A quote by the late Maya Angelou that says, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better” has had a great influence on me over the past year. Improving the odds for troubled youth is not an easy task, which is why events such as the National Youth-at-Risk Conference are so important for professionals who work directly with young people and their families. I felt honored to present as a featured speaker at this year’s conference. My topic focused on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and how the classic symptoms of inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity served as strengths in hunter-gatherer societies. We discussed this theory in detail and how it might help change the way parents, teachers, and helping professionals view youth with ADHD or it’s symptoms.
The response from participants reinforced that this was a topic we must address in the coming years. People are looking for hope and solution focused approaches for youth with attention and behavior problems. Some believe that ADHD as a fictitious diagnosis designed by pharmaceutical giants to boost their billion dollar businesses. Others attribute the symptoms to poor parenting or to teachers who “can’t teach.” Blaming does nothing to create solutions, which is what we really need.
Regardless of what causes ADHD symptoms, it is time to engage in the research and focus on developing innovative approaches. It was a breath of fresh air for me to provide training to other professionals who were hungry for hope. Harvard’s Dr. John Ratey wrote a book called Spark. In chapter one, he highlighted a case study about a school district in Illinois that created an exercise program before school. The goal for each participant was to maintain 80-90% of their maximum heart rate throughout the exercise routine. The focus was fitness not competition between the students. The results revealed that students in the program performed better academically. In fact, they scored 1st in science and 6th in math on an international test where Asian countries usually outpace the US.
Critics argue that poor school districts are not privileged enough to purchase some of the cardio equipment used by the district in the case study. Some complain that their schools are too poor or their principals too rigid to allow the use of treadmills or exercise programs. However, one gentleman who attended my presentation last year, returned to share that he did not have the expensive cardio equipment. Instead, he took his class to the gym for exercise before class. He explained that the behavior disruptions were much less and that he planned to continue the program this year. I commended him because he was doing the best he could until he knew better and then he did better! Our at-risk youth need individuals in their corner who refuse to make excuses for the problems and focus on answers. I look forward to sharing this information with many others so that we can offer hope to youth who are so hungry for it, and I pray for more individuals who will take it and run.
Reference: Ratey, J. (2008). Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.