honor role in school and has received several awards for academics and behavior. This should not be viewed as an isolate instance either, for I have seen the same drastic changes in behavior and academic development occur with many children who receive assistance with their sensory processing. It must be noted that most marital arts programs are great conduits for behavioral and academic development with youth diagnosed with ADHD. I must also add that it is not martial arts alone that rewrites children's behavior, but a holistic training process directed toward these outcomes. Many of my martial arts colleagues can attest to similar positive outcomes as those witnessed with Destiny. This strongly suggests that what has been often labeled "ADHD" may actually be a dysfunction of the senses that can be corrected through a specialized training process.
Destiny's family no longer needs to worry about ADHD or an increasing tendency toward adult self-medication. Based on the knowledge, coordination, and character-building lessons that Destiny has learned in the process, her parents can also have confidence that they are raising a daughter who can take care of herself. -AJ
Note* It is noteworthy that for all the behavioral changes typically brought about by medicines, there are proven psychological techniques which can have the same effect. There are a wide variety of mental training methods designed to increase concentration, manage emotional intensity, improve decision making under stress and optimize performance under adverse conditions. These methods have been proven effective in the performance environment; however, there is still little or no research on the use of these interventions with the ADHD athlete.
DR. ALONZO M. JONES, Ph.D. is Chief Operating Officer of the Richard Steele Health and Wellness Center and is also co-chair of the Southern Nevada Community Gang Taskforce Intervention Subcommittee. A Former Health and Wellness clinician for the U.S. Air Force, Dr. Jones remains a celebrated behavior modification coach. He was recognized by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations for achieving success rates in prevention that far exceeded national standards. His D.Min. Degree with specialization in Pastoral Psychology supports his holistic approach to human and community development. As a sought after trainer for clinical prevention programs, Dr. Jones is also certified through SAMSHA. He is a Grand Master 10th Degree Black Belt and has received numerous national and community awards, from the Clark County School District, the Foundation for an Independent Tomorrow, and the Metropolitan Police Department, to name but a few. His community contributions have led to the City of Las Vegas receiving the Outstanding Achievement Award for Local Government Innovation. Hero School is privileged to be strategic partners with Dr. Jones and the Steele Center in our Community Transformation Initiative.