Saturday, October 12, 2013

Foster Kids and ADHD

I just read an article that cited a Canadian study that found kids who come from "unstable families" have a higher "stress thermostat" set in hyper-vigilant mode. This results in a heightened sense of fight or flight, sleep deprivation, wired nerves and ADHD, especially in young boys.

This is so 100% Christopher. His therapists have actually used the words hyper-vigilant when describing him to me. Poor kid had a very difficult life with his birth mother. He was forcibly yanked away from her by police in what must have been a terrifying episode involving lots of yelling, flashing lights, sirens and loaded weapons all in his little terrified 2 year old face. Then he was bounced from foster home to foster home to foster home, confused, alone, without any one single stable person in his life. This little kid believed no one would look out for him and he became hyper-vigilant to his surroundings because even at the age of two, he believed he had to look out for himself. Makes total sense to me.

This hyper-vigilance made it difficult for me to decide that he had to have ADHD. I thought if I gave him time along with a lot of stability, love and patience, that his impulsiveness would ebb away. And in some ways it did. A year ago, Christopher couldn't even stand in the bathroom to brush his teeth. I'd hand him his toothbrush, he'd grab it and run out of the room, with me behind him yelling to come back. This happened every single day.

I had to double lock every door of the house because Christopher used to run outside into the street if he felt like it. I also couldn't walk down the street with Christopher initially because he was so impulsive, he'd run away from me and into the street. Thank the Lord nothing ever happened to him. However, I did always tell his social worker what was going on because God forbid, something ever did happen to this child, I wanted to make sure she knew I wouldn't have been at fault. I really thought it was that serious.

Christopher fits into other risk factors as well:

  • He was born a month early. According to a Swedish study, children who were born prematurely run a higher risk of contracting ADHD. This is because their little brains are not yet developed enough to navigate the modern world and neuro pathways end up forming incorrectly. Preemies experience heightened neo-natal pain, separation from mom (due to incubators), lots of lights and beeping sounds and sometimes this is overwhelming for the underdeveloped little tyke.
  • Christopher was born into poverty. His father was an illegal alien who was deported from the country when he was just a baby. His mother was poor and probably did not feed him nutritionally balanced meals. (Since Christopher exhibits food hoarding symptoms at times, it's pretty obvious neglect meant little to no food during important growth times). Poor people tend to feed their kids more processed foods and fewer fish and veggies. All this can affect the development of a child's brain
  • Christopher was born to a mentally ill mother. His birth mother, although never tested, suffered from some form of mental illness; probably something of the bi-polar variety. Mental illness is unfortunately often hereditary so it makes perfect sense that Christopher would suffer some sort of illness that could be found in the DSM-IV.
So fast forward to today and I am not at all shocked that all this instability, poverty and history of mental illness has resulted in an ADHD diagnosis in Christopher. Frankly, we're lucky that it's not worse than it is. Christopher's illness responds very well to both medication and diet and for that I am thankful. He is smart, a successful student, an outstanding athlete and he has many friends. He even told me he has a girlfriend in his Kindergarten class. Considering the background this kid comes from he's doing phenomenally well.

If you're interested in learning more about the causes of ADHD, feel free to click here and here.


  1. You may also want to check into sensory processing disorder. Symptoms of SPD & ADHD overlap. We are discovering that my 6yo ADHD son has signs of SPD, especially now that he's in school. He is a whiz at math, but struggles with reading & spelling - signs of auditory processing problems.

  2. Oh yes my son is diagnosed as "sensory seeking". Thankfully the medication + diet changes stops that behavior because the spinning in circles was actually a little freaky to watch.

  3. Our mission is to brighten the lives of Foster Children all over the state of New Jersey.
    We do this in a lot of ways! For example…
    Right now we’re hosting a toy drive so foster children all over New Jersey will have plenty of presents under their tree.

  4. This sounds like an amazing charity so I shared it on my Facebook page too. For the record, my son didn't even know what Christmas was the first year he lived with me because he'd never celebrated it before. He was 4. How sad is that? The reality is, a lot of foster kids end up in respite care over the holidays so their guardians can travel out of state to visit family and friends. So yes, any holiday cheer these kids get is much deserved. Good luck with the toy drive!