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Doctors' Notes

Overcoming ADD and ADHD With Sports Therapy

Welcome to Doctors’ Notes, our contribution from Urban Health correspondents (and husband and wife) physicians Dr. Rob and Dr. Karla Robinson.  The dynamic duo will be fielding questions about health, as it relates to African Americans.  Please feel free to send them questions via digitalpitches@ebony.comWe promise to keep it anonymous. 

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An inability to focus, hyperactivity, and poor performance in school caused the Clay family to search for answers to the difficulty their sons Isaac and Joshua were facing. After multiple rounds of testing, it was determined that Joshua, age 11 at diagnosis, and Isaac, age 6, were suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit with Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) respectively. As parents that are no strangers to the medical field (Kim is a public health professional, and Mark a pediatric cardiologist), they started medical treatment and behavioral modification for their sons and noted some improvement. But it wasn’t until the addition of sports therapy that the boys truly began to excel. The Clays are now on a mission to increase awareness about sports therapy in managing diagnoses such as ADD/ADHD in hopes that others too can unleash their unlimited potential.

JET: What symptoms were your sons having when they were diagnosed with ADD/ADHD?

Clays: Joshua had a history of migraine headaches and some subtle but repetitive behaviors that consisted of frequent eye blinking and clearing his throat and was referred to a neurologist. The neurologist informed us that he would like to do additional testing as he thought Joshua might have Tourette’s and that there was often overlap between Tourette symptoms and ADHD.  His testing was consistent with ADD. Because he was generally a hard working child when it came to his school work, we didn’t realize that his struggle with math was more related to his difficulty focusing.  We thought perhaps that math just wasn’t his “strong subject.”

Isaac’s presentation was quite different.  Unlike his brother, he academically excelled in all of his subjects with some mild difficulty with reading. However, he was always a “bundle” of energy having difficulty sitting still at the dinner table often fidgeting or constantly shifting his position.  Furthermore, he struggled with impulsivity and was the child that would run across a street or busy parking lot without thinking twice to look for oncoming traffic.  Due to his impulsivity, he often was in trouble at school for “talking out of turn” or just not following directions.  We also noticed that he really struggled with change and needed a regimented routine. He was tested early on for ADHD and his tests were consistent with the diagnosis, specifically the hyperactive form.    

JET: What initial therapies did you try?

Clays: For both children, we initially started behavioral modification that included simple cues to remind them about the tasks they needed to perform.  We learned to give short and direct instructions instead of complex multi-task directions.  In addition, we openly discussed their diagnosis with them and encouraged them that it was not and should not ever be an excuse for failure. We also created reward systems.

JET: How were you introduced to sports therapy for their diagnoses?

Clays: They initially started Tae Kwon Do (TKD).  We soon realized an improvement in their academic performance.  We realized the discipline both mentally and physically that was required to excel in the TKD was also helping them as it pertained to their ADD/ADHD.  We subsequently got them enrolled in other sporting activities. Our oldest became a competitive swimmer again forcing him to not only discipline himself physically, but also mentally. Both boys also enjoy tennis and horseback riding.  Tennis has taught them not to just hit the ball as hard as you can across the net, but to focus their energy and effort to strategize on how to best compete with their opponent while on the court. Horseback riding has taught them the importance of social interaction. Just as they don’t always have the “best” day, they have learned that the horse with which they have been teamed also has “bad” days. It has increased their sensitivity awareness and has caused them both to not only be more attentive to their surroundings, but also be patient and adaptive instead of impulsive.

JET: Is sports therapy now your sole remedy for management of their diagnoses?

Clays: Sports therapy has served as an amazing addition to their medical therapy. We know many parents that struggled through medication change after medication change with mild improvement at best. We have also witnessed the frustration and desperation associated with changing those medications as they hope the next will “work.”  We were fortunate that both of our boys have only been on one medication. That medication combined with their sports therapy has been the perfect combination as neither alone helped them reach their fullest potential. Combined, however, both boys are excelling in everything they attempt and don’t see themselves as victims of a diagnosis, but often feel as though they are “special” in a most positive way because their brain is “wired” differently.  

JET: Were you skeptical about the effectiveness of sports therapy at first?

Clays: Not at all. We welcomed the idea of using multiple strategies for treatment. As a physician, I know that there often is one “magic bullet” that serves as a cure, but more often it’s a combination of therapies that yields the best outcome.   

JET: What would you tell other parents of children with ADHD, Tourette’s, or a similar diagnosis about the journey?

Clays: The diagnosis is just that, a journey, not a destination. Each child and their manifestation of the diagnosis is completely different. With the right support and therapy, you will likely discover that your child’s view of the world is unique and special. That unique view makes them remarkably different. Celebrate and exploit that difference, don’t suppress it!

For more information on sports therapy, please visit Dr. Kim Clay’s 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization Play Like a Girl! It’s an organization that is committed to promoting healthy lifestyles among girls. The org has recently introduced an initiative #iplaylikeagirl to increase awareness about the power of sports in unleashing girls’ unlimited potential.

It’s a health thing…we’ve got to understand!

About the Doctors: Dr. Karla and Dr. Rob are the founders of Urban Housecall, a multimedia health and wellness resource, and also hosts of the Urban Housecall Radio Show.  For more from the doctors, visit their website at www.urbanhousecall.com, like them on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter @urbanhousecall!