Julia's son, Colin, was attending a famous military college, and she was worried because he had been struggling with ADHD for many years. She wanted him to be successful, but Colin – who had discovered the reported wonders of Ritalin by scoring it from some buddies -- believed he was not nearly as focused without it.
Military institutions do not allow cadets to take stimulants, prescription or otherwise. In fact, they randomly and frequently drug test the students. The military thinking is that they cannot have a soldier running out of medicine while under fire somewhere, especially a narcotic. (Technically, stimulants are narcotics.) Who knows how that soldier would respond? They certainly do not want to find out.
(As a personal aside, I must say that I wish all universities did the same thing. I have talked to many college students and most of them have admitted to me, usually without their parents, that they have tried stimulants for studying and/or test taking. They are the most abused drugs on college campuses.)
Colin had made it through freshman year with a “B” average, the best he had ever done academically. It was physically rough, with many hours of intense physical training every day plus academics. There was little we could do about his diet. He had to eat at the dining hall, and was making good choices eating salads and vegetables whenever they did not look too soggy. All in all, the year was a success. I think I know why.
He was getting a gigantic dose of vitamin M: Movement. For a hyperactive kid, the best strategy in the entire world is loading up with vitamin M. Colin was getting 4 or 5 hours a day of motion and physical activity. The Academy was doing for him what no other university and a fistful of medication could ever match.
The movement centers are right next to the language centers in the brain. All that running around was organizing Colin's thinking and putting his frenetic energy to productive use. His mother admitted he was calm and happy. But she was afraid his success would be short-lived, that it wouldn't last without medication, which was not an option at all.
I assured Colin's mom he was thriving and that the magic of vitamin M would keep him in balance. I also explained the concept of neuro-diversity. That is, brains function and process in a wide range of ways. There was not anything particularly wrong with Colin's.
I call people like Colin, who have been diagnosed with ADHD, Warriors. Until recently, Warriors were highly prized in society. They were the knights and warriors you called (and paid) when the village needed to be cleared of marauders. They were athletic types who had no trouble riding their horses all day, and were what we would now call, “risk takers.” They would shoot first and ask questions later.
It makes you wonder if Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry would be classified as ADHD if he had to get through the police academy today. You can imagine the report. “Has trouble following directions. Cannot sit still. Tends to shoot first and ask questions later, suggesting impulsive tendencies.”
Today, the valued jobs go to people with brains who can concentrate for long periods of time while sitting at a desk. The physical warrior has been replaced with the computer warrior. Not a better brain, just a different brain, presently more in style.
But that does not mean that the warrior's brain isn't useful. It's all about finding the right application for its strengths and abilities.
Along with many assurances, I sent Julia to the health food store with a list of some nutrients that help with cognition and do not trip any drug tests. Just for insurance. Besides, it can't help to heighten focus and sharpen the ability to pay attention.
In the meantime, never underestimate the power of vitamin M. For kids with hyperactivity, it can set them up for success in ways that seem unimaginable.